Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Are coupons worth the trouble?

By Robyn Davis Sekula

I know of many people who swear by coupons. They sit down with their Sunday paper and a pair of scissors with a look like a kid on Christmas. I've done this from time to time, but I have never really consistently used coupons.

To me, they just are not worth the hassle. It takes me at least an hour to grocery shop, and with coupons, that time is almost doubled. I have three kids six and under, so I just do not have extra time. Every minute matters to me. Plus, I tend to buy generics. Most of the time when I've bothered with coupons, if I compare the cost of the name brand including a coupon with the generic, the generic is cheaper, and often, the quality is the same.

I also don't pay much attention to "sales," particularly on food items. I don't read the sale papers during the week and plot a course from one store to the other. My goal is speed. I want to get done, and get home.

Last summer, while checking out of Meijer, I noticed the woman in front of me leave with a cart full of groceries after paying only somewhere around $5. My jaw dropped, and she explained it to me, and said she had been on television several times explaining her strategy.

But I also took a look in her cart. Lots and lots and lots of processed foods. Huge bags of chips, and other snack foods. I buy fresh produce as often as possible, as well as dairy, and that will drive up the price of your trip quickly.

I know who won't agree with me: Michelle at WickedCoolDeals.com. I admire her thrifty ways. But I'm afraid I won't be following in her tracks anytime soon.

I also don't think it's worth it to collect aluminum cans for money. I would toss mine in recycling with everything else if given the opportunity. But my husband, God bless his sweet little thrifty soul, digs the cans out and takes them to the recycling place where they pay him for the cans himself. I can tell you right now that's not worth my time. But if he wants to do it, hey, I won't stop him.

So how about you? What thrifty things are worth your time - and what's not?


  1. I believe that cost of food and coupons are also a commentary on how fat our country has become. The cheap "coupon" foods are some of the worst foods for you and pack on the pounds. I think it is messed up when the worst food that humans can consume is the cheapest and the best food for humans will drain your wallet. You may be a winner of the coupon battle but you are losing the health battle one coupon at a time.

  2. I have noticed that as well. I am sure there are coupons for some healthy foods, but that's not the majority of what I see.

  3. I use coupons selectively and believe that they are real money savers. We don't use convenience foods very much, but I find hair & personal care coupons, pet food coupons, etc. to be worth using because they are usually for several dollars off and I hold onto them until the item is on sale at a discount.

    I also like to use the 50 cent off coupons at stores that double them. The key is to use coupons for things you actually need and not be tricked into buying things you don't need because you have a coupon.

  4. You're right about that, Ann. I have used personal care coupons from time to time, but lately, I don't even bother with that. I should, though. That wouldn't be too much to keep up with.

  5. I think it is a myth that you can only save money on processed foods. Or maybe it is simply an excuse. My local grocer, Price Chopper, has coupons to get 1 lb. of strawberries for $1 and a pint of blueberries for $1.50 on its Facebook page right now. They often have coupons in their weekly sales flyer for things like watermelon, cereal fresh meats and fish.

    There are also tons of coupons available for organic foods, like Stonyfield Farm, Wild Harvest and Organic Valley. I got several 4-packs of Activia yogurt today totally free using coupons; that's pretty healthy, right?

    By using coupons, I do NOT pay (ever) for toothpaste, shampoo, soap, conditioner, deodorant, paper towels, toothbrushes, floss, mouthwash, cosmetics, and more - all big ticket items. The money I save goes right to the grocery budget so I can buy good and healthy things.

    In the food department, I would never buy something with a coupon my family would not eat. No one should spend money on something her family will not eat; that is just not frugal.

    I blame an overweight America on inactivity, fast food, eating out too much and yes, junk food. Although I can't say I've seen many overweight families using coupons for their junk food!

    Michelle :)

  6. Being selective with your coupon purchases is the way to go to avoid the unhealthy products being marketed with coupons. To say that coupons in general are all for unhealthy foods or are not needed is just not so. I do spend a good deal on fresh produce, meats, etc. but store coupons a lot of times will cover these items as well. Coupons help me stay home and take care of our 3 children, yes it does take a bit of time but once you have a system down -really no time at all. I think that throwing coupons away is throwing money in the garbage and I commend Michelle at WickedCoolDeals for all she does to take care of her family and in a healthy way. Good luck to you.

  7. If I could show you how to save roughly on-third to one-half of your monthly grocery budget, would you be interested? You can do that every week, by spending 15 minutes pre-planning your grocery store trip. Taking your weekly flyer to see what's on sale, and stocking up on the items you use. Grocery stores run on a 12 week sale cycle, so when you find something you use regularly, you buy enough for 12 weeks. For example, in my area when boneless, skinless chicken breast goes on sale for $1.78, I might buy 40 pounds. But, regular price is around $3.00 pound. So, the savings is $3.00-$1.78= $1.22 savings per pound! Now,imagine doing that with 10 items! Now, imagine if you have coupons for items you use regularly such as diapers, toothpaste, razer blades, and detergent. I typically use 10 coupons a week and still have managed to cut my grocery budget from $1000 a month down to $500. Check out couponmom.com.

  8. Im sorry but this is insane to say they arent worth the time. I buy a lot of various products and not all are what you consider "junk" food. I buy lots of fresh produce, milk, and salads and have coupons for them. Not to mention the amount i save on other items i use every day like toliet paper- are you telling me that saving 50 cents on toliet paper is silly? And you say you have a family with three kids? Id think that u would want to save money any way you can. I save hundreds a month on items that we use every day. Not to mention im able to then donate stuff that i get for cheap to food pantries and family that are struggling. Im sorry but i disagree with everything you have said and im sad that people out there discourage coupon usage with lines like " Generics are cheaper and all anyone with coupons buys is junk" dont lump me in with that group. I havnt had to pay for razors, toliet paper, paper towels, and house hold cleaners and detergent for a year.

  9. I save a TON of money with coupons. I usually save 60% at the grocery store and I find coupons for just about everything including dairy, meat, and produce.

    I rarely pay for personal care items/toiletries any more because I get them free most of the time with the help of deals I find on sites like Wicked Cool Deals. When you combine a sale with a coupon, you can definitely get a better deal on brand name products.

    Regarding the aluminum cans - if it wasn't for your husband, you would be throwing money away! I don't know about your state, but in NY we pay a deposit when we purchase the product and the money you get for returning the cans is just getting your money back. It all adds up!

  10. If you're looking for coupons for healthy foods, check out Mambo Sprouts, Stonyfield & Organic Valley. They all offer coupons on their websites.

  11. I am a frequent 'selective couponer' and i have a pantry loaded with Kashi, Method, Seventh Generation, Newman's Own, Tom's of Maine, Burt's Bees, Cascadian Farm, Stonyfield, whole wheat pastas, the store brand organics and so on.... I follow the store sales closely and have been known to stack 'freebies' (that is: free after coupons) or moneymakers with $ off $$ coupons to basically 'make my own sale' on products that i want and use and that rarely have promos of thier own. In fact, this is how i got most of my organic/natural lotion and hair products. Example: if the store has a $5 off $20 coupon out and you can get anywhere near $15 in products that are free after coupon/rebate/rewards then you can basically get whatever you want with that extra $5 because its gonna come off anyways! I DONATE the unwanted freebies to family, friends and our local food pantry. It all gets used. In fact, i give away quite a lot of stuff and am, in effect, feeding more mouths than i did before on LESS money. ... It pays to have a pantry and to selectively shop the weekly sales vs just buying whatever you need, weekly, regardless of the price.
    We choose to not be so frugal in the case of our produce: we have a garden and a CSA share, neither of which are 'cheap'. We and would rather support local organic agriculture than save $ in this case.

  12. I have 3 kids and 2 dogs. I save a lot of money everytime I go to the store with my coupons on Diapers, wipes, sour cream, cottage cheese, sliced cheese, milk, noodles, chicken, razors, deodorant, bottled water, coffee, sometimes clothes. Im getting married in 10 days I got coupons for michaels arts and crafts saved on my unity candle I always use coupons when I go to the store sometimes I need a supervisor override but I organize my coupons so its not a very long wait in the line. I know what coupons I will be using on that shopping trip so im in there and out!!! I love my coupons


  14. just started couponing last fall when my husband was unemployed. i was very skeptical, to say the least, having never used coupons. i have to say, I have saved a TON of money. just this week, I was able to buy 4 packs of diapers, 2 boxes of cereal, 2 packs of index cards, and a 3 dollar father's day card at rite aid for about 15 dollars. That's pretty substantial savings. I generally save at least 25-30 dollars in coupons at the grocery store-yes it adds time, but that's a tank of gas or dinner out. A lot of the coupons are for processed foods, true, but most families at least buy some of that stuff, so what's the problem with saving when you can? We buy a ton of fruits and veggies, and I often find coupons for milk and cheese, some produce, and healthier snacks (organic, etc). Finally, we have saved hundreds of dollars on personal care items (razors, toothpaste, diapers etc). In terms of generics, they CAN be cheaper, but if you have a name brand item on sale AND a coupon, often it's not. That said, it's true-you have to decide what your time is worth because it does take time to do this. It's been good for us, but we live on one income in a very expensive city, so it makes sense.

  15. Well! First of all, let me say that if Michelle ever wanted to take over a small island nation, I think she could do it with an army of you at her sides - WOW. (And I bet she'd have a coupon for it!)
    I'm going to change my mind on this based on what you're telling me.
    My philosophy has always been that as a consultant, I can make a lot more money by picking up extra work than couponing. I charge $75 an hour for my services; I didn't see myself saving that much by couponing. But what I think you're telling me is that with some up-front knowledge and research, in time, I wouldn't be spending that much time on this - and it wouldn't have to cut into my work time necessarily, and maybe only some on my family time. And what if I got my six year old involved in looking for good deals? Any of you do that? Yes, initially, it would be intensive, but after a month or two, I would learn where the good sales are, when the good sales are, and how to buy things. After a year, it would be second nature. Right?
    It's not to say that I don't save money in my own way. I'm a huge yard saler. The yard sales here are really good, and I often find small antiques to sell on eBay, and do very well with that. However, this has required a lot of knowledge of antiques, and of eBay, and our neighborhoods, to get there. I started with it six years ago and it's now part of how I think. I'm sure at least some of you would tell me that's too much trouble for you to go to - and it probably is! That's how I've felt about coupons.
    One person remarked about recycling. There is no deposit on cans or bottles here, and my husband gets about $5 to $10 for a huge bag of cans, and the place he goes to recycle them is 25 minutes away. Maybe you can see my point on that with a little bit more information.
    So. I love that one of you offered to show me how to do this easily. Well - I'm game! Would you like to write a blog post telling our readers how to do it? Then I would write a follow up.
    You guys are awesome. I only had to delete one nasty anonymous comment - and on the Internet, that's a miracle!

  16. I am a Stay at Home Mom of 2 and do not buy many processed foods. I don't buy things with trans fats and high fructose corn syrup for example. You also buy so much fresh produce each week that it will not all fit in the allotted bin in my fridge. With that said, I am an avid coupon cutter. We have learned a hard lesson in this economy. No matter what you do, what you are used to making, or your health status at the moment, your circumstances can change. Ours have. We still buy few packaged foods, but the amount I save on yogurt, cheese, HBA and whole grain cereal are well worth it. The way I see it, the money I save here affords me to buy the fresh fruits and veggies. It also affords me to take my kids places this summer that I might not otherwise be able to. Clipping coupons fun for me, I consider it a responsibility. Like investing or saving, wouldn't I be irresponsible not to. It doesn't take long to clip them and I do it while watching the news. I only go to separate stores when I am going to be right by that store maybe after a t-ball game so there is no additional gas spent. I save a lot and when things turn around I will still be clipping coupons and putting the savings in my IRA.

  17. Couponing has saved our family a lot of money. We use them for everything from groceries to eoil changes. We also like using sites like groupon. My 5 year old has started helping me clip and sort coupons and I can't wait till my other two can help.

  18. Robin-you aren't entirely wrong. I posted earlier and I still agree, you have to see what your time is worth. I am also a consultant and agree-If you make more $$$ using that time to consult, then the $$ saved from time spent on coupons may not compare. When we were living on unemployment, I spent a lot of time looking at sales and coupons (hours each week). Now that we have an income again, I still do it, but much less often. I save the coupons and cut them out at night watching tv or something. I bought a few small coupon folders and organized them by categories that work for me based on the stores I use most often (that took about an hour), and then before I go to the grocery store, I look at what's on sale, then see what I have a coupon for, and try to match them. This takes the most time, since I plan meals for about 5 days, then see if anything is on sale that fits (or, I might plan a meal based on a sale, but that generally only refers to meat and produce). I also keep an eye out for snacks and other stuff we use a lot, and buy if i can get a good deal, even if we don't need it that week. Where it can get junky is looking at coupons first, and then buying, a strategy a lot of couponistas use, but one that doesn't work for us, since we avoid the really awful processed stuff. I don't do this every week now, I am too busy, but at least 1-2 times a month I try to shop this way. Less often than I used to, Ill check out the cvs type store circulars and coupon match. I saved so much $$$ doing this before, when we finally had an income again, I vowed that if nothing else, I would continue this one thing, even if we stopped using coupons for groceries (which can be time consuming). I have hundreds of razors, shampoo, etc that have been free or nearly free. This is a lot easier than the groceries, for sure. Anyway, I guess what I am getting at is you can save a lot of money, with not as much time as you think, just by doing the toiletries and paper goods, etc. Maybe some weeks, you do the grocery coupons, maybe not others, depending on your time.

  19. Robyn, Here are a few sites to get you started. wickedcooldeals.com (my favorite), couponmom.com (lets you know how much things are on sale at your grocery store and if there is a coupon to match), totallytarget.com, dealseekingmom.com, stretchingabuckblog.com.mommysnacks.com One of these sites has links for organic coupons as well. What a great lesson to teach your kids. We buy the items that are free or near free and donate to our local Care and Share. Good luck!

  20. Thank you, Holly! I will check it out.
    I think the key for me might be trying one category to start with - such as paper products -and watching for patterns and sales. Once I've got a handle on that, I think the next category will be easier.
    It's like anything else: make time for it if it matters to you.

  21. Robyn, my advice is to go to places like thecouponclippers.com thecouponmaster or couponcarryout and look up the coupons available. This way you can see what is out there and use that. I dont buy papers anymore if there is just a few coupons i need/want i just use these sites so i can get the coupons i NEED instead of paying 1.00 or more a paper. Id be happy to help you in anyway i can as i love this. Im to the point where i dont have to shop at all for 6 months minus milk, produce and bread.

  22. Robyn, thank you for seeing the light! Once you have a system down it's not that much of you time. If I told you that I saved $38 in coupons at one store last week for about 5-10 minutes of work wouldn't you consider that better than taking on another job? Getting the kids in on is great also. My oldest kids are 10,5,& 2 and the older two love to cut coupons with me. The oldest one likes to go shopping with me and see the bill come down to nothing after all those coupons. He has learned the value of a dollar and the importance of savings from an early age. Our middle child is coming along the same path. I think that these values are important to teach our children when you look at the trouble that our country has gotten into with spending money that we don't have. Everything is bought in our home when we have the money to pay for it and our children already are learning these values. Thank you Robyn for at least entertaining the idea of trying to become a Coupon Queen!


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