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Why I Seldom Use Discount Coupons

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and probably alienate a lot of loyal coupon clippers. That is not my purpose. Lots of people are quite happy with the savings they gain on products that they use regularly to stay on budget, and I am not knocking that. Just for me, coupons usually don’t make a lot of sense.

If you're paying off debt, use coupons wisely.

If you’re paying off debt, use coupons wisely.

Let me explain..

Coupons were created to stimulate sales, to get people to sample new products, and to move products that needed a boost. You really can save money with them, if they are products you normally use. To clip a coupon to try something that is not in a product category that you already use is probably silly.

Don’t get me wrong – saving money is generally a good thing, especially if you’re working on debt management.

However, I have found, in my experience… (bear with me for a moment!) if I find a coupon for an item, it is most likely (not in all cases, but most likely)

  1. Overprocessed
  2. Overpackaged
  3. Overpriced

Let me ‘splain. How often do you see coupons for fresh vegetables, or fruits? Meats? Dairy? Hardly ever. The most common coupons are for highly processed foods, toiletries, cleaning supplies and paper goods.

Convenience and  packaged foods need to be overprocessed so they have a longer shelf life. Without going on a healthy lifestyle rant, doesn’t it make sense that a product that can sit on the shelves for months is probably not so easily digested? That’s overprocessed.

The illusion (at least in my mind) is that you are saving money by using the coupon and buying the product. That is not always the case. Sometimes it works out, there are lots of coupon sites that show you how to “stack” coupons, double coupons, even get goods for free. (Sidebar: Just last week I enjoyed “buying” two small packages each of Fig Newtons and Wheat Thins by using a coupon combined with a sale at CVS. After the coupon, they were free. Free is good!)

But for the most part, I stand by the overprocessed attribute. (This still applies to my free convenience sized boxes of overprocessed and overpackaged, but still tasty snacks.)

Overpackaged? Yes. Many, many of the coupons I found were for a small, “convenient” size. Convenience in small lunch sized, or other small packaging is not free. You pay for that convenience. There may be times when you are actually paying less for the product in a smaller size with a coupon, as a sampler, but you need to be aware of the unit cost of the product. And of course if you are so busy that you need to spend the extra on those few seconds it would take to load a single serving container, so be it.

Just two days ago I was in the first store with a coupon for a great yogurt that I buy regularly. The coupon was good if you buy two 6-ounce containers, with the coupon you get 3 for the price of 2, with a limit of 2 coupons. Okay, fine. The store I was in had that same yogurt on sale, $10 for $10, (regularly priced at $1.29 per 6 ounces. )

Okay…great. I save twice.  Lets see, not too much math needed. I bought 10. For a total of 60 ounces of yogurt for $8. (10 for $10, and two coupons for two free = $8, or  a net price of 13.3 cents per ounce by combining the bargains). You coupon pros call this “stacking”. And of course I realize that if I bought 6, with 2 free, it would maximize my discount, and lower the cost per ounce to 9 cents. (36 oz for $4.00) But I wanted 10.

I was happy, the yogurt was great, and I felt frugal.  Two days later, I went to my usual store where they had the same yogurt on sale in their circular for 16 ounce containers, 2 for $5.  Okay- sale price, without coupon, bigger container, 15.6 cents per ounce. Better than the sale price at store number one, without the coupon. They were sold out. I was ready for the raincheck routine, but I looked aside, and there to my surprise was a 32 ounce container at the regular price of $4.99.   The Sales circular touts 2 – 16oz containers for $5, but the regular price on one 32 ounce container is $4.99 ??

What kind of evil game are we playing here?

Without the coupon, the sale price at the first store was 16 cents per ounce. The everyday price at the second store was 15.6 cents per ounce, and the sale price at the second store was 15.6 per ounce for two smaller containers. And it dawned on me. I need to know the best price that I pay regularly, where I pay that price, and use it as a baseline. The only way that buying the yogurt at store one was a bargain was by using TWO coupons and matching it up with the sale price in their circular – “stacking”.

I just don’t see myself doing this on a regular basis.

Overpriced? Well, doesn’t it kind of have to be overpriced if they are willing to sell it to you for a significant discount? There are not many times that a manufacturer is going to sell you something at a loss – unless it is to get you to try it, and hopefully continue to buy it forever.

A couple of other reasons I hardly ever use coupons –

I buy a lot of staple products in bulk. For example, lets say I buy a big bag of rice. (I’m a big rice fan; I’ll post about that later…) I can get a big bag of rice for less than $.75 a pound. Just last week, I got a coupon for .50 off a 2-pound package of a brand name rice; I clipped the coupon and brought it to the store on my next trip. 2 pounds of the brand name rice was $2.50, with .50 off, it was still $2, or $1 a pound.

If I was able to “double” the coupon, and get $1 off, it was still on par with my usual price for rice. ($2.50 – $1 = $1.50 /2 = .75. Why would I go through the hassle of clipping the coupon, getting the double deal, and buying a 2 lb bag of rice, when at the same price, I can buy a big bag once for several months?

I read just recently that families that use coupons generally spend more than families that do not use coupons. (Darned if I can find it again…) It goes back to the idea of WHY the coupons are created in the first place. Do you really think manufacturers create coupons so you will spend less on their products?

The bottom line on this one is, sure you can save money – but you need to know what you are doing. You need a strategy, and a system that works for you. There are literally thousands of sites out there that can help with this.

Personally, I go the other way… I find that buying bulk on most items, and finding off brand substitutes and natural alternatives to be much cheaper, and less time consuming.

Have I sworn off coupons entirely? Nope. I am just far more selective.

To each his own. I expect to get a lot of feedback on this one. There are “coupon clipping rockstars” out there that can buy a cartload of groceries for pennies on the dollar. I salute you. I just don’t see myself getting into the coupon game at that level.

If you’re struggling to pay off debt, ACCC can help. Schedule a free credit counseling session with us today.


Andi is a Marketing Assistant at ACCC. He is passionate about supporting financial literacy efforts and helping to educate people on the Talking Cents blog!

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