Friday, July 9, 2010

To Coupon, or Not to Coupon, That is the Question

For years, I didn't even try to coupon. In those days, coupons were often only worth a few cents, and there were lots of generics available, and I could get the generics for cheaper than I could get the name brand product, even with a coupon. Times have changed, and there are few generic products (although there are lots of quality store brands), and coupons come in higher values now. When we moved here, I discovered several of the neighbors are big into couponing. They would talk about all the things they got free or nearly free by using coupons. I began to feel like I was missing a good bargain hunting tool. I went to a class or two, and started trying to use the coupons I had.

I found one obstacle right away. The classes offered are generally funded by newspaper companies. Their recommendation is to take a copy of the Sunday paper for each person in your home. They have special deals for Sunday only subscriptions to go along with your regular subscription. The problem is, you have to save a substantial amount of money to pay for the extra cost of the Sunday subscriptions. I wasn't willing to put out that kind of money, so I determined to do the best I could with the one set of coupons I was getting anyway.

Then the grocery store that everyone seemed to get their best coupon deals at, closed. Ok, I hadn't been in the habit of shopping there that much anyway. And a lot of those deals involved, buy 10 and save $3. or $5. But you had to buy 10, and I didn't often need 10.

Many people in other states get great coupon deals because their stores double coupons, or even triple them. Stores around here don't.

Then my husband lost his job, and we cut our food budget in half. I now have to focus on buying very basic foods--as my friend puts it, "bread and milk and cheese and eggs." I add certain produce to that, like bananas and lettuce and apples. By the time I buy those basics, there isn't a lot of money left for buying things with coupons. (You notice that there are seldom coupons for really basic foods, they are usually for more prepared foods.) I can do a lot with those basic foods, even making homemade versions of prepared foods that someone else might use a coupon to buy. For example, I never buy Stovetop stuffing. My family likes my homemade mix better. I can save a lot more money by cooking from scratch than I can by buying a lot of prepared foods and snacks using coupons.

So, a week or two ago a local grocery store had a special deal, any coupons valued under a dollar would be worth a dollar. I should be able to get some really good deals, right? Maybe. I gathered my coupons, and cut out anything for under a dollar that I thought we could use, and a few other higher value coupons that seemed like an especially good deal, and headed for the store. It took me about an hour to cut out the coupons, by the way. I headed into the store, and spent the next 2 hours trying to find the best deals. I found some great deals. For example, for $2 I got 5 lbs. of sugar and 10 packages of Koolade. And I got 2 bars of bath soap free after coupon. There were other things that were sold out. Why is it that there are always coupons for Wacky Mac, but there is never any on the shelf? lol Most of the rest of my coupons I sat and had to decide, is this coupon going to make this item a reasonable price? I got several things that were a reasonable price. Not spectacular, but reasonable, and they were things I would have had on my list anyway. But there were also a lot of thing that weren't worth the cost, even after the coupon. Even with a $1 coupon, I am not going to spend $8 for a small box of dishwasher detergent tablets when I can buy a box of powder for less than half the price, and it will clean more than twice the dishes. I did get some good deals, but in the end, I spent quite a bit of my grocery budget buying things to get to use the coupon, and I had to make up for that out of the next week's food budget.

There are a couple other problems with coupons that aren't quite so obvious. One is that those prepared foods for which there are coupons, are often full of sodium, fat, preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, etc. When I can make a homemade version, it is often healthier. And it usually tastes better as well. You can't compare my homemade brownies to any box mix. Another problem is that what we feed our families trains their taste buds. I mentioned that my family likes my homemade stuffing mix better than Stovetop. They didn't always feel that way, but I couldn't afford the storebought, and I had a good recipe for homemade, so I nearly always made homemade. A few years ago my mother gave us several boxes of stuffing mix to use for Thanksgiving dinner. The stuffing didn't get eaten; my family had gotten used to my homemade. I went back to making my own after that. A woman made a comment at an extension office workshop on frugal living once--"Using coupons has ruined my budget. Buying the brand-name convenience foods that there are coupons for gave my family a taste for the brand-name products, and now I can't buy anything else, because they won't eat it." Brand recognition starts early in life. My grandson will only eat chicken nuggets from his preferred fast food place, not what I have in my freezer; and the spaghettios I buy had better have the right picture on the front. Forget the homecooked, grilled chikcen, and the spaghetti made with fresh, home-grown tomatoes. I don't really want a basement full of foods that contain too much sodium and preservatives. I want good healthy, real food.

So what is the bottom line? For me, I find it works best if I make my shopping list, then look to see if there are any coupons that match. If I do it the other way around, I find that I spend too much money buying food I don't always like that is full of salt and preservatives, and teaching my family to expect that taste all the time. I will still use occasional coupons, but I will get more bang from my buck by buying basic foods and cooking them into tasty meals at home. I will never be a coupon queen. If they work for you, I am glad. But like anything else, I think using coupons should be a reasoned decision, not something you do just because there is a perception that that is the best way to save money. Think about it, and make your own decision. Best wishes,


  1. Good post! I don't use too many coupons and really only for things we eat like Dannon yogurt or cereal. I also use coupons for organic products when I have them since I try to buy organic within my budget. But you're right, a lot of coupon products are for processed foods that people would be better off without eating in the long run.


  2. It is so true! Coupons can be more of a detriment than a help sometimes. What I have found is that I definitely save money when I am using them, but I have to really be careful to use them only on things that I need to buy anyways. I shop of grocery smarts each week and stock up on all 4 or 5 star items that I would by anyways and then I fill in the rest with what I need for the week. I try to keep it at around $80.00 a week. It works really well for me. I do agree that often times the coupons are for things that are processed and it would be cheaper and healthier to make it at home. Definitely over the last year and a half I have spent less because of coupons!

  3. we never use coupons, and our total food budget is 200 or less a month(that includes non food stuff too like Tpaper-which i do hoarde-)
    but i get a once a year deal and it is good

    the reason we don't use coupons? they don't have them for basics....unless it's 'buy this horribly expensive cardboard food and we'll give you 1.00 off on real food to go with it'

    no thank you

  4. I haven't found that coupons work for me either. I don't buy much processed and the store brands for the things I do are cheaper than the brands with the coupons. I also no longer buy all the beauty products and cleaners, but make what we need so those are all of no use. Scratch is no easier, just cheaper and usually better IMHO.

  5. Few coupons here too. I did find $2 off the pain-reliever dh uses for his chronic back pain and there is the yougurt he will eat (planning to train him to eat homemade very soon) and the rest are usually toiletries. We try to eat whole foods and homemade and little in the way of processed and as you said, that's what most of the coupons are for. I'd love to see coupons for produce and "ingredients" like flour, sugar, beans, etc.