Here is a post from The Simple Dollar about the author’s view of couponing. After the article, I will place my own comments. I would love to hear your comments too.
The Challenge of Couponing
August 19, 2010 @ 2:00 pm – Written by Trent
I’ve long been an advocate of using coupons at the grocery store. I often clip coupons for toiletries and household products and, when there are opportunities, for some food items like organic milk (I had a great coupon for this a while back). I’ve also used coupons for bigger purchases as well in the past.
Because of this, I hear almost every day from people who have great coupons or great coupon-offering websites. “You should try this!” they’ll say, or they’ll suggest that I feature the site on The Simple Dollar. A very recent example of this is Groupon; other examples include Coupon Sherpa and Woot – and I won’t even touch on the plethora of “coupon blogs” out there.
I don’t link to these things. In fact, I usually don’t visit them beyond simply adding them as a bookmark to a “coupon” folder in my browser.
Some of you are probably surprised by that (others might already know why). After all, on a site interested in saving money, why wouldn’t I hunt down coupons?
Here’s the truth: visiting coupon sites for the sole purpose of “saving money” will cost you money.
Let’s walk through the reasons for this. Almost every coupon you see requires you to spend some money in order to bring home the “savings.” Any time you spend money on something you don’t need, you’re taking money away from something that’s actually important to you.
If you go to a site that lists nothing but a bunch of coupons (or look at a coupon flyer), you’re not looking at coupons – you’re looking at lists of stuff to buy.
For me, successful coupon use takes a very different approach. Rather than simply looking through lists of coupons and identifying ways to “save” on items I don’t really need, I start with lists of the things I do need or truly want independent of the coupons.
In other words, I do use coupon flyers and coupon sites, but I don’t bother to look through them unless I’m looking for something specific.
So, for example, I’ll look through coupon flyers once I have my grocery list together. I’ll look at coupon sites once I’ve come up with a gift idea or two for a friend or family member or when I’m considering a specific purchase.
Another example: I have a special email address that I use to sign up for coupons from retailers I regularly visit. When I’m considering a purchase, I visit that email account and search through the emails (Gmail makes this kind of searching very easy) for ones that match the item I’m thinking of or the retailer I’m thinking of visiting. Almost always, I’ve got a coupon right there.
Aside from that, the coupon flyers remain unopened and the coupon sites remain untouched. Looking at lists of stuff to buy – even with a nice discount on it – is just spending time thinking of spending my money on stuff I don’t really need and don’t really want.
Let what you actually need lead the way. That way, you’ll never find yourself spending your hard-earned money on stuff that you really don’t want – and you can conserve that money for stuff that you really do need or want.
Trent has a good point here that I want all couponers to keep in mind, even if I also disagree with him some.
1. A coupon is not money. I have heard some online couponers say that their kids even say coupons are money. I strongly disagree with that. If you buy something because you had a coupon, or because it was a good deal, is it something you will use? If not, you saved no money, you only spent money. How does one save with coupons? Buying things that you will use cheaper than you would normally buy the item. IE my family likes Ragu pasta sauce, so buying that with a coupon and doubling saves money, but say I have a coupon for fruit rollups, something I don’t generally allow my son to eat as it is mostly sugar, and it matches up to a great sale, did I save money? No, not really. Not unless that fruit rollups is something that replaces something else that I would spend more for, like maybe applesauce for packing lunches or something. Now, that is not to say that I don’t advocate spending a little more on occasion with a good coupon and a good deal, in order to enjoy something you don’t normally buy, but admit to yourself that you really aren’t saving $1 if the coupon is $.50 and doubles, if you spent $.50 that you wouldn’t have spent without it.
2. Can one save money by looking at blogs, like this one, even if Trent has a valid point about coupons encouraging you to buy something you wouldn’t otherwise buy? Yes. As long as you consider each coupon and each deal carefully and you track your spending. I advocate that all couponers track their spending, even if they don’t have a set budget. Why? Because couponing and hunting out the good deals or the great deals, can become a hobby or even an obsession. IF you are spending more couponing then you were before you were couponing, unless you are just starting, then you might be buying stuff you don’t need. When you first start couponing though, and have no stock pile at all, you may spend more for awhile to build up a stockpile. Once you get a stockpile, then you will save money, unless you are buying things you don’t need, or can’t use. IE if you have ten boxes of cereal expiring tomorow, you might be buying too much cereal for your family to eat.
So I think in the long run, with careful watching of finances, one can save money couponing and forming a stockpile, but it is incredibly easy to just buy more stuff and spend more money instead of saving.