Why I Don’t Care About National Coupon Month

by Kevin on September 16, 2010

Apparently it’s national coupon month. (As if we needed another name for September.)

I used to be a huge fan of coupons. We even tried to play the coupon game to get free or heavily discounted stuff from stores like Walgreens and CVS.

We bought papers. We clipped and flipped through pages upon pages upon pages of coupons. We bought a cute little light blue coupon organizer (accordion style, no less).

We filed away each coupon by the month it would expire so that we would know to use it at least by that month. (Because there’s nothing worse than a coupon you got in a paper that you spent money on and it is for a product you plan to buy… but you forget to use it.)

I checked out coupon forums and websites. That was helpful to a point. These places had early scans of the upcoming sales at the pharmacy stores so you could try to make a plan to maximize your coupon use and money saved. I created a couple of spreadsheets and planned out some of our purchases.

We saved a little bit of money. We got a couple of items for free.

At the end of the day…

…it just wasn’t worth it.

Value Your Spare Time

I made the decision to start valuing my spare time a bit higher than I was clipping coupons.

In other words spending time cutting up coupons to buy things I may or may not really need wasn’t a great use of my time.

It would take an hour or so to go through the paper, look up future coupon ads, and plan out when to buy what. With all that effort we might save $5 or $7 each week after taking the $2 cost of the newspaper into consideration.

Now before you get started in typing up a pro-coupon rant in the comments let me say I know we could have done better in terms of saving money. I know there are people out there saving $50 or $100 every week with coupons. They are feeding their families by visiting multiple stores, getting store matches, and maximizing every last cent of those coupons.

To be honest it was a lot of hassle for not a lot of perceived gain.

The Best Coupons

I’m not discounting all coupons. That would be foolish. I just think there are two different kinds of coupons. Those worth your time, and those not worth your time.

Here’s what I believe are the best coupons:

  • For starters coupons must be for items that you are looking to purchase or normally purchase on a regular basis. Going out of your way to buy that brand of grape juice just to get the extra 50 cents even when you don’t really like grape juice doesn’t make sense.
  • The best coupons are available when you need them rather than when they need to be used. For example I use Big 10 Tires to get the oil changed in our vehicles. They have a section on their website for coupons that you can use including one for oil changes. Compare this to that grape juice coupon that has an expiration date and you have to either wait until you’re in the mood for grape juice or wait until the store puts it on sale… and it expires.

The Worst Coupons

the ones you have to plan to use, especially on items you wouldn’t normally use

There are some pretty bad coupons out there. Coupons are a great way to do marketing for firms, to get you to try their product in hopes that you’ll be hooked.

Here are few examples of the ones I didn’t enjoy.

  • A lot of the coupons we saw were for lots and lots of processed food. Don’t get me wrong we eat our fair share of processed food, but you don’t see coupons for eggs or bananas. That should be a red flag for you.
  • The coupons expire within 30 to 90 days, usually. That puts you on the company’s timeline and not on your own. Again I’d rather buy things when I need them not when a store or manufacturer needs me to buy them.
  • Coupons for the specialty version of something you regularly buy. For example, Super Duper Toothpaste when we’re just fine buying Plain Jane Normal toothpaste. They’re trying to get you hooked on the mint flavor / blue color / sparkles. Don’t be tricked.

Focus on Income Growth

I’ve learned to focus more on income growth than spending cuts. We are pretty disciplined in our budgeting so there isn’t a ton of room to cut anyways. I’ll be writing more on what I’ve personally done to grow my income more in the future.

I’d love to read your thoughts: have you had more success in cutting your budget or in growing your income?


Deb September 16, 2010 at 12:29 pm

I could not agree more. I hate coupons, they are usually for things we don’t buy like processed foods and name brands.

I value my time, and I can use it better elsewhere. Reduce your grocery costs by stocking up on basics & staples, cook from scratch, and avoid processed foods. Freeze leftovers in individual or family sized portions, and you’ll eliminate the need to run out for fast food on nights you don’t feel like cooking. You will save a lot of money this way, and your food will be healthier.

Kevin September 18, 2010 at 9:26 am

Thanks for stopping by Deb! I’ll focus more on making more money in the future, but definitely cooking from scratch and using your time that way to save money is a good first step.

Golfing Girl September 17, 2010 at 6:52 am

We just started getting the newspaper, mostly for the coupons. I’m now a Stay at Home Mom so I finally have the time to clip them and use them. However, I continue to struggle to organize them. Half the time, I take them with me, only to find the off brand is still cheaper, so I leave the coupon on the shelf next to the expensive item, hoping I can benefit someone who really likes the product. I would say that I only clip about 5-10% of the printed coupons I’m simply not interested in the product or know that the generic is so much cheaper it’s not worth it.

My biggest food saving strategy is going to the closest store (which happens to be pretty cheap anyway) and using my American Express Blue Cash card. I get 5% cashback on all groceries (at any grocery store). Although Walmart or Target might have products marked a tiny bit lower, my 5% savings usually makes up for it.

Kevin September 18, 2010 at 9:28 am

Of course you’ve got to get to that second tier for AMEX’s Blue Cash at $6,500 (my card, too!), but good point. I’d be interested to hear what other things you could use some of that free time for as a stay at home Mom.

Could you do some spare freelancing and earn $20 for an hour of work? That’s a lot of coupons and only an hour spent.

Steve in W MA October 1, 2010 at 2:52 am

@ debvalue my time, and I can use it better elsewhere. Reduce your grocery costs by stocking up on basics & staples, cook from scratch, and avoid processed foods….You will save a lot of money this way, and your food will be healthier.”

so so true. And actually it’s often at least as fast as “fast” food.
I usually keep a plastic container of dough in the fridge and a jar of pizza sauce and a bag of shredded mozzarella cheese in the freezer. If I’m in the mood for pizza when I come home from work, I turn on the oven to 425 deg F, roll or stretch out some pizza dough, chop some onions and a couple other toppings, and have a homemade pizza (usually better than anything available in my town commercially) ready within 25 minutes of walking through the door. It’s kind of amazing and very satisfying to be able to make that happen probably have dinner come to about a dollar on those nights that I do this.

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