Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"Saving at the Grocery Store": Couponing, The Pros & Cons

So far in our series on Saving at the Grocery Store, we have looked at some basic ways to save:

(1) Make a Price Book: To keep track of the best prices on foods and products you buy most frequently and where to purchase them.

(2) Menu planning: To plan meals around grocery sales ads and what you have in your own kitchen pantry or freezer.

(3) Shop at Multiple Stores: To stock up on "loss leaders" and get the lowest prices on everything else.

Today, I want to discuss couponing.

Because there is a lot I could talk about, I want to begin by looking at the pros and cons of couponing. The pros are pretty obvious, right? Saving money. Yet, as I look back over the four years I have been actively couponing, I am beginning to see that today I clip and use less and less coupons than I did in the beginning.
For starters, there are relatively few coupons available for the items we use. I you consider just the coupons in the Sunday paper, you have probably noticed that most food coupons are for name brand convenience foods. Think Pillsbury crescent rolls, Oscar Mayer deli meat, Progresso soup, Wishbone salad dressing, Lean Cuisine frozen entrees. Because I have been trying for the last two years to make foods from scratch and stay away from highly-processed foods, I have found that I am saving less and less at the grocery store with coupons. When I shop at Aldi and Kroger for the basics, I almost never use coupons because (1) Aldi doesn't accept them and (2) the items I buy rarely have coupons. However, sometimes there are manufacturer or store coupons for condiments, bread, meat, eggs, cheese, milk--the items I most often buy--and when I have those coupons, I make every effort to use them. Still, you have to determine if the coupons are for products that you normally buy.

Another con to couponing is the time involved. When I first started couponing, I easily spent 4-5 hours a week searching for, clipping, organizing, and locating coupons to use for upcoming shopping trips, not to mention the time it took me to set up an effective coupon organizer. It was a little extreme, I know, but I felt gratified when I saved 110% at the grocery store. Now I spend maybe an hour a week tops on couponing. Still, time is very valuable, and when you have other priorities, you have to determine if couponing is really making you enough money to warrant doing it.

Still another deterrent to couponing is that even with a coupon you can often get the product cheaper by buying a different brand or going generic. Again, this is where having a price book comes in handy. For example, last week I had a coupon for Hunt's brand canned tomatoes. They were not on sale, but with the coupon, the price was roughly $1 a can. Despite the fact that I had a coupon, those canned tomatoes were still more expensive than Aldi's off-brand canned tomatoes of the same quantity and, dare I say, quality. So what did I do? I left the store minus the canned tomatoes and bought them at Aldi instead. The real key to saving money is not using a coupon but following the lowest price. And because I had my price book with me, I knew where I could get the item at a lower price.

So, if there are so many reasons not to coupon, why do it? 

For me, the big reason why I coupon is to save money on the items for which there are rarely coupons available, namely meats, produce, and dairy, both organic and non-organic. What I mean is this: When an item that I normally buy goes on sale and I have a coupon, I save a lot of money. Just by purchasing the coupon items on sale, I save big (especially when the sale is Buy One-Get One Free)!  Then, I drive to my cheaper stores and buy the rest of my shopping list there. With the savings I've racked up at the more expensive store, I am able to buy the whole foods I want to feed my family. 

Despite the time and effort involved in couponing, the pay-offs can be great if you are careful not to let coupons dictate what you buy.

“With a coupon, I am tempted to buy something that I normally would not buy—just because I have a coupon. When I am tempted to buy an item because I have a coupon, I ask myself three questions:

(1)   Do I need it?
(2)   Can I buy it cheaper in another brand?
(3)   Can I prepare it cheaper myself?”

Jonni McCoy, Miserly Moms

As you consider whether couponing is right for you, think about the products you typically buy (are there coupons available for them?), the time involved, the "cost" of preparing the product yourself, and the availability of cheaper brands. It may not be a wise investment of your time and energy, or it may help you save enough money to buy the products you really want for your family.

Do you coupon? Why or why not?

Next week we will look at places to find coupons and different methods of coupon organization. I look forward to your feedback.

Blessings to you!


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  1. I completely agree with you! I started off couponing with a bang - hours of clipping, sorting, storing. After a few months, I noticed that I had a lot of things on my shelf that weren't being used. I still coupon, some, but I am more aware of what we will truly use and try to buy store brand or sale items. Thanks for your insight!

  2. Nope. No couponing for me. Like you said, there aren't many coupons for healthy, non-convenience foods. I do use coupons for chicken feed and dog food when I can find them, but for the most part, even if there is a coupon for something I regularly buy, the generic is still cheaper. Excellent post!

  3. Excellent post. We shop at a discount store that does not accept coupons so I rarely use them. But I do try to watch for the few things that we would be able to use a coupon for and take advantage of that.

  4. Good post! (I've been posting about grocery savings and I'm posting about my simple coupon strategy tomorrow too!) I use coupons, but I find that my price list is the best tool I have. I combine the coupon with the best price to get great savings. If you don't combine it with the lowest sale price, it's pointless. I think coupons are good, but if you're only going to use one strategy, I would say that my price book is indispensable.