In my many articles about couponing, I’ve talked at length about how couponing can save you money on groceries and household goods, but couponing can have a dark side too. In fact, if you aren’t careful, couponing can trick you into thinking you’re saving money when you really aren’t.
In this article, I’ll talk about these pitfalls and how you can avoid them.
Coupons don’t save you money if you buy what you don’t need
Couponing is addictive. Let’s be honest — there’s a huge thrill that comes from knowing you can buy a product at a fraction of the normal retail price, and that thrill is only amplified if you’re able to extend that deal to cover multiple products. But if your family doesn’t want or need or can’t use the products that are on sale, you probably aren’t actually saving any money.
Case in point: a few months ago, I got a great deal on these little fruit puree packets — basically apple sauce, but made with other fruits like strawberry or pear. I don’t even remember the brand, but I was able to get them for about 25 cents each, so I bought 8 of them. It wasn’t a product we would normally buy (my wife and I don’t particularly care for even plain apple sauce, let alone other fruit sauces), but it seemed like such a great deal that I couldn’t pass it up.
Well, they were disgusting. They were packed with sugar and had a horrible after taste, and neither I nor my wife enjoyed them. I briefly considered trying to salvage them in a smoothie, but that didn’t seem good either. And I was stuck with 8 of the things! Thankfully, we managed to pawn them off to a friend with young children who didn’t mind the cloying sweetness, and overall I was only out $2.00, which isn’t much in the grand scheme of things.
But it could have been, especially if I made a habit of buying things because they were cheap and not because they’re actually products my family wants or needs.
You see this a lot on shows like Extreme Couponing — someone brags about how they got twelve 16-pound bags of dog food for $1.00 each, a great price to be sure, and then drops the bombshell that they don’t even have a dog. If you can’t use the product, you’re just throwing money away.
Coupons don’t save you money if it still costs more than the off-brand
Have you ever looked at boxed cereal, especially the name brands? That stuff is ridiculously expensive. It’s also one of those items that you can commonly find coupons for — Cheerios almost always has a coupon available, and most of the other major cereal brands do too. These coupons are usually valued at 55 cents or so.
That’s a decent amount, but if the name brand cereal is $3.99 a box, and the off brand is $2.69, then a 55 cent off coupon still has you paying 75 cents more than you should be for a box of cereal. Instead, you should wait on using that coupon until the name brand cereal goes on sale. Combine your coupon with a good sale price, and you can save some considerable cash. With couponing, timing is everything.
Coupons don’t save you money if they consume all your time
This is a tricky one to measure, but one of the biggest complaints many people have about coupons is how much time they have to sink into them. If you want to save money with coupons, you do need to spend some time keeping an eye on upcoming sales and collecting coupons for products you need, but it doesn’t have to take hours upon hours. That’s time you could spend working on your professional skills to land a better job, or bringing in some extra income with a side job to pay down your debt quicker.
To coupon in less time, sign up for online weekly ads, instead of thumbing through the sales papers from the newspaper. You’ll get the same content, but you can skim them quicker, and you don’t have to deal with all the excess paper.
Don’t clip or print every single coupon you come across — most of them you’ll never use. Instead, pay attention to brands you like and try to gather coupons for those brands. We use Tidy Cats litter for our cat’s litter box. It does a good job, our picky feline seems to like it, and I can find $1.00 off coupons fairly frequently. I also see coupons for other brands of litter, but I don’t bother with them — I know the brand I like, and even if I can get another brand for cheaper, it’s not worth the hassle of trying to switch my cat over to a new litter.
Coupons don’t save you money if you don’t use them correctly
Read the fine print on every single coupon you use. Make sure you know exactly what products your coupons are valid for, or you’ll find yourself at the cash register scrambling to switch out products or arguing with managers about your coupons. That wastes your time, it wastes the time of the people around you, and it probably won’t save you any money. Instead, know what you’re buying ahead of time and confirm that it’s valid before you ever get in line.
Have any of these couponing pitfalls ever tripped you up?
Photo by Images of Money.