Are Coupons Worth It?

I had a question from Karla this week:    

I notice from your menu plan that most of the foods you prepare/cook/plan are not processed foods (which is very helpfully inspiring). What percentage of coupons do you say you actually use from the paper since so much of it is processed foods? That's the only reason I stopped getting the paper but I'm thinking of signing back up for it to use the savings. 

You're perfectly right that we eat more whole foods/basics than we do processed.  That's because I like knowing how to pronounce the majority of what I eat, prefer to control our sodium and sugar (I'd rather have a handful of homemade cookies or a handful of chips than sugar/salt I hadn't planned to eat).  But make no mistake there are many ways to save with coupons besides food, like those other things that tend to get lumped into our grocery budget (pet food, cleaning, paper products, personal care items, etc.).

I confess that my current interest in coupons is three-fold: #1. I'm inspired by "Extreme Couponers" even though I don't think I'll ever have the stockpile that some of those folks have.  I just can't imagine it.  I do understand that many of these ladies also provide for shelters and foodbanks in their areas or send care packages to soldiers, but I just don't believe I see a need in my life for dental cream when I don't have dentures, etc.  I can't fathom the number of products they buy...BUT I learn a few things every time I watch that program.

I loved the rotation system a homeschooling mom of seven had in place.  It gave me ideas for a smaller scale system in my own pantry.  Two of the couponers I watched recently both bought a product with both a manufacturer's coupon and a full rebate offer, which meant they were being PAID to buy that product.  That money was used to purchase meat in one case and in the other, the couple reapplied the saved money to their grocery budget.

#2.  Most all of these folks have a STRICT budget that is far less than my own, but they have built their stockpiles from that budget.  Nearly all of them spent 50-75% less than I spend.  I could so use an extra bit of money each month!  I have worked hard to get my budget to the place it is now, but I would love to see it go lower still.

Once upon a time, long long ago, I would write out a check to pay for my groceries when the teller told me the total, then I'd hand over my coupons and get 'cash' for the coupons.  This was an accepted practice as they knew they were getting their money, but it's now frowned upon.  At that time I'd take the cash and put into our vacation fund.  Now I'd like to do that again, but I'll have to 'pay myself'.  And it won't go into the vacation fund, but the repayment of our car loan.  True some weeks it might hardly seem worthwhile if I save only a dollar but  I learned with eBay that those $1 and $3 amounts add up each month.  I just have to be BELOW my usual budget for those amounts to truly be a savings.  I can't spend the same amount AFTER coupons or more than usual and say I had savings, if you see what I mean.

#3  One girl said she NEVER paid out of pocket to buy shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, laundry detergent, etc.  And she was strict about not buying it if she had to pay for it!  The truth is, she's not doing anything I haven't done at times in the past.  I may not have 50 coupons for the product but almost every single week there are sales on some personal care/cleaning product that I use for which I have a coupon.  I find these sales are generally best at CVS with the extra cash bucks program. I got $35 worth of products FREE Christmas Eve.  Mostly personal care items which we are still using.  Because I also used coupons on those ECB offers and had some ECBs to redeem I stocked up on John's favorite candy.  It cost me NOTHING.  Chocolate for FREE!

Which coupons do I clip from magazines/papers?  Every single one that I even remotely think I might use, even if I normally don't purchase that product because I am only brand loyal in a few areas.  Otherwise I'm open game.  I won't buy more than one of a product I've never tried even if they are free, but if I've tried it and liked it I'll certainly happily buy all I have coupons for at the time.  And yes, even those preservative ridden coupons get clipped too, but I confess I seldom will use them.

I recall we once picked up about ten of those Hormel shelf stable meals that we found on sale when I had a plethora of coupons for them.  We gave them to our son who was working part time at that time while attending college and his roommate had just lost his job.  They were very happy to have those meals and we were happy to be able to help out.  I've often let my kids come in to 'shop' my extras when they were in a tough patch.

When Katie married she took a stockpile of groceries with her to her new home, all bought with sales/coupons.  All she had to purchase was fresh meat and produce for her first grocery trip.  She called me after to tell me she'd wandered the aisles and looked at prices and was astonished that I'd been able to be so generous with her.  I had to point out the power of shopping with coupons and sales was the reason she had such full shelves at home.

Our paper costs $1.50 to $2 depending on where it's purchased.  If I get only three coupons out of it and use them,  I've recovered my costs.  I usually get far more, but the percentage is hard for me to figure.  I sometimes use only one or two coupons in a shopping trip and other weeks I might use twenty or so.

So yes, I think coupons are worthwhile and the purchase of a magazine such as ALL YOU or the Sunday paper (and in some cities, such as our own paper,  the Wednesday edition, too) for coupons.  You can also print off coupons from online sites BUT don't print them until you see the sales.  It's not worthwhile if you waste ink printing and then don't use unless you have a super efficient printer.

I am excited to see how coupons help me in this 'Year of Savings' and in accomplishing that goal of paying down that car loan!

* I wrote this last night.  Today I had a chance to shop earlier than usual for my weekly groceries, taking advantage of some good sales at Publix.  One of the purchases was deodorant for John.  I bought 4 and paid just $.55 each for them.  I won't have to buy deodorant for him for a number of months now.  


Deanna said...

I used to clip coupons but our buying practices have changed so much that it simply isn't worth it to me anymore. However, my daughter and I shop once a month in a city an hour away at health food and natural grocery stores which occasionally offer some of their own coupons. She also finds some online for a few of the organic products we buy. I do wish there were coupons for organic produce and meat but those are exceedingly rare and never in our newspaper. Instead I focus on watching for sales, buying in season, making virtually everything from scratch and stocking up when I find a good price on something I regularly use.

I admit a certain fascination with that couponing show and admire the work and determination it takes. But we just don't buy hardly any of the products they seem to be stocking up on.

Susan in SC said...

Well written Terri! I agree with everything you wrote.

Karla Neese said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this incite! It helps me a lot. I think I will start getting the Sunday paper again and the magazine you mentioned. We are lucky to have one store chain (a local chain) in our area that still does double-coupons and they are linked to a Fuel Rewards Card that converts the $ you spend at the store with savings at the gas station. This weekend I saved 15 cents per gallon on my fill up just from a $50 purchase of necessities I would have bought anyway. I do have a CVS card but still am not in the habit of going there. That is about to change. :)I work full time outside the home so sometimes I fall into the lazy category, but I do generally plan a menu. I have the skills and used to use coupons and plan around sales regularly. I just need to make it a habit again. I know God can help me with this and I know He led me to your blog for a reason. Blessings!

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