Coupons

by Mr. Cheap

As much as I love to save money, something I’m embarrassed to admit is that I never bother with coupons. I’ll grudgingly submit rebates (I hate them though, just sell me the thing cheaper please), but coupons have always seemed like more trouble then they’re worth.

Every so often you read about a coupon queen and it always makes me suspicious I’m missing out on some big savings. An article I read a while back said to combine coupons that give you money off EACH item, with “buy one, get one free” sales in order to get paid to buy things (i.e. they give you the items AND money).

Recently I got “The Complete Tightwad Gazette” out of the library after a reader recommended it. One suggestion turned me off a bit. “Make potholders out of old blue jeans”. My reaction was “come on! how big of an expense are POTHOLDERS for the typical family!”. Most of the suggestions are reasonable though, and even things like this she’ll often acknowledge don’t really make sense from just a dollar and cents perspective (she makes her kid’s Halloween costumes, even though she agrees that they can be purchased pretty darn cheaply – its about crafting as well as saving money).

She addresses coupons at one point, and her feeling is similar to my own: that they’re a lot of work for debatable savings. She makes the point that many people look at their SAVINGS from coupons, rather than their TOTAL SPENDING. If you save $20 buying name brand products with coupons, but you could have saved $30 buying store brands, are you any further ahead?

Have any of our readers saved big by getting serious about coupons? Can you find situations where you get paid to take things home (or can get them for next to nothing) very often? Has anyone done this in Canada?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Four Pillars

You scared me for a minute – I thought you were going to write about how great coupons are! :)

I agree – coupons suck! Aren’t they just another version of rebates? Why can’t the stores just lower the price? Why make some consumers work for it?

Dumb!

Mike

2 Mr. Cheap

Mike: *APPARENTLY* the original motivation for coupons was to test advertising (they could see how many people bought something based on an advertisement by counting the coupons submitted). I’m not sure if this is still a consideration or not…

3 Mrs Pillars

I’m not good with coupons either. If I come across one I think is worth the effort (something we use already), I usually carry it around for months before I remember to use it.
For many items, I agree that the name brand may only come down in price to the discount version for no real savings.

4 Jason R

In general coupons are not that useful, like you’ve pointed out. One source of coupons that I have found very useful, however, is The Entertainment Book. If you eat out at all, this book will pay for itself in one or two excursions. Almost all the restaurant coupons are buy one entre, get the second entre free, so you can turn a 40 dollar evening into a 20 dollar evening (if you don’t buy any drinks!) It also has buy one, get one free coupons for many activities – museums, amusement parks, rec centres … I got mine for free from BCAA, but school kids often use it for fund-raisers, or you can get it online. The come out in the fall and are good for a year. You can get the 2008 book (good until November) for 10 bucks now – just eating out once should cover that!

5 Praveen

My wife typically cuts out coupons for groceries we buy regularly.

At the store, we have the discipline to not use them if we find that the store brand is cheaper.

Some times, we can combine manufacturing coupons, store coupons, and rebates – then the savings are a lot!

6 deepali

I think coupons only work if you shop with some consistency. I don’t buy very much and I don’t buy the same things on a regular basis, so they don’t really work for me. When I do benefit, it’s completely by accident.

The one coupon I do take advantage is the 20% off at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Because it never expires, and they’re close to work.

7 Canadian Dream

Alright, I’ll confess I do use some coupons. Mainly at our Superstore because the hang them right beside the item that I normally buy. It’s rather like the store leaving free money on the shelves. Yes, I would like an extra $0.40 off my coffee today!

Other than that the only coupon I use if the one on the cover of the Superstore flier on our major shopping trip each month. It’s usually like save $30 if you spend $250, or get a $25 gift card or get $25 in free gas if you spend $200. I typically only use them when I know I’m going to be spending that much.

Other than that most of them are a waste. I don’t buy the product in the first place, so why do I care if you are going to give me $1 something I don’t use.

Tim

8 Elaine

I wonder at the “combine coupons” tip I read in some other articles… every coupon I’ve ever looked at has said “not to be used with any other offer” or something like that. I guess Canadians get the short end of the stick again :P

Also, I do the large majority of my grocery shopping in the produce aisle (and then only for what I didn’t get at the farmer’s market) and who makes coupons for that??

9 Looby

Another coupon avoider here. Like Elaine, I mostly shop the produce aisle and farmers markets and no one has ever shown me a coupon for money off cauliflowers.
Those “CVS haul” photos that some bloggers post always make me a little twitchy- “32 packs of gum, 5 boxes of cereal and 8 tubes of hand lotion for only $1.60!” Who uses all that?
And don’t get me started on rebates- I spent the first 25 years of my life in the UK and I don’t think I saw a single rebate- but now… just put the damn thing on sale already.

10 guinness416

Am I just completely out of the loop in never getting coupons anywhere? There used to be acres of them falling out of the Sunday paper when I lived in NY, but I never see them now.

I’ve never been a coupon person – being obnoxious yuppie/hippie types we prefer farmers markets and co-ops. Most of our groceries is the fresh stuff anyway, because L loves to cook. I do however go nuts (in the “back the car up to the door” sense) when my favourite personal care products go on sale at the local shoppers drug mart.

11 guinness416

Oh, one exception. The city has been periodically sending us 50% off coupons for HE laundry detergent since we bought our washer & dryer last year (thanks Toronto!) and you better believe we spend every last one of them baby.

12 Quick Lunar Cop

I find that there are very few coupons in Canada (or is it Ottawa?) compared to the United States.

That being said, I do use coupons, but only for products that I would be buying anyway.

As soon as I clip a coupon, I put in in our “Shopping Binder” (a small one which contains a notepad and a side pocket). I’ll usually add the item to the shopping list with the note “Coupon” (e.g. “Tropicana OJ (coupon)”) so that I’ll remember to use it.

When I’m in the store, I’ll double-check that there isn’t a cheaper suitable alternative (such as a generic product or another brand on sale). If so, then I keep the coupon for another day.

13 Patrick

I guess I’m just lucky. My wife belongs to some “coupon trains”: a bunch of people who have proven trustworthy on previous trains will send out an envelope full of coupons from one person to the next, until it returns to the originator. Each person takes out the coupons they want and puts in coupons for the people after them in the train. For the cost of N stamps, you can have N people all exchanging coupons with each other. (Without the train, this would require more like N^2 stamps.)

The upshot is, my wife now has an army of pals in cyberspace clipping coupons for her, just as she clips coupons for them. Sometimes it seems she hardly buys a thing without a coupon. I imagine we probably save $50/mth this way, and that’s real savings, because she would never buy a more expensive product just because she has a coupon: this is $50 we really would have spent without these coupons.

The two best things about this system are: (1) it frees up about $600/yr that we can spend on other things, and (2) I don’t have to do it!

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