To Coupon or Not to Coupon

by Faye Prosser


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Grocery coupons have been around since 1894 when Asa Candler handed out handwritten tickets for a free Coca-Cola drink. Over 100 years later, in 2002, shoppers saved $3 billion by redeeming 3.8 billion coupons, according to the Promotion Marketing Association. People of every age and income use coupons and couponing can make a real difference for a family's bottom line. The question is: Can it make a difference for you?

This article will touch on the advantages and disadvantages of couponing. From here, you can make a decision that is right for your family regarding the benefits of using coupons. For most of you, some level of couponing will make good sense. With that said, couponing is not for everyone and it's important to weigh the pros and cons before investing your valuable time in the fine art of coupon shopping.

Not to Coupon: There are many reasons people turn away from couponing or decide not to try it at all. Here is a list of perceived disadvantages that keep some shoppers from wielding their scissors and cashing in on potential coupon savings.

  • Couponing takes too much time.
  • It is embarrassing to use coupons.
  • Organizing coupons is too much trouble.
  • There are no coupons for the products we use.
  • Coupons are only issued for junky processed foods.
  • There are no real savings with couponing.

Let's look at some of the reasons why the perceived disadvantages are not always accurate.

To Coupon: Successful couponing certainly takes some time, but most of the work is done at home, not at the store with cranky kids while you struggle to decide what to buy (sound familiar?). Smart spenders look through the sales ads, make a weekly meal plan, create a grocery list and match the coupons to sales all from the comfort of their home. By the time they get to the store, most of the work is done. All they need to do is put the items in the cart, check them off on the grocery list and put the coupons to the side, ready to present to the cashier at checkout. I do most of my shopping preparation after the kids go to sleep, while I am watching a TV show or two each week. I also make time for couponing while they are in music class or other extra curricular activities.

Although it can be embarrassing to hold up the line behind you while the cashier scans a handful of coupons, it can also be motivating to many folks when they see the savings from all those coupons. I always let people in line behind me know that I have a number of coupons, and if they are in a hurry, they may want to try another line. Most stay put, ask questions and want to know how I coupon. What it comes down to is that I know I am being the best steward of our income. It shouldn't be embarrassing to know that I am helping my family live within our means.

Coupon organization is always a frustration for new and struggling couponers. If your coupons are not organized, you cannot take advantage of the great buys. Most couponers have used the standard small accordion filing. Unfortunately, you can never find your coupons and they are usually expired when you do find them, which is generally about 2 hours after you have left the store (again, sound familiar?). I started using the binder method in late 1999 and have loved it ever since. I use a three-ring zipper binder with tabbed dividers that are labeled by product type and coupon insert pages to file the coupons. I am able to see all my coupons and expiration dates and I can always find the coupon I am looking for. If you are ready for some serious organization and think you might like to make your own, you can see pictures of my organizer at my website (www.smartspendingresources.com).

One of the most popular reasons that people choose not to coupon is because they believe there are no coupons for the products they use. On the contrary, most families probably use at least some products for which there are coupons. Remember that coupons are not only issued for food. They are issued for the full array of grocery and drug store products. Do you use shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, soap, razors, pasta, rice, frozen vegetables, veggie burgers, shredded cheese, peanut butter, jelly, olive oil, or cooking spray? Those are just a fraction of the products whose name brand manufacturers offer coupons.

Another misconception is that all coupons are only for junky, processed food. Certainly there are many coupons for unhealthy, high fat or high sugar foods. The good news is that there are also a number of coupons for healthier foods and non-food items that most of us use. I don't clip the majority of coupons in the Sunday paper. I find multiples of coupons for the products I do use so I can stock up. For finding multiples, I use coupon clipping services including www.thecouponclippers.com and www.ebay.com. I also share with friends and they share with me.

The last perceived disadvantage is that some people think that there are no real savings by using coupons. The truth is that there are excellent savings on some items, but you won't be able to use a coupon for every item on your grocery list. The key is to stock up on the best deals for the items you use and then use the savings to pay for meats, fresh produce and other items that don't offer high savings.

So, is couponing a good choice for you? It is if you can say yes to the following:

  • You use (or want to use) name brand food and non-food products from grocery stores and pay less for them than the store brand costs.
  • You are willing to look at sales ads for good buys.
  • You are willing to clip and organize your coupons.
  • You are willing to make a meal plan to maximize sales and your overstock.
  • You want to stretch your income much farther, spend less and have more groceries to show for your efforts.

My recommendation is that you try couponing for four weeks. If you are not saving enough money to justify the effort, couponing may not be for you. Jump right in by cutting the coupons from your Sunday paper and see if you can save a few extra dollars this week on your groceries. Remember that it's your money, so spend it wisely!


Faye is the author of The Smart Spending Guide, December 2005. Her mission is to help others become effective advocates for themselves and their hard-earned money. Faye, her husband and their two children live in beautiful North Carolina. For more information, see www.smartspendingresources.com.

© Faye Prosser, Smart Spending Resources, 2008

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