What you need to know about coupons

Why I Refuse to Become an Extreme Couponer

by Rich Finzer

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With the V-8 engine of America's economy limping along on five cylinders, the use of "cents off" grocery coupons has reached epic proportions. Face it, money is tight and wise shoppers try to use every dollar-stretching tactic that they can muster. I'm equally certain we've all heard the urban legends about coupon fanatics claiming to have purchased $300 worth of groceries for $19. And maybe it's true, but personally, I tend to view those tales with the same skepticism I reserve for reports of alien abductions. In all fairness, I use coupons whenever it makes economic sense, but I'd rather do simple math than be blinded by coupon inspired madness. Here's a stark example.

My local grocery recently ran two specials on multi-packs of paper towels. Both were well known national brands and both were advertised at $6.99. While placing an eight pack of mega-rolls into my shopping cart, a generous but math impaired coupon obsessed shopper offered me a $1 off coupon on the other brand, a six-roll package, selling at the same price. "I'm buying two packages," she exclaimed, and then politely asked why I was so averse to saving money. Just as politely I replied, "I love saving money. In fact, I just saved $5.40 cents more than you did." At this point, my fellow shopper was confused, until using round numbers. I did the math for her.

My eight-roll package of mega-rolls with a total area of 454 square feet was $7. Her two six-roll packages with a total area of 418 square feet was $14. With her two $1-off coupons, her cost was lowered to $12. The difference in what we paid was $5. The sales tax on the difference was $0.40. The per package price difference was $2.70. My cost per square foot was $0.015 and her cost per square foot $0.029.

Strange as it may seem, and despite the use of her $1-off coupons, my fellow shopper was about to pay twice as much for essentially the same product. Therefore, just because you have a coupon, it doesn't mean you're actually saving any money.

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