A reader (Hi Lindsey!) left the following comment on a post, and it reminded me that I needed to do a post on this topic.
I have a question about coupons. I know you don’t use them a whole lot – why is that? I tried to use them for awhile and I found that I could buy the generic form of something for much cheaper than I could get the name brand item with the coupon. Am I doing something wrong? Seems like so many people are into coupons – but I feel silly using them when I can get the generic for less.
I touched on this topic in my somewhat controversial post about the $4/week grocery shopper, but I never did get around to sharing my general thoughts on couponing.
Well, until now. 😉
I used to use coupons a lot more than I do these days. Why? Way back when I had just one or two kids, the grocery stores in my area were doubling $1 coupons every day. When you can get $2 off of an item, you can get a LOT of grocery items for free or for pennies just by combining coupons and store sales. So, I clipped like mad and I participated in an online coupon exchange group.
Unfortunately, the area grocery stores stopped doing that a while back, and since then, I haven’t found coupons to be a very effective savings method for me.
I did get a lot of stuff for free back then, but you know what? I think we’re better off now. An awful lot of the food that was available for free or for pennies wasn’t really great food. I could get juice and soda and cereal and snacks and PopTarts and frozen pizza and other such foods really cheaply, but I didn’t find deals on a lot of real food. And as a result, we didn’t eat as well back then.
Oddly enough, I’m pretty sure I spend less on groceries now than I did when I was way into couponing (and I’m feeding more people now!). I don’t have as big a stash of groceries, but I have better groceries. And the groceries that I’m buying now produce less trash and require fewer resources to produce.
Anyways, here’s a list of the reasons I’m not heavily into coupons anymore.
There aren’t a lot of coupons available for the foods I prefer to feed my family.
I know…there are coupons for Muir Glen organic tomatoes and for Kashi cereals and for some other organic foods, but by and large, food coupons are for foods I prefer not to buy.
I’d rather buy flour than a box of frozen pretzels, I’d rather buy a big canister of oatmeal than a box of packets, I’d rather buy fruit than fruit snacks. And while coupons for frozen pretzels, oatmeal packets and fruit snacks can often be had, it’s hard to find coupons for flour, large canisters of oatmeal, and fruit.
The same is true even sometimes with toiletries and cleaning products. There are a million and one coupons for disposable cleaning wipes and rebates galore for disposable toilet cleaning systems, but you won’t typically find big flashy bargains on plain jane cleaning products.
Then too, there are almost never coupons for local food. I can’t use a coupon at the farmer’s market, at the produce stand, at the farm where I get local meat, or at the family store where I buy my 50 pound bags of wheat.
(I know that you can sometimes get “overage” by using coupons and rebates and that you can use that to buy local foods, but I really consider that earned income of a sort, and I’d rather blog, take pictures, play the piano, or teach piano to earn income. That’s much more fun and effective for me. And I’d be hard-pressed to come up with enough overage to buy a 50 pound bag of wheat!)
Generics (especially at Aldi) are usually cheaper than name brands with coupons.
Back when I had doubled $1 coupons and had no Aldi, this was not necessarily the case. Now, though, sales and coupons in my area can’t really compete with Aldi’s prices and most of Aldi’s generics are so good, I’m not at all bummed out about giving up name brands.
Life is simpler without coupons.
There are some great deals to be had with coupons, that much is true. If you play the drugstore game and shop loss leaders at all the local stores, you can snag some great stuff.
But you know what? I really, really prefer the simplicity of living mainly off of groceries I can get at everyday low prices, and that’s one of the reasons I love Aldi. I don’t have to be crazy about scanning through the sale fliers, I don’t have to clip a bazillion coupons in the hope that a great sale will happen before the coupon expires, and I don’t have to worry that the store will run out of an item that’s at a hot price (that happened to me ALL THE TIME when I tried to do the drugstore deals and it was uber frustrating to me, especially when I’d lugged 4 kids out to the store with me).
The stress/time suck of coupons is just not worth it to me, especially given that I spend less now than I did when I was using coupons!
So, when DO I use coupons?
I mostly use them when a generic product is not available or when the available generics are just not good. For instance, I really prefer Shady Brook Farms turkey sausage to any other brand or generic, so I recently printed a coupon for that product. And though we’ve tried a lot of generic versions of Wheat Thins and Ritz crackers, we still haven’t found a good one. So, I clip coupons for those products and match them up with sales or I buy them at Costco, as I did recently. (I know that I could make my own crackers, but I just have not gotten around to doing that!).
I also use them for products that do get cheaper than generics. Cereal is the main instance of this…Weis often runs really great cereal deals and by combining coupons with those deals, I can get name brand cereal for less than generic cereal. I don’t have a newspaper subscription anymore, but cereal coupons are often available on coupons.com or on smartsource.
And I do use coupons for some toiletries. I generally buy the Suave line of shampoo and conditioner when it goes on sale and every now and then, there are coupons for these products. I also use coupons for toothpaste and deodorants.
Lastly, I like some non-grocery-store coupons. We use coupons to do fun activities while we’re on vacation (we get those from the coupon booklets at the beach), I use coupons on automotive services, like tire rotation, I use coupons at retail stores like Kohl’s or Home Depot (I got a $25/$50 Gap coupon from Groupon last week, and I am super excited about that!), and I love to use 40% off coupons at craft stores (you can print one from A.C. Moore’s website and Michael’s will accept it if you’ve got an A.C. Moore in the area).
Now, if my Goodwill would just start having coupons, I’d be a super happy camper!
Readers, what about you? Do you find coupons to be a helpful frugal tool, or do you prefer to employ other savings methods?
(p.s. Because this was apparently not clear, judging by a comment or two, I am not saying that no one else should use more coupons that I do. I’m just explaining what I do and what works for me. You know…you don’t have to make yogurt, and all that.)
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