Confident home cooking
coupons
Musings

The Hidden Cost of Coupons

by Nick

Many years ago, when Betsy and I had just started living together, I went through a phase where I tried to collect and use coupons at the grocery store to save some money.

I tried it for a few months, spending my Sunday mornings sifting through newspapers and websites printing and categorizing coupons.  Then I would take my binder to the store and RAKE IN THE SAVINGS!

Not quite.

In actually, I didn’t really save much money.

These days I still use coupons occasionally, but I only use them for a very focused group of products which I’ll talk about later.

In general, I think coupons are way more costly than most people realize.

Since extreme couponing seems to be all the craze these days, I thought I would spend some time writing about why I think coupons suck for consumers and why you probably shouldn’t use them.

Obviously, I’m anticipating that people will disagree with me.  So if you want to skip straight to the comments and tell me why I’m wrong, feel free!

A Coupon Story

Here’s a story that happens to me frequently minus the dialogue.

I’m in line at the grocery store ready to check out. There’s someone behind me with a huge stack of coupons or if they are organized they have them in a fancy binder.

I have mostly produce, dairy, and fresh stuff in my cart plus maybe some beer and doritos (nobody is perfect).  My total comes to $65.87.

Shopper Behind Me: Holy Green Backs!  You spend a lot of money on groceries. You should stick around and watch my magic.

Me: Umm… okay.

The shopper runs through the checkout which goes much faster than mine because all their stuff is in boxes and the checkout clerk doesn’t have to look up the code for turnips or whatever.  The shopper then runs through a brick of coupons.

Total cost: $2.15

Shopper: BOOOM!  I’m a magician of grocery shopping. Look at that total!!!

Me: Meh. Whatever. I wouldn’t pay $2.15 for all that stuff. In fact, even if you gave it to me, I wouldn’t take most of the stuff in your cart.

Shopper: But it’s FREE!

Me: No it’s not.

Shopper: Ok. It’s basically free!

Me: No. It’s not.

We go our separate ways both feeling somehow superior to the other.

When I say that the cost of the shopper’s cart isn’t as free as it looks, it’s because there are costs that just plain aren’t included in the total.  I’ll break down what I think the hidden costs of coupons are in three parts and then talk about some of the ways that I actually use coupons.

Coupons Cost TIME

This is pretty transparent, but coupons cost you time.  In the extreme coupon world, there are people who spend hours a week snipping, printing, and categorizing coupons.

It’s hard to put a price on this time lost. You could use it to start a business, play with your kids, clean your house, or just relax.

However you slice it though, you are literally trading your TIME for some amount of SAVINGS.  Hopefully, that money saved is worth the time you spend on it.

To be honest, I think that people who are good couponers probably have a pretty solid hourly rate. They get good at it quickly.

My point is that the savings you are making by using coupons is never free.

If you cut your grocery bill from $60 to $20, but it takes you four hours of work then you are just paying yourself $10/hour to clip coupons.  Maybe that’s worth it to you and maybe it’s not, but it certainly isn’t FREE.

Coupons Can Cost You HEALTH

Most coupons are for processed products that are basically some mix of salt and sugar.  A lot of the “food” that you can get with coupons is stuff that I wouldn’t recommend eating regularly even if you could get it for FREE.

It’s just not food that’s good for you.

The stuff that’s good for you (fresh produce, meats, whole grains, etc.) is rarely on sale.

The nutritious stuff isn’t normally on sale because it costs money to grow or produce!  Processed foods, meanwhile, cost the manufacturer cents on the dollar to make.

In fact, I’ll go a step further. If you want to make sure you are eating healthy, just buy stuff for which there is little or no discount available. 

When you eat a lot of products that you are getting at a steep discount even if they aren’t good for you, you will eventually see an impact in your health.

Maybe the worst case is that you develop something like heart disease, high cholesterol, or diabetes.  Maybe you just gain a few pounds.

No matter what, if you eat unhealthy, processed foods regularly because they are cheap, it will impact your health.  This translates to a cost that you (or society) will have to eventually pay.

Coupons Cost you MONEY

Guess what? Manufacturers don’t produce billions of coupons every year to lose money. They do it for a variety of complicated reasons that ultimately cost you money.

Their goal might be to get you to buy something on impulse that you wouldn’t normally buy.

Their goal might be to get you to NOT notice an increase in price or a decrease in packaging volume.

Their goal might be to get you to start regularly using that item on sale and then keep using it when you can’t find it on sale.

Some how, some way, these companies are using these coupons to make more money than they would without them. They wouldn’t do it otherwise. That extra money is most likely coming from you!

The Costs of FOOD

I really believe that most people should probably spend more money on groceries than they do. People in the United States spend less on food (as a percentage of income) than they ever have (Source: Wallstreetpit.com).

This could be because we are buying less food and more products.

Food costs money. If you’re eating food, you should be spending money.

The Way I Use Coupons

I actually do use coupons occasionally, but it is for a very specific list of things. I throw away all the coupons I get that don’t fall into this list.

Rare, but awesome Produce Coupons. Very occasionally, my grocery store will mail me coupons for $5 off produce if I spend $20.  I always save and use these.

Healthy Foods that I buy anyway. I take discounts for things that are healthy. If I see a coupon for orange juice, or frozen fruit, I’ll snag it. These are pretty rare though.

I don’t search for coupons. My grocery stores mail me coupons that they think I would like. I use those occasionally. I don’t spend more than 5 minutes a week going through coupons.

Personal Products. I don’t mind using coupons for stuff like paper towels, toilet paper, etc.

What I try to NOT DO, which may surprise people, is use every coupon I see for unhealthy food that I occasionally eat.  So if there’s a coupon for ice cream, I don’t use it even though I love ice cream.  This might sound silly to some people, but I know that the coupon is there to influence my decision making.

If I bought ice cream every time I had a coupon for ice cream, I would buy ice cream every day.

Instead, ice cream is a bit more expensive for me which makes it a treat.

How Do You Use Coupons?

Given that there are billions of coupons redeemed every year, I’m pretty certain that I’m an outlier when it comes to coupons.

What are your thoughts on coupons? Do you use them for everything, just for some things, or not at all? Why do you think manufacturers make so many of them?!

Photos by misscrabette.

Share this post!

77 comments on “The Hidden Cost of Coupons

  1. I support this entirely! I do like to use coupons (when I can) on things like contact solution, but you are right. Coupons are most often for items that I wouldn’t eat even if they were free.

  2. Totally agree! I tried using coupons for a while and it just encouraged me to buy stuff that I wouldn’t normally buy. I buy mostly veggies, meat, and dairy items. Sometimes my grocery store (Wegmans) will put out coupons for $1 off $5 of produce or seafood, I definitely take advatages of those. I also have no shame and will buy the reduced for quick sale meat.:)

  3. Ditto! I tried to be a better couponer a while back, following Cathy’s example at Chief Family Officer, but I just couldn’t get myself into it. I did end up with a lot of body wash, toothpaste, etc., but there’s just a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t have used or needed. Occasionally the pricey grocery store will have crackers or something on a crazy sale, so if I have those coupons I’ll stock up (my sweetie LOVES cheese and crackers), but I definitely buy fresh things that don’t have coupons. And that makes me feel good!

  4. I think most of your readership would agree with you but certainly not everyone in mainstream America. You made some sensible and accurate observations in my opinion. Most of the time if I have a coupon I forget to use it anyway. :(

  5. I agree with you on this, Nick. Dish soap, deodorant, diapers, laundry soap, dog food? Sure. Chef Boyardee or Dinty Moore? Nope. I had a friend that recently posted her “super coupon haul” on facebook. For only 18$ she had 4-5 pounds of mini candy bar bags, 5 bottles of body wash, and 8 or 9 hair color kits. She was so proud and in awe of her mad shopping skills. Next day she posted . . . Uhhh, who needs some hair dye? Just because you can buy a deal, doesn’t mean you will use or need that deal.

    I try so hard to teach my children the value and preference for healthier food choices. Even though it is generally more expensive to eat healthy than to eat junk. For those fortunate enough to buy in to a produce CSA, it can still be costly. A can of sodium laden canned vegetables is cheaper than a fresh bunch of broccoli.

    I never like it when someone asks what our grocery budget is for our family of five. Because, gasp/choke/cough, it is A LOT. Having three kids, I do buy some convenience foods and “easy” dinners. Some nights when I tell hubby he has to cook – I’m thankful for that boxed pizza in the freezer. Ultimately though, my 6 and 4 year old already know there are things in the grocery store that our family doesn’t consume. Instead of people with the kids begging for candy, soda, and junk – my kids are the ones begging (yes, it is impossible to break children from this entirely) for fruit and tofu for smoothies. Begging for a fresh vegetable tray. Begging for their own watermelon. Begging for me to buy extra milk to make homemade yogurt to go with our homemade granola.

    Half of the time, I’m so frazzled by the time I am through the store with the children that I’ll leave the checkout, get out to my vehicle, and find the unused coupons in the bottom of my purse tacked together with chewed gum. I’d like just as much as any other person to save money, spend less, catch a sale – but I’m not a coupon mama. Benefits do not outweigh the time or headache involved.

    1. Great comment Courtney. Thanks!

      I also get embarrassed when people ask how much I spend on food… I guess I should be proud about it right? :)

      Oh.. and I don’t mean to come off as always cooking from scratch, etc… Betsy and I cheat occasionally also. Nobody is perfect. :)

    2. Macheesemo, I totally agree! They also get you to spend more money by requiring that you buy more than one quantity of the product in order to get the discount (ie, $.50 off TWO boxes of sugar-laden cereal).

      RE: Courtney’s comment about coupons for dog food.

      I would apply the idea re: coupons for human food as I would to dog food. If there’s a coupon for it (I see many for Iams, Purina, and Pedigree), then it’s not worth feeding to your dog.

      The “Big 4″ (Iams, Purina, Science Diet, and Pedigree) spend more on advertising than on quality ingredients. They are consistently ranked 1 or 2 stars by veterinary nutritionists, because of their high corn content and low meat content (and what meat is included is poor-quality).

      If it’s available at a human grocery store/Walmart/Target, it’s not good nutritional quality for your pet. Look up the review of your dog’s current food at http://www.dogfoodanalysis.com.

      1. So very true – if you can use a coupon to buy dog food then you are doing a diservice to your pet! do some research, get to know the ingredients in your dog’s food – it will either pleasantly surprise you or scare you. I can read and pronounce every ingredient in my dog’s food, I know that my dog is getting food that is actually good for her. It is all ingrediants that I would consume.

        I was in a pet food store that sells the gamut of brands, from the big 4 down to small producers. the rep from Eukanuba was there and asked me what type of dog I had and I said Boxer and he was all proud of himself because they have a boxer “formula” so I said oh yea look at that – let me read the ingredients. SECOND ingredient was corn – if Eukanuba knew anything about boxers they would know that most are allergic to corn (my girl is one of those – gives her terribly itchy skin)! I informed the rep of that fact and then said “Yuckanuba, if I wanted to feed my dog $hit, i would let her eat it off the ground in our yard” – of course I was pregnant and hormonal and a total B!tch to the guy. but come on – clearly the big 4 do NOT have the health of our animals in mind, they only care about the money – good quality food is not anymore expensive than the junk they are producing.

        The saying “you are what you eat” is so very true – even for our pets!

        I cut coupons for a few random things, but the reality is I spend a lot of money on fresh produce and there is very rarely, if ever, a coupon for fresh broccoli or bananas!!

      2. Thank you so much for the link to the dog food ratings/reviews. Honestly, I’m shocked. I put so much time and thought into what I eat and I actually feel bad that I haven’t done the same for my dog.

      3. Well, in my defense, here it is:

        I love our dog. We feed him, we water him, we play with him, we let him outside to play and potty. We bathe him. We get him shots and dentals. We use parasite/flea/heartworm preventative. He isn’t allowed table scraps. We do not beat, abuse, or neglect him. For all we and our vet can see, he is a happy and well nourished fellow.

        What do we do? Feed him *gasp* Purina One supermarket food. It isn’t Old Roy or bargain bin bulk food.

        Why do we do this? Because he is a dog. Because I would rather spend our grocery budget on my children than pay $30 plus dollars for 2 pounds of specialized pet food. We all have priorities, sorry if gourmet filet mignon cutlets aren’t going down my dog’s gullet.

  6. I agree wholeheartedly. I rarely use coupons unless it’s for shampoo, toothpaste etc. The coupons for food items are primarily overprocessed crap. I rarely even go to the supermarket anymore. In Atlanta we have many farmers markets and choice of grass fed meat and dairy. That’s where I choose to spend my money. You can eat fairly inexpensive too if you plan out your meals.

  7. Great post. I agree- I tried the coupon thing and I think it’s a fun game. I got tons of stuff, but it seemed like mostly stuff I didn’t need.

    There is one cost I think you forgot- impulse buying at grocery stores. I have stopped because I try to limit my trips to the grocery store and to go in for one super cheap item means I will buy at least three other full price things I didn’t plan to get.

  8. I’d have to agree with your thoughts on couponing. And you’re right, there are rarely ever any coupons or discounts on the natural foods you should be eating rather than the millions of coupons available for highly processed, packaged goods. Like you, I sometimes use coupons on non-food items like personal care goods, paper goods and pet food. My time is worth more than the meager savings from coupons.

  9. Totally agree. I never use coupons because I eat only fresh food and it’s never on sale. You’ re healthier if you stay away from processed foods. Thanks for speaking out!

  10. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
    I can’t tell you how many hundreds of people don’t look at the HEALTH aspect.
    So tell me why dont REPORTERS ask this part when they do interviews! This gets my blood boiling reporters only report, there are no JOURNILIST anymore, no investigating!

  11. I tried the coupon thing for a while too, and I wasn’t sold on it either. It’s a lot of work, and I’ll be honest, when we get a coupon for things like jarred spaghetti sauce (don’t judge, sometimes we run out of our homemade kind), but it’s for a “name” brand that I don’t buy–if the coupon doesn’t knock the price down to the same or below the brand I normally buy, I basically just wasted my coupon clipping time. And I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE the coupons that you have to buy 6 boxes of cereal (or whatever) to save $1. Did I mention that I hate those? They’re completely absurd. Who has the space to store all of this crap, and if they do, why aren’t they shopping at a discount club instead?

  12. couldn’t agree more Nick
    i watched that crazy show “extreme couponing” and thought yeah great idea, until i saw what they mostly bought: processed crap.
    we don’t eat a lot of processed crap here
    now if whole foods could only do coupons, i think i could make a show of extreme couponing along with a 2nd freezer to store it all

  13. I agree with everything you said. I haven’t used coupons in years and believe I have spent less money on junk food. I view junk food as a treat not a household staple.
    I’m not always good but I do prefer fresh or frozen food to convenience foods. Once you get used to cooking fresh its sometimes easier than and definitely much more healthier than convenience foods.
    Keep up the good work!

  14. I totally agree — coupon stuff is almost invariably junk. A side story: a woman I know told her children when they were little that the candy and other impulse purchases next to the checkout lines were not for sale; they were just there for display. At 10 and 12, they still believe it! Clever mom.

    1. That’s amazing! I’m definitely doing that when we have kids someday… “Oh. Sorry… that stuff isn’t for sale kids. It’s just for PRETTY.” :)

  15. This is exactly why I am not a huge cuponer. You can’t get things that are good for you for pennies on the dollar. People need to understand that. This is precisely what is wrong with our country and why we are so fat!

  16. the grocery store where i buy produce, milk, some meat/fish, and some speciality items sends out occasional $10 off coupons. some weeks the coupon is for stuff that i don’t use so i don’t use the coupon that week, but this week if you spent $50, it was for $10 off anything. i also use coupons at costco (costco’s own coupons) to buy things like tissues, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and other things i would normally buy in bulk anyway. i shop with a list and i don’t buy stuff i don’t need/use. that’s the thing about extreme coupling that i don’t get: why would you care about getting stuff that you don’t/can’t use? so what if it’s free? if you’re giving it to charity that’s one thing, but if you’re just stockpiling it in your basement, what’s the point?

  17. I agree with all of your statements except the line about orange juice being healthy. It is not but that is probably a different conversation all together. I think most people subconsciously talk themselves into thinking that “yes, I was going to buy that product anyway, and now it is even cheaper”. The fact is that no, no you weren’t. You were tricked into thinking it was on your list. You probably don’t need it and you certainly don’t need 2 or 3 of them just to save 35 cents. I like your line about not evening taking that food if I were paid to because I think the same way. Love your blog

  18. I use coupons on a very regular basis, but I refuse to buy junk. I use coupons on stock up food items, like pasta, juices, canned items, some frozen, and dairy (great yogurt coupons out there these days). I also try not to buy these things unless they are on sale and I have a coupon. See’s logical to me. I have two small boys, so I do buy things like mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, etc.

    Where I see the most savings is when I buy personal products. When you combine coupons with the rewards programs at drugstores, you can get most of the items at a huge discount…. toothbrushes and paste, shampoo and conditioner, body wash, deodorant, etc. I don’t have 100 tubes of toothpaste in my back stock. I am, however, okay with admitting I probably have 10.

    Happy shopping to all!

  19. I just used a totally awesome Produce coupon yesterday! :D And I agree with you. When I first got married, I was coupon crazy – but then I realized I was spending MORE money just to use the coupons!

  20. I have a friend who LOVES to brag about her couponing. Then she will tell us how she has 50 toothbrushes, 30 bottles of shampoo and cases of soap, etc. Really? I have a family of 9 at home and I don’t have the inclination to want to store all of that extra stuff. They have a family of 4. Really??? She will talk about the hours she spends organizing and clipping and shopping. She doesn’t have the ‘cost’ of purchasing the 900 newspapers because her mom pays for those – and then she has to do all the clipping and organizing and shopping for said food.

    I completely agree with everything that you said. We don’t do the processed food either. We hardly ever go out to eat. We still limit the $$ we spend on food but we keep a healthy pantry and freezer stocked with food that is consumed within 2 months of purchase (meats, bread (homemade and purchased). Pantry items are rotated and USED. I don’t want to have products emptying my wallet or taking up space in my home if it isn’t something we will USE!!

    Fresh is best – absolutely – and it hardly ever is on sale and we live in the middle of a farming community!

    Thanks for your brave couponing words – love your blog! ;)

  21. Short answer: I rarely use coupons because most of them are for thigngs I wouldn’t buy. 

    Longer answer: I don’t even see coupons because I don’t have a grocery discount card (my usual grocery doesn’t use them), and the sale flyers that come in the mail go straight into the recycling bin. I do use the instant coupons I sometimes get at the checkout, say for more of the herbal tea I just bought, for a new type of storage container, or for a different brand of almond milk. But it’s rare that even one of those coupons is for something that is relevant to me. 

  22. What a wonderful post! I can’t agree with you more. I use some of the coupons that my store sends me in the mail but other than that I just don’t care. I am like you when most of the time the coupon is at home because I forgot it there or in my purse. Thanks for sharing the hidden costs that people don’t think about.

  23. I began to use coupons after I was laid off from my teaching job. There are many things I would never buy with or without a coupon. I have however found that there are coupons for things I actually use. I can usually save between 40~50% on my bill. I still buy fruits and veggies and meat and dairy. I can afford to because I used coupons. I agree that a lot of coupons are for things that are not healthy. I know people who can take those full price fresh veggies and fry them and they aren’t healthy either. As a teacher, I have seen students and their families go hungry. If we can teach them to coupon then they too can afford fresh items. Don’t be so closed minded that you can’t see how the rest of the world is living. I would rather try to teach a student who had some kind of meal than none at all.

  24. Loved your “Rant” today – but I’m afraid I’ve got to speak out for the “everyday person” here.

    It’s easy enough for you and Betsy to shop – but I have to tell you that the typical American Family of 4, with anywhere from 2-20 additional people showing up at your house with teenagers around – who consume food @ monster rates. Watch a bag of chips be devoured in 2 minutes – 34 seconds. Or jugs of Sunny D before the groceries are put away.

    You have simple needs – you and Betsy and you feed us “Virtual Chow”

    Coupons can be organized with a rubber band, #10 envelope, or paper clip – but to show up at the store with a looseleaf binder………I can see where you went wrong. Sure couponing is not for everyone, and yes many miss the point – DON’T BUY IT IF YOU DON’T NEED IT – but for millions who are awake at 10pm worrying abt how they will feed their family until next friday-payday………clipping coupons and figuring it out – is their salvation @ $2.15 and where would you be telling this person where to get their food w/o money. People that effectively coupon do so out of necessity, and if that’s a problem – pick another checkout line – it’ll be awhile ;-)

    I’ll keep an eye open and see if Andy Borowitz grabs any of your material for today’s post.

    Regards

    1. Kevin, that’s my point. If you’re using coupons to afford chips and sugary drinks then you aren’t really saving money. You’re spending what little money you have poorly.

      If you’re using coupons for reasonably healthy foods (beans – dried or canned, pastas, produce or meats, some good dairy) then I have no problem with it. That might be worth the time it takes you to clip and organize.

      If you are using coupons for chips and junk food (that you really don’t need by the way), then you are just pushing costs onto future generations (via health costs).

      The “everyday person” isn’t saving money in the long term by using most coupons.

      1. There is the truth and there is what you want to believe – first off Sunny D satisfies a Vitamin C requirement is only 60 calories a serving, cost a lot less than pure juice – and contains less sugar than OJ. (14grams of sugar for Sunny D vs 29.5g for pure OJ. 16 grams of carbs vs 30.5g) Due the FACT CHECK.

        And no one said anyone is living on chips – but try and have teenagers in the household – deprive them and their friends of chips with a sandwich – well you can decide whether you want your kids friends over your house or you’d rather never see your kids or their friends.

        You’ve done a good job creating a forum for discussion – my take is that those people trying to survive and coupons are their remedy. Not saying this is the case with you – my concern is with those that disagree about coupons and the conviction you feel that you are right.

        If I hear you as I know you – it still boils down to eating right. Until you can prove to me that all the BACON you advocate helps reduce my cholesterol – everyone makes their own choices…………………I mean no disrepsect to you as the host I love most of your blogs.

        1. I think we will have to agree to disagree on this Kevin. If you are on a tight budget, I’m not sure why it’s good that Sunny D is low calorie.

          Sunny D isn’t real juice. It’s made in a lab. I’ll take the real stuff even if it means more calories. Calories aren’t bad if they come from real food.

          But yes… bacon should be eaten in moderation. I’ve posted 48 recipes with bacon over four years… that’s less than a recipe a month that contains bacon. In the same amount of time I’ve posted hundreds of recipes categorized as healthy and vegetarian.

        2. I have 9 (that’s right, n-I-n-e) boys, and at any given time there could be 3-5 of their friends here, too. I manage to feed everyone and I haven’t bought a bag of chips or pack of hot dogs in years (mostly because I don’t like them, myself. I’m sure my boys fall on them like famine victims at other people’s houses). No one has cried mutiny…yet. I can buy a huge bag of carrots for the price of your chips, and carrot sticks go well with sandwiches, too.

          Sorry to digress from the coupon chat. I do use coupons for all our health and beauty things. Between coupons and our drugstore rewards program, I haven’t paid for toothpaste, shampoo or razors in almost a decade. And that frees up a great deal of money for our grocery budget.

  25. I totally agree with you. I used to sit and clip like crazy when I first moved to the states 12 years ago, but I soon found out I didn’t need all of the crap like chocolate swirled peanut butter jelly or a 100 pack of pop tarts! For me the coupons don’t match with my lifestyle and that’s cool I have no probs with anyone else using them but the larger corps pushing them out are not helping us or my kids eat decent for years to come. I’ll still look for coupons cause I’m a tight guy but only coupons for stuff I’ll use in the kitchen..
    Just my 2 cents.

  26. I agree on all points – I never see coupons for the stuff that I want, so I don’t even bother. HOWEVER – for stuff like shampoo, soap, cleaning supplies, etc. I’ll check the manufacturer’s website before I shop just to see if there’s a coupon there. More often than not, there is, and it’s a good one (like a few $$ off). But that only takes 5 minutes before a shopping trip.

    We spend an embarrassing amount of $$ on food for the two of us. But I cook almost every meal, we don’t go out for coffee, rarely eat out, etc. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to budget groceries for a large family, especially if you have limited resources or two working parents with limited time.

  27. I use coupons for bathroom products, cleaning products and things of that nature. Like you, I take advantage of the rare coupons for frozen fruit, juices and whatnot. I get emails from Earth Fare which is a buy $5 of something and get a free carton of organic farm eggs (love those!) or some other kind of produce/dairy/nut product/produce. I have some acquaintances who are all about extreme couponing to the point of buying 20 liters of pop and raving about it only costing $2.00. Why on earth would you need 20 liters of diabetes?! I don’t understand it at all. Thank you for posting this. You’re the first person/media outlet that has actually talked about the realities of couponing. It really can only get you so far before it just gets unhealthy and ridiculous.

  28. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I have been having this argument with family members for years. Oh, the irony of someone complaining about the high cost of diabetic testing supplies when I know his cupboards are full of candy, “fruit” rolls, chips, crackers, cookies, etc. Some people act like it would be sinful to leave the stuff in the store when they can get it so cheap. Then they want to pass the stuff to me and my children. How is the money NOT wasted if you bought something you will not consume??

    It’s just another sign of the divide in this country that people in the media who can afford to feed their families healthy food create stories encouraging those struggling to make ends meet to feed their children empty calories. Many American kids are hungry and fat because we are feeding them foods that do not nourish.

    1. Hi Tammi, I just want to add that people with diabetes can still have the occasional snack, chip cracker or cookie. They are not deleted from those foods because of having diabetes. Also you don’t specify between type 1 or type 2 which are completely different?
      Have a great day :)

  29. I agree with everything here 100%! It is very rare that I am using coupons in my every week shopping!

    Only addition I would have to your ‘acceptable’ use coupons would be for any already frequented restaurants! For example, we have a few Mexican Restaurants near us where we visit probably once every few weeks with friends or family, and the often offer the “5$ off a 20$ check” or something similar.

  30. I do clip coupons, out of the Sunday paper and my regular magazines. I do not go out of my way to obtain coupons (no websites/printing multiples, no buying multiple copies of the Sunday paper, no “liking” on Facebook to get coupons, no coupon swaps, etc.). I clip coupons only for items I would normally buy anyway, and it’s nice to save a few pennies. Typically my coupons are for things like laundry detergent, plastic bags, aluminum foil, cleaning products, shampoo, toothpaste… very “commodity” type items. I don’t normally not buy something only because I had a coupon for it, but I have been enticed to try something new because I’ve seen a coupon or ad. (Of course I also read the packaging and decide if it’s something I think is worth trying.)
    Personally I think the “extreme” couponers are a little nuts – who needs a whole room in their house dedicated to the storage of paper towels?

  31. COMPLETELY AGREE!!! I tried the couponing thing last summer for a month or two but I’m pretty sure I spent more money on getting papers than I actually saved since most items are pre-packaged (and bad for you) I remember getting a good deal on razors, but after I figured that i was nearly losing money and time on things I don’t buy I gave up. I have cuts grocery costs by cooking and baking more. The Best part is I get better ingredients and the food I make has no preservatives and we spend a little less. I’m interested to see what comments my Facebook friends say when I share this article, lol.

  32. I use coupons. I get the Sunday paper – just one – and clip what I know I will use. Like body wash or shampoo. If I wouldn’t normally use it, I don’t clip it. If I’m buying that specific product anyway, it would be silly to not use a coupon.

  33. I think coupons are a money suck because they are always for name brand products that are more expensive than their generic alternatives. Even when you factor in the coupon! I too like the coupons the grocery store mails me, for stuff I already buy, but that’s it. Great post!

  34. I 100% agree. I’ve looked at the coupon sites, hoping for something that I’d actually use, but I only ever see coupons for packaged goods. And the coupons for personal products are usually for brands that I don’t use (because they are more expensive anyway). We spend most of our money on meats, cheeses, veggies, pasta, grains, beans – i.e. healthy things. But we do buy things like triscuits, doritos, V8, beer, and sometimes frozen foods (sometimes you just have to give into frozen pizza!) However, I never really see coupons for those things either…

  35. I’m in your camp concerning coupons–I buy basic food, fruits, veggies, nuts, meat with as little processing as possible. Truthfully occasionally, I’ll purchase meats seasoned or marinated, or an already broiled chicken or tri-tip when the cook (me) needs a night off and I have read the labels for acceptable ingredients. I want to know what is in our food so I cook from scratch.
    I believe the companies providing coupons are marketing their less popular-higher priced products, filled with ingredients that I do not want in my family’s diet.
    I find that in general the foods I buy are not included in coupon offerings.
    The other issue in my purchasing is one brand loyalty or political awareness. I buy a particular brand of paper products because I know the Koch Brothers will not get any of the money, and again these are not products which offer coupons. The coupons are for products that are less popular, and the companies are trying to change product orientation from a more popular brand.

  36. Great post! Newlywed, with all the time in the world, I was mostly cooking from scratch, using the occasional coupon on bad stuff. A couple of kids later, with a tight budget being that I stayed home, I discovered the joys of couponing, and yes, I was that guy, heck, I even had to toss in a candy bar once because the grocery wouldn’t pay me to take their food out the doors! So, we went down the road to processed food, yes, it wasn’t quite tasty but it was free.. so I thought… Then cancer hit! Yep, I went through my cupboards like you wouldn’t believe, and tossed everything that was processed, getting rid of my coupons at the same time. Happy to say that I am a 3 year survivor, and still don’t eat processed food, ok, so I do cheat and buy a jar of Nutella every year.. shhhhh… I am back to cooking just about everything from scratch and when offered processed food, I usually pass because it often will give me headaches now that I weaned myself off, that enough, should keep you away! So, I agree 200% with what you just said, you have just wrote all my belief about coupons.

  37. This is exactly why I don’t use coupons also. Mainly due to the awful health benefits of the food. I saved on things that were more durable goods but still not much. I have a couple of extreme couponing friends that keep trying to get me involved. One of them buys tons of boxed food yet tells me her husband has heart issues and can’t handle the sodium. Not sure why she is slowly killing him but it’s not my business.

  38. I’m definitely a coupon clipper, but only for things I’d normally buy. You’re right, the produce and dairy coupons are few and far between.

    As for it being a time suck, for me, the couple hours spent clipping out of the Sunday paper and going over the ads from the stores I shop at is worth it for us. Ten dollars may not be worth it for some families, but for us, every penny counts.

    We eat 95% of our meals out of our own kitchen, so the most money saved on food is that way. Plus, I know exactly what’s in the food I’m feeding my family. And, long term, my kids are learning good eating habits without me even having to teach them. They eat what we eat. I hope someday they’ll be doing the same for their own families.

  39. We need to not just be part smart about grocery shopping. You are so correct about couponing. But we need to be careful about going to our mega “wholesale” stores. I have to stop and say to myself “would I buy this ________ at the regular grocery store” or am I buying this because the wearhouse has such a good price on it. I’ve actually charted out the things I buy to find who sells it the cheapest. It takes about 6 months, to catch winter and summer prices. Then you know a bargin when you see it and can stock up, but always remember to rotate your stock.

    As for dog food, also watch for sugar and artificial sugar in the ingred. list. The artificial sugar often gives dogs loose stool.

    Love your site.

  40. My favorite “coupon” is my 20% off employee discount card for the fancy schmancy organic/local/crunchy granola/DONTSHOPATWHOLEFOODSIT’SABIGBUISSNESSDEVIL grocery store that my partner works at. Cha-ching!

  41. Thanks so much for this article Nick – I totally agree and use the few coupons the same way you do. I have an absolutely lovely daughter-in-law who is a died in the wool couponer and no one can tell her she’s falling to marketing ploys. Keep up the good work – love your blog!

  42. I probably spend about 15-20 min a week looking at coupons and sales. Thats basically the sales fliers for the local Safeway and Fred Meyers (pretty much all we have here). I also get 4 rewards coupons every quarter from Fred Meyers, pretty much always 2 I will use and 2 for junk (meat, produce, apparel, and patio sets this time).

    I’ve tried looking for coupons before. Nothing I would buy normally. I can find 20% off on sugar frosted crud cereal but never 10% off pork shoulder or #10 bags of pinto beans.

    In general I think coupons are worth using, just not worth looking for. If yous see one for something you buy anyhow grab it, otherwise forget them.

    They are still always better then mail in rebates.

  43. I’ve tried to do coupons; I’m not a super healthy eater, but I know what I like and it usually isn’t the junk they are giving away. Sometimes I will get a coupon for yogurt or butter, or other dairy deals. That’s it. Even then I forget I have them.

  44. Thank you for this post, Nick. I agree with you, and it’s been a very interesting read. And as an ex-diabetes educator, Kevin, ditch the Sunny D. Water. Or mix real OJ with water. Or infuse water with some ripe berries. You can make a gallon of naturally flavored water wit a few pennies worth of fruit. Let them have the factory-foods outside the home and with their own money. 30 years from now they’ll thank you.

  45. Okay, I challenge you to come up with a week of meals for a family) on a food stamp budget. I know Mario Batelli has taken up this challenge recently.

  46. Yup! We only use coupons for things we already regularly purchase – the particular cereal, frozen fruit, yogurt, or bread. We’re lucky because we shop at a co-op and they have lots of healthy options and some great coupons sometimes.

  47. Love this, and the flurry of comments it has generated. I never bother with coupons for the exact reasons you mention. On a related note, when my kids were tiny, on the rare occasion when my husband or I would be drinking soda and they asked what we had, we started saying “icky water”. I’ve had some amusing conversations with my 3-year old in the grocery store when he sees the shelves and shelves of “icky water” across the aisle from the olives. Unfortunately he’s now learned that “icky water” isn’t so icky tasting after all. I’ve been thinking about whether I can summon the energy to make my own soda. Maybe a good summer project?

  48. Free Laundry coupons? I spend maybe 45 minutes a year making my own low suds laundry soap which is good for me, my clothes and my washer and dryer. I am single . I make 8 gallons of laundry soap at a time, 3 ingredients, for about a penny a load. gentle enough for babies use. Friends PAY me to take excess off my hands in used gallon water jugs. Beats coupons every time. I also make my own dishwasher detergent and both products clean my machines and pipes every time I use them. No, I am not much of a couponer. My daughter is. She increased the family income by $400 to 600 a month for a family of four. Amazing girl…but it was a full time job as you said. She was a stay at home mom for the years her children needed her to be.

  49. I agree with 99% of the negative comments abo ut coupons that have been brought up in this forum. I got ticked off several years ago about the prices of bread, granola ang yogurt. I have cooked for a living for many years so it was not difficult to make them myself and the diffence in the favor (mine vs grocery store stuff) is amazing. I can buy a gallon of milk at Costco for $2.49 and make yogurt with it that would cost me $12 to buy in the grocery (and that is if I can find it cheap). I do, however, still try and find coupons for Pace salsa and the good pasta sauces (don’t judge, everyone has a vice :)). I then wait for the elusive two for one sales on these items and stock up for about six months. if I happen on a coupon that makes some items free (Mac n cheese, burger helper, etc) I donate them to our local food bank.

  50. I mostly agree with what you said–most coupons are for junk! I still have a box of freezer pops I got for .69 two years ago. Maybe I should toss them out? :)

    I disagreed with this statement, though: “The stuff that’s good for you (fresh produce, meats, whole grains, etc.) is rarely on sale.” I think it would be more accurate to say “rarely has a coupon.” Stores put seasonal produce on sale all the time (and it’s much better to buy it then, too–I know you know that :) ), and meats have sale cycles too. No, you can’t get it as cheap as cans of spaghetti (gross!), but I almost always buy meats and produce on sale.

    Just a thought :)

  51. Absolutely agree with everything you said! I don’t use coupons because you couldn’t pay me to eat what the coupons offer. I eat non processed, REAL food.. No coupons for that! Thanks for posting this.. Hopefully the truth will set us all free from eating fake food!!

  52. Sounds like a rational approach to the subject. I rarely use coupons either since I’ve begun being more militant about my diet. In fact, I’ve even attempted to eliminate the use of canned goods in addition to boxed food. Obviously, that doesn’t work as well during the non-growing season, but it does mean I have more room in my pantry for kitchen tools rather than canned/boxed goods!

  53. I so, so, so agree. I make my own yogurt, buttermilk, whole wheat sourdough bread, barbecue sauce, buttermilk syrup, etc, etc. The overly processed foods, toxic cleaners, and unnecessary toiletries which the coupons would allow me to stock up on are simply not worth my time. I’d far rather spend my time cooking the real thing, than hunting and organizing coupons for ersatz. So glad to see such a reasoned and rational exposition which may allow me to explain my rather irrational opposition to the use of coupons!

  54. Manufacturers and grocery stores are in the business of making money…bottom line. They will make their margins on one product or another so in reality you are paying more for all the product you buy just so some products can have coupon discounts. WE ALL pay more every time we shop to cover the cost of the few who use coupons. I hate it when I see someone who is an extreme couponer as I feel I am paying for their groceries

  55. Yes – experience, reason, and moraility tell us that coupons are expensive, and emotionally enslaving. I am not a “consumer”, and i will not spend more time than is proportional to getting a good deal on dish soap. ALSO: We are a natural family. That means, we have not aborted away our offspring As a result, we have CHILDREN in our house – not spare bedrooms for products, coupons, and computers dedicated to coupon sites.

Leave a Comment