Would you prefer to listen to a podcast on this topic? Financial Beeswax’s Episode 8 discusses whether money is saved or not with coupons.
Parts of this blog article were published on August 11, 2016. We thought it would be a great topic for our podcast, Financial Beeswax. Do people save money with coupons or is it a ruse by companies to get consumers to spend more?
First, it is interesting to look at the history of coupons. Coupons began as notes when Asa Chandler created the first coupon for Coca-Cola in 1887. The next company to offer a coupon was Grape Nuts. They offered a one-cent coupon for a box of cereal. The history of coupons and a neat looking timeline can be found in the article A Brief History of Coupons.
The initial idea of coupons was to entice consumers to purchase products while shopping. It was a new spin on stating that a product was on sale. Who doesn’t like a sale? I know I do. I always feel like I conquered some great feat when I purchase a product and saved money on it, too! But one important question needs to be asked, “Would I buy that product if I didn’t have the coupon for it?”
I used to be the person holding up the checkout line as I gave my pile of coupons to the person checking my groceries. I had a binder full of coupons. The binder was rather large and full of baseball card holders, holding my coupons, which were alphabetized and divided into food categories (e.g. canned goods, cereal, frozen foods, etc.). I was very proud of my binder and the money I saved. I was good at "couponing" before it became a "thing" on national television. No, I never enjoyed a "free" grocery trip to the store as seen in the TV shows, but I did have a couple of trips where I saved a lot of money on what I was purchasing.
Then, one day, my husband and I learned one of our kids had some dietary issues. It meant the end to packaged and processed food. We were forced into making much of our food from scratch. Sure, we still purchased potato chips and certain types of cereal, but our grocery shopping choices dramatically changed. With the change in our diets, our grocery bill changed and actually significantly dropped. I wondered, “How can that be?” I was using very few coupons, because there weren't (and still aren't) many coupons for fruits, vegetables, meat, sugar, spices, eggs, and other whole food items.
What I learned was that when I was using coupons, it became such a game that I was buying items I didn't need or want. I also found myself buying name brand named items just to use the coupon when the generic brand would work just as well and was less expensive than the popular brand with the coupon. Sure, we ate a lot of the packaged food I purchased, but we threw a lot away because it expired. I learned that if I made as much food from scratch as I could, I saved a lot of money on groceries and I saved more than what I would have saved using coupons. And, another added benefit was that my husband, kids, and I felt better physically. I also noticed that my kids stayed fuller longer.
One thing I didn’t factor into all of my coupon cutting was the time it took. I spent hours hunting for coupons, printing, and cutting them. The time spent hunting and cutting coupons has to be deducted from the savings of the coupons. The ink used to print the coupons should also be deducted. Also, I purchased the weekly Sunday paper to find coupons. Some weeks, the newspaper had great coupons, but many weeks did not Remember, before you can count the savings, you have to subtract the money spent to obtain them.
One annoying issue with coupons is discovering my grocery list, and meal plan were dictated by the available and expiring coupons. Many of the coupons were repeats, so my menu became less creative. When I moved to focusing on eating whole foods rather than the available coupons, I had a lot more fun creating my menu. An additional benefit was that it wasn’t a big deal to not plan meals! I could wait and take meat out of the freezer the night before or the morning of and make a satisfying meal for dinner.
Are coupons bad? Absolutely not! However, they can be spendy when buying products, especially products you would not normally purchase. I still take advantage of Safeway's coupon program and use coupons for some food items when they are available, but I no longer buy packaged and processed food just because I have a coupon for it.
Here are some articles that discuss if coupons save money: