Are Coupons Really Worth It?

by Miranda Marquit · 9 comments

I have a confession to make: I am not really much of a coupon clipper. I keep meaning to clip more coupons, and I know that coupons have been making a comeback since the recession, but it never seems to happen. Occasionally I’ll see a coupon for something I want or will use, and I’ll get it, but most of my coupon savings amount to $1 here and $0.50 there. Nothing like what you see from those extreme couponers who walk out of the grocery store having spent $50 on $200 worth of groceries. I just don’t have the time or energy for that — or I choose to use my time and energy on other things.

So, once again, as I resolve to clip more coupons, I find myself wondering whether or not it is even worth it to bother. I guess depends on what’s important to you. In a lot of cases, effective couponing requires that you take the time to scour web sites, newspapers, inserts and mailed packets for items that you would buy anyway. It also sometimes means coordinating with circulars to see whether you can double up on your savings with the help of sales and double coupons. For some, couponing is a part-time job. And, if you can save money couponing, I think that’s great. But a lot of the time, I’m not sure it’s for me. I don’t know if I’m prepared to trade my precious time to save a few dollars with coupons. I’m a big fan of coupon/promo codes online, but I don’t spend time looking for them. (Usually, a quick glance at Coupon Shoebox is enough for me).

Can You Still Be Frugal Without Coupons?

Of course, many people believe that couponing is one of the pillars of a frugal lifestyle. There are some that insist that you really aren’t frugal unless you are pinching every penny that you get. And what better way than through coupons?

While I like the occasional coupon, active couponing isn’t really my thing. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t be frugal. Just as I believe that you can incorporate credit cards into a frugal lifestyle, I also believe that you can live frugally without relying on coupons. Frugal living is about more than just pinching pennies. It is also about:

  • Getting good value for your money.
  • Doing some things yourself, rather than paying someone else to do them.
  • Looking for discounts and sales, especially when buying bulk.
  • Buying high quality goods that last longer and save you money in the long run.
  • Living in a budget conscious way.

While couponing can help you reach your goals of frugal living, it isn’t a necessity — and it isn’t the only path to frugality. We have a garden each year, growing some of our own food. My husband and I look for good deals, finding ways to get items of good quality for the best prices. We also like to look for inexpensive things to do as a family, and find discounts using the Internet. We stock up on non-perishables during sales, and we freeze some foods for use later. In the end, we do pretty well in terms of frugality, even without coupons.

What about you? Do you use coupons as part of your frugal lifestyle? Or do you think they are more trouble than they are worth?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara Tetreault April 18, 2011 at 8:20 am

I’m extremely frugal and don’t use coupons. There aren’t coupons for simple, whole foods, which is what our family eats. Using coupons means you have to apply the logic of spending to save, which is not sustainable. I also use a credit card to pay for everything I can because that’s an easy way to track expenses.

Monroe on a Budget April 19, 2011 at 2:55 pm

I clip coupons, but it’s just one of many grocery tricks.

As far as the time involved, well, the way I see it, families on tight budgets have more time than money. But it’s easy enough to multitask the coupon process – sort coupons when you are waiting for the kids at a troop meeting or dance practice, or cut coupons when you are surfing the Internet.

Ginger April 20, 2011 at 11:22 am

I use coupons, but spend very little time on them. The internet is wonderful, just google X store and coupon matchups and find a blog that does all the work. I spend less than a half hour on this on average per week and save about $5. $10/hr is a ok savings wage.

Kerryann April 21, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Your model describes my husband. Over the long run, he is a proven thrifty and frugal person yet he can’t get into couponing. Couponing is too micro for him. I think he manages his good habits in large ways and gives himself a break in small ways (the grocery store). I coupon almost as a part time job if you consider the time I put into it. (I am a SAHM.) I realize tremendous savings but I struggle to manage my budget. I could keep a very frugal household budget, the coupons allow for that. I don’t have my husband’s same thrifty mindset. I can see how you can be thrifty and not coupon. Sometimes I think couponing dovetails with mental illness or compulsive extreme behavior more than it is proof of thrift.

Lauren July 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Hi MMarquit,

Coupon clipping isn’t a waste of time if you enjoy it. (And if you can indeed consider it a hobby, it is a lot more interactive and beneficial than sitting in front of the TV).


maureen July 29, 2011 at 8:27 am

It is exhausting even reading your posts about ‘frugality.’ It is much more reasonable to do two things which I have done for the past 30 years or so (i.e. the “Reagan Era:”
1. I avoid markets. They are a plague. I disconnect entirely from all markets if at all possible. This is my recreation.
2. I calculate the length of my and my husband’s life and I purchase enough to ‘last a lifetime.’ I still have beautiful things from high school, a long long time ago. How many tubes of toothpaste will I need for the next twenty years? Buy them and, done, I am out of the toothpaste market. No coupons, no sales. Nothing. That is, everything I purchase is less consumption than it is investment.

I am free of as many markets as I can possibly be – I am also not manipulated by them. I am happy.

Ralph October 24, 2011 at 10:18 am

The problem with online coupons is its hardly worth the effort to go to each manufacturer’s website to get their deals. If Im buying a big ticket item I’ll look online for a deal or coupons. For example, I renovated a house I bought and got a bunch of lowe’s and home depot 10% off coupons on Ebay. This saved me around $750.

What is REALLY NEEDED is to have a centralized website that has all available coupons or discounts EASILY ACCESSIBLE. Right now you have to filter through 100’s of website which is NOT FEASIBLE for most of us.

aw March 18, 2012 at 12:30 pm

It does not work in my family. No one wants to help clip. I tell my husband I’m saving money by using coupons, knowing that just makes him spend more to make up what we save. He buys things for his hobby. I just buy things that we need. Is it fair? Feeling a little down thinking about it.

selena July 3, 2012 at 4:55 am

That is not a way I want to live. but I think you are managing things way better than most ‘extreme couponers’ on TV, who seem to be buying lots of stuff that they will never use and end up giving it away (or probably even throwing it in the garbage. I suspect that happens a lot, but that they won’t admit to that).

I think the very first thing about living frugally is to avoid the ‘penny wise, pound foolish’ trap. Coupons can help save money, but obviously that won’t do you much good if you then buy f.i. $300-jeans that don’t fit, just because they were marked down.

Coupons are only worth *anything* if they are for items you would have bought anyway. As soon as you let your shopping be dictated by ‘which coupons do I have?’ at the expense of concerns like ‘do I actually like the smell of the on-sale deodorant?’ you stop being a frugal money-saver and start being a neurotic shopping-addict.

And keep in mind that ‘there is no free lunch’: all your ‘free’ groceries have been paid for by someone else (the company issuing the coupons in order to boost sales). So if you use your coupons to regularly EMPTY the shelves at your local retailer you are just forcing that retailer to inflate his prices (for paying customers) and install a much stricter coupon-policy (for you and your fellow couponning free-loaders).

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