The Great Coupon Debate

by Maggie Wells on 15 October 2008 20 comments

My husband and I approach grocery shopping as if we are from entirely different worlds. My ways of cutting corners are: going to Trader Joe's, buying fruits and veggies in season, trading for them (see earlier post Fresh Fruit for Rotten Cheapskates), and doing lots of dishes that require rice, beans, lentils, etc. I have a juicer so I go that route, or drink tea, or water---all cheaply acquired. Shopping for the kids' lunches takes me into milk, cheese sticks, juiceboxes, and other lunch fare. Couple of nights a week I try to make something interesting that might require a special effort to purchase organic free range chicken or galanga root or tempura mix. And sure , I've flipped through my mom's Sunday Sacramento Bee but I've never found coupons that I could use for products I normally buy or am trying to buy except for some Aleve. Sure, there are Organic brand coupons every once in awhile, but when I'm at the market and there is locally grown spinach versus a package of pre-washed from a hundred miles away, I go with the local--even if it means .25--.50 more.

Enter my husband who has, on more than one occasion come waltzing in the front door at dinner time with a two for one deal on Lucky Charms cereal under his arm. They were on sale he says! And I had a coupon! The kids of course run up to him as if he were Santa Claus with his bag of goodies. (My kids didn't even know they existed until he sat them down and had a bowl with them. Geez, thanks honey. Talk about your gateway drugs...).

My husband is the quintessential coupon user. He has absolutely no name brand loyalty so it's emotionally easy for him to go from one brand to another and back again based solely on coupon availability for said products. Something in me fights this. Why go for a product you don't know when you like the one you do know? He's willing to give everything a try for the sake of saving us cash. I have to give him credit--when I send him to our nearest major grocery store (Safeway), he goes, armed with coupons from the Sunday paper, the Internet, magazines all in his backpack. On the receipt at the end he always has a tally of $35--55 dollars saved by coupons and 'club' membership to Safeway. Hmm...

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen I unload the groceries and find some things we use and a bunch of things I'm uncertain of. I'm a make everything from scratch kind of girl. Store bought dressings? A lifetime supply of Stouffer's Mac and Cheese? Hmm...I suppose a lot of this goes down to personal taste, but the majority of coupons in your Sunday paper are for processed foods made by giant corporations. It's not like I don't like processed food that's not good for you, it's more like I'm an addict and I don't want it around tempting me and the kids to indulge our collective sloth.

I keep searching for coupons for organic fresh produce and bio degradable products. They do exist. But they are far less frequent. I use them when I find them. But I have to admit my grocery list contains what I need, then what I want, and if I happen to find a coupon, I use it. My husband shops by coupon and deal only. The kids of course, don't care at all. But I wonder what this constant search for the deal does to our quality of life. Can we just enjoy? Is his way hurting our health? Is my way hurting our pocketbook? Which should we be worried about more? Is there a happy medium?

We are embarking on an experiment in November. He will purchase all groceries for the entire month his way. December we will go entirely my way and then we'll look at our receipts and journals of what we ate and see how we feel. So wisebread readers with spouses that lean in the opposite direction---do you have these issues? What do you guys do? What works for you? I'll let you know how the experiment went in a couple of months.

Postscript:

The husband offered these ebay links below where one can purchase coupons in bulk. Has anyone had experience with this as well? He also suggests

http://discounts.shopathome.com/Discounts_And_Coupons/Default-GroceryCou...

http://free-grocerycoupons.net/home.html

Teas
http://home.shop.ebay.com/items/?_nkw=Tea+Coupons&_sacat=159888&_fromfsb...

Breads
http://home.shop.ebay.com/items/?_nkw=Bread+Coupons&_sacat=159888&_fromf...

Free Rage Organic Eggs
http://home.shop.ebay.com/items/?_nkw=Egg+Coupons+-rolls+-roll&_sacat=15...

Juice
http://home.shop.ebay.com/items/?_nkw=Egg+Coupons+-rolls+-roll&_sacat=15...

Kotex
http://home.shop.ebay.com/items/?_nkw=Kotex+COupons&_sacat=159888&_fromf...

Organic Milk
http://home.shop.ebay.com/items/Inside-the-Home__Milk-coupons-MCDOnalds_...

Morning Star food
http://shop.ebay.com/items/?_nkw=Morning+Stars+coupons&_sacat=0&_fromfsb...

Organic stuff

http://home.shop.ebay.com/items/?_nkw=Organic+coupons+&_sacat=159888&_fr...

Salads (fresh items)
http://home.shop.ebay.com/items/?_nkw=Salad+Coupons&_sacat=159888&_fromf...

Toms of Maine
http://home.shop.ebay.com/items/?_nkw=Tom%27s+COupons&_sacat=159888&_fro...

Yougurt
http://home.shop.ebay.com/items/?_nkw=Yogurt+Coupons&_sacat=159888&_from...

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Guest's picture
Guest

I use your method mostly. I tried couponing, but with working full time + 2 young kids, it's too much work. What I do differently from you is about once every month or two I'll go to local discount grocery (WinCo here) and stock up on things that are cheaper there than at TJs, such as canned or bulk beans. Also, bulk for spices and oatmeal. And, rice/rice wine vinegar/soy sauce/sesame oil/etc are much much cheaper at the Asian food mart, so I go there for those items.

Guest's picture

verrrry simple solution. buy all your stuff first and offer the remainder of the grocery budget up to the hubby. after all your stuff is the healthiest and most important for the nutritional needs of your kids. not to mention that, at least in my house, i am the one who plans & prepares the menu. so there!!lol!

Guest's picture
Brigid

I used to be a big coupon user, but over the past year or so, I have become more like you. However, I still clip coupons and watch for sales. When there's a deal on mac and cheese, canned soup, or cereal, I stock up and donate the goods to our local food pantry. I get the same satisfaction out of donating $50 worth of food that I only paid $20 for as I used to get from saving that money for myself.

Don't be fooled by the "coupon savings" at the bottom of your receipt. If you're spending a nickel on something you don't like, it's a nickel wasted. But it sounds like your husband is really enjoying the challenge, so why don't you set an amount to spend on donated food each week, or each month, and let him optimize it. It's a good thing to do, and your donations are tax deductible.

Guest's picture
gt0163c

I'm somewhere in the middle. I don't eat a lot of processed foods, but I'm not above substituting things I can get free/cheap for meals now and then. Usually it's my meals on the weekends that are less healthy/locally grown/unprocessed (and cheaper) while my meals during the week are the stuff that's better for me. It's a tradeoff, but it works for me in terms of balancing finances and nutrition. It also helps that I'm single, live alone and am not really picky about what I eat in terms of taste.

I also use a lot of coupons on non-food items. Thanks to combining sales, coupons and rebates (love Walgreens) I haven't paid more than $0.50/item for hair care, toothpaste, deoderant, soap and similar products in a couple of years. Often times I get these items free.

Guest's picture

I agree that most food coupons are for processed foods that I don't buy. Most non-food coupons are for cosmetics or cleaning products I also don't buy. I'm not brand-loyal, but I still don't find many coupons I can use. Now, if there were coupons for flour, yeast, milk, dry beans, etc., I'd be all over them.

That's not to say I don't use any coupons, as I do use a few for groceries and health/beauty items. I more often use coupons for discounted haircuts, %-off at hobby or housewares stores, etc. But when it comes to spending a lot of time clipping, organizing and using coupons, I feel my time is better spent doing something else to save money.

Guest's picture

Funny, I was just talking about the values of coupons the other night with my hubby. I kinda think that coupons are most valuable if you do have brand loyalty. If you are willing, as I am, to buy generic brand food, it's almost always cheaper than the name brand food even with coupons. (And there are rarely coupons for generic brand products.)

Guest's picture
Laura

We have 5 kids still at home and I lean toward organic produce and free-range poultry, but my husband is like yours and cannot resist a bargain. He also prefers beef and sugar and Doritos. I usually bake and cook from scratch and have belonged to food-buying clubs for years, so I bought lots of what we have in bulk (I still have a few 25lb bags of organic pinto beans and cannellini beans we're using), but when my husband comes home with armloads of coupon-reduced frozen or boxed foods, I make them (heat them up, really) for him and the kids.

Also, for cleaning supplies, paper products, and personal hygiene items, I tend not to buy brand name items, or the products I buy are so inexpensive there are no coupons to reduce the price further.

Our grocery budget definitely works better when I grocery shop than when he does!

Guest's picture
Mom of 6

Good idea to allow yourselves a whole month of comparing shopping prices. A week wouldn't be a good test. Bad idea to do it during the holiday season. You'll find prices skewed, but you probably also cook differently this time of year. I have always been a cook at home from scratch type too, but since hubby was "downsized" we are definitely saving more on your hubby's plan. I'll be interested to see the outcome!

Guest's picture
Amy

I'm more in your camp as well. I avoid most of the processed food that you can get with coupons. I also am now trying to make most of our household cleaners, so I don't need coupons for that anymore. I now just clip them for soap, shampoo, etc. It still can bring in nice savings, especially when you stockpile items by matching coupons with sales.

Guest's picture
DaddyMan

I don't do any of the above, I go by price per unit. Which Mac n' Cheese is cheapest, brandname/storebrand/Costco? I don't have brand loyalty, I have survival of the fittest when it comes to my pennies.

Certain items get no compromise however. Wife picks the toilet paper and she gets the toilet paper she wants. I don't debate and I live longer. If I buy juice, I scour over the package to see where the fruit is coming from (especially orange juice). Once I identify that the fruit isn't coming from Brazil or some other country, I crack the numbers and go that route.

I keep track of it all using my HipsterPDA and show the item and price per ounce. If there's a sale, I whip out my cell phone and do the math on the fly. If it comes out cheaper to what's on my cheat sheet, I make the purchase.

Guest's picture
100indecisions

While I'd like to believe I'm like you, sticking to my list and buying the cheapest consistently-good, time (and taste!) tested product, I'm actually more like your husband, with one caveat.. I don't buy things with the coupon because they're "on sale" ... I hoard those coupons as long as I can, until things are REALLY on sale. For example, when back-to-school time rolled around, both chains near us (Jewel/Osco/Albertson's; and Dominick's/Safeway) had a variety of those super-sugary cereals on sale for an outrageously low price of $2/box. That's when I turned to my coupon stash, where I had multiple coupons for specific brands - .75 off Hyper-Choco Puffs; 1.00 off any two Frosted Sugar Flakes; $1.00 off any two Big Bad Corporation products ... you can see where this is going. The funny thing was, they also had one of those blinky red light coupon dispensers offering $1.00 off any two... so even the ones I didn't have a coupon for, I had a coupon for. Needless to say, I bought so much sugary cereal we still haven't run out. And the kicker - on one of my stock up trips, there also happened to be a mail-in-rebate for $10 off if you bought 10 Big Bad Corporation products in one shopping trip. I think they ended up paying *me* to eat their cereal.

There are a few name brand products I will not skimp on - toilet paper; dish soap; laundry detergent... so I always use coupons on those, even if they're not on sale (though I like to buy in bulk from Costco, sometimes I don't plan ahead well enough to do so), but I will leave the coupon on the shelf for some other shopper if the store brand staple (pasta, canned anything, etc) is cheaper than the "ON SALE" name brand + coupon.

Carrie Kirby's picture

The fact that he grocery shops at all would be a dream for so many reasons, let alone being price conscious about it.

I think so many issues about food between parents are about control. But that's another story.

Lately Money Saving Mom has had several guest posts where people talk about combining coupons with the effort to eat more fresh and organic foods. The basic idea is to maximize coupons savings you CAN use and use the saved money, or the Catalina coupons, on the organic and whole foods that you want. For example, I am always going to use coupons on cereal and get it for $1 a box, and I am going to use coupons at CVS to get most of our toiletries, baby products and medicines free. That does free up some money for the organic produce I want.

But if you really find that you don't want ANYTHING shown in the coupon flyers, for goodness sake, save yourself the time! And if your husband really just brings home things you won't use, just turn over your charity budget to him and let him deliver his coupon steals right to the food bank. God knows, the food banks need all the help they can get right now.

 

I blog at www.shopliftingwithpermission.com.

Guest's picture

I can tell. You hang out with the magic dragon, don't you?

Guest's picture

I'm like you in shopping for food. Organic, hormone-free, local, etc. as much as possible. I go to local farm stands and supplement with Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Costco.

I find that the coupons for groceries at Safeway, for example, often come out more expensive per serving when you compare to buying in bulk. Yoplait goes on sale for $0.60 per 6-oz container at Safeway, or $0.10/oz; if you buy a 32-oz tub of 365 organic yogurt at Whole Foods, it's $2.50 or $3 regular price. You're still saving money, and probably getting a better product, at Whole Foods.

If your husband goes crazy over coupons, maybe you could turn over clothing shopping to him? There are a ton of deals out there on the internet and frankly I think I've saved much more that way than by clipping coupons for groceries. I know clothes are not as much of a necessity as food, but in terms of compromising, I'd rather do it with what goes *on* my body than what goes *in* it.

I also like the suggestions from previous commenters on donating to the food banks-- sounds like a good solution to me.

Guest's picture
paidtwice

I find it fun to use coupons. But I digress. :)

The majority of coupons I use are for non-food items and cereal. My spouse loves mini-wheats, so last week my grocery had them on sale for 2/$5 and if you bought 3 or more you got a register reward for $3 off next purchase. I had coupons for $1 off each box, so I got 3 for $4.50. If you count the register reward, that's 3/ $1.50. Mini-wheats are as healthy as he gets for cereal. lol

Mostly though, I use coupons to get shampoo and deodorant free and then sometimes for other foods. I use sales to stock up. :)

Good luck with the experiment!

Guest's picture
Erma Kelso

The Sunday newspaper used to be full of good coupons
but I don't find that to be true anymore.
Now I have not tried getting coupons from ebay but wouldn't they be the same as the Sunday paper?

Coupons for some staples would sure be nice. I live alone and I don't eat that sugary cereal. I do get my oatmeal from the dollar store- 10 instant pks for a dollar. I get my paper goods and cleaning supplies from the dollor store too.

Nowhere do I find vegetables and fruits that are a really good sale. Apples are supposed to be pentiful and cheap right now but the prices here in Texas have not come down one bit on Apples. If anything, they have been increased.

Guest's picture
Guest

I might help to have a coupon strategy to save yourself the most cash. If you choose say a half hour every friday clipping coupons, depending on you grocery bill, could save maybe 40 percent. I even overheard once from the "Coupon Mom", that you could do good by buying 2 or 3 newspapers. Now I've heard some whoppers, but I'll let everyone else be the judge.

Coupon Links
Another GOOD coupon link

Guest's picture
Rob O.

I use 'em as often as I can on items that I routinely purchase or have a genuine desire to try but I try to be very conscious to avoid letting coupons sway me into buying stuff that I wouldn't considered otherwise. And I also don't usually let coupons strongarm me into paying more for a name brand than the competing generic - assuming that the items are very similar.

You can leverage coupons for a moderate savings and still not let them cloud your decisions. Just keep a healthy dose of skepticism and if, upon some comparison, the coupon isn't going to save you money or offer some distinct advantage, then leave it on the shelf for someone else to consider using.

And of course, remember to shop the perimeter.

Guest's picture
Guest

If you are the main cook, and your hubby will be doing the shopping, how is that going to mesh? it sounds like his groceries won't work for your cooking.

What are your measurements for success? not just money spent, I hope. Health concerns,(do a before/after weight, and OTC cholesteral test. and food and packaging waste might also be factors to consider.

Guest's picture
Jonathan

I agree with the husband here. I have very little brand loyalty and I routinely find that coupons knock $5-$10 off my grocery bill, usually around $80 per trip. I try to stick with store brands as much as possible however sometimes the branded stuff is cheaper than the generic. The key is to not buy something you don't need just because it's on sale or you have a good coupon. I try to plan my meals as much as possible around what's on sale and what coupons I have. The weekly coupon ritual is fun and I think it could be a good way to get children involved - have the kids categorize everything and toss the expired ones.