Coupon Coups

Utility is always more important than usefulness. Let that marinate.

I’m not a fan of coupons as a way to save money because I’m a big opportunity cost type guy. Time spent clipping coupons and scouring the aisles of a store for products that may or may not be there just seems like another pastime that produces silver hairs in the curly black crop.

There is also the social stigma, which is mostly self-imposed. You know, the vision of the old lady taking all day, unfurling coupons for cat food as if she has a royal flush — the checker reads them and weeps — placing them down on the counter. Maybe the person will even ignite an argument that usually starts with “well the coupon says…..”

But it’s the archetypal old lady that got me to thinking. Coupons actually do have a purpose, after all. According to NCH “Coupon Facts,” each year on average, coupons that provide savings for consumer packaged goods generate nearly $3 billion in America alone. Self-consciousness aside, there is something to be said for the coupon, especially in this economic climate, but it’s important to understand, well, what the coupon says — to you.

So I came up with five things — five seems like a shopper’s number, either that or I’m lazy, or both. Okay so yeah, five things to look for or at least consider when integrating coupons into your purchasing experience.These are the top five coupon coups.

Not their/there type

Nothing vindicates a cynic by being proven right that coupons can often be used as a marketing tool for the old bait and switch. This became all too clear when I clipped a coupon for free Thomas the Tank Engine toys for my all-things-transportation-addict toddler son (he’s a good kid but he joneses for trains and buses, choppers and planes what’dya gonna do?). So I get to the store before the so-called sale is even scheduled to start and every Toys ‘R Us within 24 miles is conveniently out of the particular trains listed on the coupon. The rationale is that having made the trip, you’ll buy Bertie, Gordon, Mighty Mac or Harold anyway because you’re there. They didn’t get my dough though.

When it comes to coupons, read the fine print carefully, call ahead and/or perhaps hold out for storewide coupons rather than individual items. After all, a store coupon is not the same as a manufacturer's coupon, which is not the same as a brand coupon, which is not the same as special promotions coupon. Also I find that coupons for important services — auto, grooming etc. — actually work better and can be leveraged with more pen-point accuracy than products that could be purposely or coincidentally out of stock.


The first thing to ponder is whether you need four Swiffers for $4 even if it seems like a good deal. If you’re gonna spend time actually clipping coupons, be meticulous. Cross reference them with your needs. Something along the order of a price log with your grocery or essentials list. Plus nothing is more confusing or infuriating than finding out you bought those four swiffers when you could have got eight frozen French Bread Pizzas for the same price. You might be on some: “My kitchen is clean as the dickens but damn I’m hungry.”

Stick to the Code

Coupon discounts themselves come and go and you could get caught doing the old-school thing with scissors when you can simply hunt for discount codes that either correspond with the paper coupons or offer even more savings.

Consider the source

If you’re brand conscious (read baptized by marketing, maniac colors and powers of suggestion — say it with me WySssse-Brrrr-eaaad) consider going directly to the website of the brand you want for a one-stop shop on items you’re looking for.

Wait it out

For the particularly anal retentive coupon craver, keep a record. Whether you like index cards, a binder, laminated compartments in a leather bound book or chaotic coupon wall paper like an obsessed money-saver with a beautiful mind, track your most common purchases.

Coupons have come a long way since C.W. Post tried to slang his cereal with little pieces of paper to draw consumers in but with so many ways to educate ourselves about our wants and needs, you can save time and money as well as develop a system. Once you’ve stacked enough mozzarella on your monetary pizza you can elevate your status from clipper to connoisseur.

So ummm Pizza. Now that you have something to think about, how ‘bout you pick a brotha up some French bread pizza at the store? I’ll hit you back next Tuesday. Come on, you know I’m good for it. It says right here on this blogger’s coupon, matter of fact, read this post again for and get two more for free.

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Guest's picture
Gregg Sims

One big thing to remember is not to just buy something because you have the coupon, get a coupon for something you already want to buy.

Great post!

- Gregg

Fred Lee's picture

The only coupons we get are the ones we get in the mail (we don't read the paper), and they can generally be helpful because they are targeted to us since we've given them access to our shopping tendencies. I agree, however, that there is a social stigma, especially when you use a coupon on a first date. For the record, I've never done this, though I did once finish the uneaten food on my date's plate. She never went out with me again.

Guest's picture

I don't waste time with most grocery store coupons. They are usually for brand name processed foods. Those are not a good value for your money to begin with. I try to buy as few brand products of food or health items anyway, but those that we do buy brand names of I try to go find coupons for them and combine with a sale at Target. I was able to get Mitchem anti-perpirant sticks for $.99 each so I stocked up. Smart source online coupons perpetually has a coupon for that brand. Target puts that brand on sale every few months.

I look for larger coupons rather than wasting my time with piles of grocery coupons. $10 off, 20% off, buy one get one can be more of a savings. That is as long as I was going to buy that item anyways. The first thing I do though is read the fine print.

Guest's picture

Wow, for a WiseBread post, this is sad to read. I'm a huge fan of coupon shopping. I score so many freebies and items for pennies on the dollar, and I'm not talking about packaged pre-processed foods. I purchase multiple papers and make out like a bandit every week. Perhaps you've never been schooled in the fine art of proper coupon shopping. It is not little time spent for little savings as you and so many people deem. When it comes to wise use of resources, I suppose we all have our tricks and tolerances, but I would never throw in the towel on coupons.

Guest's picture

I have to agree with you. This is a rather sad post.

I save thousands of dollars every year by couponing. Every non food item I buy - every one - I've either used a coupon or purchased using CVS's ECB program.

My grocery budget - the money I spend each week on food and non food items - went from $175 a week to less than $90 once I started actively couponing - and I also make sure to patronize stores when it is triple coupon time.

If you looked under my bathroom sink, you'd see the 10 packages of razors I've gotten for free because of couponing. Under my kitchen sink is multiple bottles of dish soap - again, all free.

Last week, Harris Teeter had the snowflake toilet paper on clearance sale for .99 for a 4 pack. I had a .50 coupon doubled to $1.00.
I have enough TP that I'll be using snowflake design TP well into July.

I disagree with the original post. Coupons ARE worth it, if you just use some common sense.

Guest's picture

Don't know when couponing got such a bad name. When we had kids at home we routinely saved $25-30 per week on our grocery bill - and we ONLY used coupons for items we were buying anyway. Usually cereal, juice, toilet paper and lunch treats for variety.

Now, with just the 2 of us, we still use coupons occasionally but still only for items we were going to buy. My best deals are on the store's BOGO deals - bought 4 BOGO deals on coffee for $4.99 each deal, used 8 $1 off coupons so coffee cost a total of $12. So saved $28. Can't beat that. Have done it for Celestial Seasonings tea with a BOGO and $.50 coupons. And, no, we do not buy out all of the item - usually enough for 2 months. Even boxed or bagged items will get stale and go on sale again.

Again, be careful to buy what you use - it's not a savings if you don't use it.

Guest's picture

I'm not a huge fan of coupons either, mostly because I can rarely get money off on things I actually use (and because I don't get a Sunday paper...and 'cause I'm lazy).

My mode of operation instead is to use my savings club card (Kroger's). I just check the flyers online, make a list of stuff that's on sale that I actually use, and plan a week's meals out around that.

I still make out usually saving $25-30 a trip, so to me it's worth it. When you're at the bottom of the corporate food chain, thirty bucks is a lot of money.

Guest's picture
Mom of 6

I ran hot and cold on coupons until I decided to bank the savings. Now I no longer stray from my food budget to afford the more expensive item with a coupon. I stick to my budget, buy with a coupon when I can, get cash for the coupon I've redeemed and bank it.

My "coupon fund" bought us a Blu-Ray DVD player for Christmas and I'm on track for a cruise to Alaska for my 25th wedding anniversary.

Guest's picture

Mom: what do you mean by "getting cash value" for the coupon? The cash value is 1/100th of a penny. Just how many coupons are you using?

I always roll my eyes when I see coupons that paste "Save $.35" in big letters then, in smaller print "on 4 cans of soup". Four cans? That seems rather switch and bait to me. I only use coupons for products that I planned to purchase and for amounts that are reasonable. In my 2 person household buying 4 boxes of cereal just to save $1.00 is not reasonable.

Guest's picture

@RF $1 Coupon = $1 saved in the piggy bank. I do the same and never use a coupon on things I don't use. Hair color is a good example. Normal price ~$10, with coupons $5. Piggy bank gets $5!

Guest's picture

I see both sides to this coin. Couponing does take a lot of time and a willingness to search and get organized. But you have to want it.

I am a HUGE couponer (and I use a lot of rebates too), but I LOVE doing it. It's like a hobby. Just this past week I got over $200 worth of merchandise from Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS for less than $10. And stuff I use: air freshners, glass and all purpose cleaner, diapers, 16 Gatorades, 13 bottles of water, 2 boxes of crackers, wrapping paper, cards, allergy medicine, and some other things that I can't think of off the top of my head right now.

In fact, a month ago Kroger actually GAVE me $2.74 our of the cash register because I had so many coupons.

You can click on my name and find pictures of all kinds of things that I have gotten for literally pennies.

There is a huge family of blogs out there that focus on this kind of stuff, so go check it out, you might become addicted too :)

Guest's picture

@RF $1 Coupon = $1 saved in the piggy bank. I do the same and never use a coupon on things I don't use. Hair color is a good example. Normal price ~$10, with coupons $5. Piggy bank gets $5!