If you saw my coupon binder while I’m grocery shopping, you might assume that I spend a lot of time cutting coupons, shopping at various stores scoring the best matches on sales and stockpiling items since I get them for free. All of these assumptions would be false. While my coupon binder is quite organized and pretty, the truth is that I’m not a big couponer at all. I rely on meal planning, using what’s already in my house and not wasting anything. That’s how I succeed at smart grocery shopping. And I never, ever buy things I don’t need. That said, using coupons is definitely part of my shopping savvy. From my experience, there are a lot of misconceptions about using coupons. This perpetuates judgment against those who coupon and prevents newcomers from trying it at all. And yet, I still strike up conversations with fellow shoppers who desperately wish they could be organized and budget-friendly about grocery shopping. It’s time to debunk some of the misconceptions about couponing since the practice can save lots of money over time.
If you’re not out to be the next Extreme Couponer, then clipping a few coupons each week isn’t that time consuming! Cutting coupons from my weekend paper takes me 20 minutes at most. This includes looking through the flyers and cutting and organizing them into my coupon binder. If someone says to you, “I’ll pay you $10 to sit down with this cup of coffee for 20 minutes,” you’d do it, right? That’s exactly what’s happening when you cut some coupons each week. You’re earning money by using your scissors for a few minutes. I find it quite relaxing. In terms of time spent using the coupons, not to worry. You should meal plan before shopping to save money and using your food, so all you’re doing is spending a few extra minutes at the store seeing if some of the coupons you have should be used. Trust me, using coupons does not take up much time at all!
This is not true. There are plenty of coupons for healthy items, including organic choices, ingredients for different dietary needs like gluten-free, as well as produce, whole grains and healthy dairy items. If a coupon allows you to select from any variety of the item, you have the ability to choose the one that best fits your dietary needs. Also, you grocery shop for more than food, right? The majority of my coupon savings comes from those I use for health and beauty items, cosmetics and paper and cleaning products. Even if you never use coupons for food items, I guarantee you’ll still save a ton on these categories alone.
Since I’m a financial and budgeting geek, I keep track of how much manufacturer coupons save me. On average, I save about $50 a month on coupons from my Sunday paper (this figure excludes store coupons and coupons obtained elsewhere). My weekend-only newspaper subscription practically pays for itself the first month I use coupons. That $50 doesn’t sound like a lot to extreme couponers, but I’m not trying to be extreme. That said, $50 a month equates to $600 a year. Again, if someone said, “Hey, do you want me to hand you $600 this year? All you have to do is use a pair of scissors a few minutes each weekend” wouldn’t you agree? Think of it another way: $600 can pay for admission to a Disney park for your entire family for a day. Isn’t that worth it?
Trust me, no one is watching. No one cares. You know how you’re usually busy being self-conscious, or negotiating with your kids, or talking to your husband on the phone or making to-do lists in your head as you shop and run errands? Well, so is everyone else around you. They are not thinking about how you are handing the cashier a couple of coupons. If someone does notice or even mentions something, it’s a great opportunity to explain why you use coupons (see #3 above). When this happens to me, the fellow shopper always responds with a heartfelt, “I don’t blame you, I wish I could do that too.” Perhaps you’ll inspire more people to save their money! Also, it’s part of the cashier’s job to know how to deal with coupons, so don’t feel self-conscious about it. I stopped apologizing a long time ago for doing things I have every right to do.
I’ll always buy generic if I can since it usually is less expensive than name brands. That said, if you can pair a sale on a brand name item with a coupon for it, it very well may be much less expensive than the generic version. This is the smartest way to use your coupons. For example, Cascade might be $5 while the generic dishwasher detergent is $4.29. But let’s say Cascade is on sale for $4.50, and you have a $1 off coupon. Now it’s only $3.50, making it less than generic. Trust me, these little calculations account for major savings over time. And they only take, what, 30 seconds at most to figure out?
The most important takeaway about using coupons is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even if you save $2 on a box of couscous and that’s it, that’s $2 still in your wallet, right? You don’t have to be an extreme couponer to reap the benefits of something that the manufacturer is handing you to try. Like anything, when it comes to grocery shopping savvy, there is a learning curve that occurs over time. But if you never put in the time to get started, you’ll be missing a great opportunity to discover how much smarter you can be at shopping, and how much money you will be saving long-term. Trust me!