I have a short column over at AOL News called “Is clipping coupons worth the effort?” (It was touted on the home page of AOL.com for a while this week — very exciting!)
I used to clip coupons, and then a few years ago I stopped. It wasn’t just because I started making more money, a reality that statistics back up. If you look at who clips coupon, 41% of “enthusiasts” (those who are really into it) hail from households earning more than $70,000 per year. The growth of coupon usage in 2009 was driven by $100,000-plus households, according to a recent article in Retailer Daily. Clearly, a lot of the people who are using coupons don’t have to.
But I had two realizations. First, splurging on groceries (whether you have coupons or not) can be a great way to save money overall on food. That’s because the average family spends 44% of its food budget on restaurant meals. If you looked at which nights we were resorting to take-out, there was a high overlap with nights in which there was nothing quick and appetizing in the fridge. It takes a lot of coupons to atone for a pizza.
More importantly, though, if you’re going to be spending an hour per week trying to boost household finances, there are higher-impact ways to do this. I list a few in the column; my personal approach is that every time I am tempted to start clipping, I go pitch an article instead. They don’t all fly, but enough do to give me a much better return on investment than saving 75 cents on a 6-pack of yogurt.