Is clipping coupons worth the effort?

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.

7 thoughts on “Is clipping coupons worth the effort?

  1. Obviously, using coupons is a choice, time vs. money saved. I live in the land of “doubles, triples, super doubles, etc.” Our local grocery stores provide phenomenal deals w/ coupons. That .75 Q becomes $2.25 on “triples” days @ our local stores. Many of our stores regularly double q’s up to one dollar (i.e. $1 becomes $2 off).

    I clip only those q’s on items I definitely would purchase with or without a Q. I have routinely saved up to 80-90% on those items which drive up ones grocery budget. Items like razors, deoderant, shampoo…all the non-edibles.

    Couponing only works/pays off if you have access to stores which double or triple the coupons. However, based on working with young marrieds, coupons often make the difference in having food in the house & gas in the car. (Some stores offer $$ off gas with certain purchases).

  2. My local supermarket hands out about 8 coupons every time I shop. I having been trying (not very hard) to come up with some strategy so that I have the right ones available the next time I shop. I regularly have the experience at the till of thinking “Damn, I left the coupon in the *insert random other place* again”. Your post has removed my feelings of guilt.

    I am sure that a simple calculation in my house would show that 20% extra spend on tasty food at supermarket = a 20% overall saving on food expense as it would cut down a lot on the restaurant, phone a pizza, take out sushi bills.

  3. Great realization of our time, Laura!

    I used to clip coupons a lot also but found it to be too time-consuming and cumbersome. In fact, I rarely used those coupons which I clipped, therefore having wasted time clipping away at things in which I had no need for. What a silly way to spend my time! So I stopped altogether.

    Most of the time, we end up spending MORE on purchases because the limitations of the coupon say “save $1.00 on TWO bags of Doritos” or something along the line. You actually spend more and buy more than if you had just purchased your original one bag. Marketing tactics at its best. But not for the benefit of the consumer.

  4. Coupon on things that make sense for your family. For example, with 3 children in diapers, I buy a lot of diapers. My goal is to get Huggies or Pampers for half of Costco’s price, roughly $0.10/diaper and I usually achieve that. This saves $50-$60/month on diapers. Since taxes and childcare if I were working full-time would be over 90% of my pay, the $50-$60 out of pocket can save looks more significant.

  5. I find that couponing doesn’t always work out for me. I’m like Conor, where I cut and then forget. I think if I lived in the land of doubles, I would be more inclined to actually work on it. When I do, I find that I haven’t really saved that much to make a difference. I already buy a lot of store brands as it is and most coupons seem to be aimed at name brand products. They just don’t help me as much as I’d like.

    1. Yazmin- I agree with you. I often keep coupons for diapers or baby food because we buy a lot of these, but then they wind up in the mail pile and I never actually have them with me when I or someone else goes to the store. It’s mental overhead, and I’m trying to keep my brain focused on different things.

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