Monday, November 16, 2009

Some Thoughts on Coupons

You'd probably think that I, being the self-proclaimed Parsimonious Princess, would be big into coupons. Seven newspaper subscriptions. Incredible filing systems, with each coupon sorted by expiration date and categories. Spending only a few dollars for a cart loaded with groceries.

Nope. I don't even have a newspaper subscription - I bum my weekly coupon insert off someone else. And filing them? I keep my coupons in envelopes that come with our bills (I don't use them since I usually pay my bills via phone or online), sorted according to expiration date (one envelope for ones expiring in November, one for December, etc.), clipped together with a cute clothespin my friend made. That's it. I admit it - I am no couponing queen.

Not that there's anything wrong with couponing, per se. Some people really make it work for themselves. More power to them. A lady at my church has the whole couponing thing down. She has a big family and spends an incredibly low amount on groceries by strategically shopping with coupons and checking all the local grocery ads. I even took a class from her - it made a lot of sense. I felt empowered. I was going to do this thing!

Then I realized that coupons don't really fit into my lifestyle. For one, I buy hardly any of the things advertised with coupons. Scrubbing Bubbles? I'll keep my good ol' baking soda and vinegar for cleaning my bathroom. Pillsbury biscuits? I can make them from scratch in about a half-hour for a lot cheaper than the canned kind (though I do kind of like opening the exploding tube...). I don't buy sugary cereals or cookie dough (sidenote: I thought it was hilarious the other day at the store when I saw a box of Cocoa Krispies proclaiming its immunity-boosting effect on children. Riiiight.) - a lot of the coupons are for foods that aren't nutritious. There are tons of medicine coupons - we don't use a lot of medicine and when we do, it's often generic. And then there's the matter of store brands vs. name brands. Store brands are often less expensive than the brand name stuff, even with the coupons (unless you shop like my friend at church does and coordinate everything with the ads - like I said, her system is awesome).

BUT, I do use coupons. My in-laws get the Sunday paper and one Sunday afternoon I noticed that they threw out the coupons (mostly because my mother-in-law does a lot of her shopping at Costco and doesn't need them). So, I asked if I could have them and now they set all the coupons aside for me every week. I'm willing to bet you could find someone, maybe a grandparent or neighbor, who doesn't use their coupons (not that I suggest you stroll around your neighborhood, find a house with a newspaper in the driveway, retrieve it for them, and then ask for their coupons.). Even though I don't use the majority of them, I still save some money using them. Here's what I use coupons for:
  • Sometimes, there are just brand-name products we prefer, like Daisy sour cream, Skippy Natural peanut butter, Scott toilet paper, etc. We just like them better (and the food products often more healthy) than the store brand. In my opinion, this is the key to couponing: only use them for things you would buy without a coupon. As the old adage goes, "A bargain ain't a bargain unless it's something you need."
  • Dental hygiene. I never buy toothpaste, mouthwash, or toothbrushes without a coupon now. By coordinating the coupons with sales at grocery stores, I can get a tube of toothpaste for a dollar (once I managed to get some for like 50 cents) and toothbrushes for free. Whenever I see a sale in the grocery ads on dental stuff, I stock up. Coupons help with that, for sure.
  • Diapers (hopefully not for much longer, though...). Maybe your experience is different, but I stick to the brand-name diapers because they've just worked better for me (everyone seems to have some kind of brand loyalty when it comes to disposable diapers), so coupons help take some of the ouch of out of the price. There are always tons of diaper coupons in the coupon sections of the newspaper. Sometimes, too, I go to Target and get a print-out coupon for diapers with my receipt.(Yet another sidenote: before I get someone who points out that it would be cheaper to use cloth diapers, I just want to say that I plan on at least giving cloth diapers a try -- a try -- with my next baby. Really.)
  • Feminine hygiene. If you shop the ads and use a coupon, you can get a better price than the store brands sometimes.
  • Pet food and supplies. There's always plenty of coupons in the Sunday paper for pet food, treats, and kitty litter. Treats seem superfluous, I know, but sometimes I can get them for really cheap if I use a coupon. My giant cat is always appreciative.
  • I like to buy lots of natural food, cleaners, and hygiene products, however there are hardly ever any coupons in the Sunday ads for the health store brands. But I've noticed that lots of the natural/health food stores (like Sunflower Farmers Market or Whole Foods) carry some kind of free magazine that has health-related articles and recipes in them. These magazines happen to have advertisements in them too and have lots of great coupons. I get lots of my Kashi cereal coupons this way, along with coupons for cleaning products like Method. One other tip: I've noticed that the natural/health food stores in my area often have promotional coupon books at the registers.
  • While we're on the topic of coupon sources, also check online. I've found quite a few good coupons for brands I buy online. One site I go to occasionally is Coupon Suzy or you could go to Pinching Your Pennies for some suggestions on where to find online coupons (PYP is also a great site for anyone that wants to use coupons more enthusiastically and create an effective system. Plus, they go through all the weekly grocery ads in your area and tell you what sales are best - great resource just for that.)
I know there may be some out there that think I'm missing out on a whole aspect of frugality by being lukewarm on couponing. And that's fine. There are whole websites and blogs devoted to great coupons and deals. For me, coupons are just a small part of my money-saving arsenal and I don't mind clipping a few coupons if it means I'll save a few dollars here and there. But that's usually as far as I'll go.

One final note: I learned recently that you can send expired coupons to military families living overseas. Since they have to do their shopping at the commissaries and post exchanges on bases, the products they buy are usually more expensive than here at home. However, these stores on base will take coupons up to six months after their expiration date. Since the families overseas don't have access to the Sunday newspaper like we do, these coupons can be pretty scarce. So, if you have any unused or expired coupons, send them them to our military families! The easiest way to do this is through the "Troopon" program -- just send them to the address in the link and they'll send the coupons to the bases overseas for you (the link to this will always be in the sidebar). You can also check out other sites like the Overseas Coupon Program or Coupons to Troops if you want to send the coupons to the bases yourself.  It's just a small way to show our gratitude our men and women in uniform -- and their families -- who sacrifice so much in our behalf.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Thank you so much for your reasonable stance on couponing. I've been working on being more frugal for the last year and a half or so; it's my natural inclination anyway. So many people are so sold on getting a ton of groceries for cheap. It SEEMS like such a good idea. But I see the kind of "food" that they get with their coupons and I get grossed out. It's all such junk. I'll eat some not so healthy food some days, but that definitely isn't what my grocery shopping trip is for.

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