Finance

Is Couponing Worth It? How Much Can You Save vs Hidden Costs

Budget-conscious families have been clipping coupons for generations, and today they are likely to be searching for discount codes online as well. No surprise that many people think couponing is an effective way to cut spending and fight inflation.

But is couponing worth it? Are the discounts worth the time you put into finding and saving the coupons?

How Much Can You Save with Couponing?

One study reported that 94% of Americans reported using coupons and that the average savings are $11.60 a year per person[1]. That doesn’t sound like much, but it includes many people who use coupons only a few times a year.

Other research suggests that effective couponing could save the average household over $1000/year[2].

The collective worth of coupons is impressive. The total savings from coupons for 2021 was $3.6 billion, and that’s just for the U.S.[3]

Serious full-time couponers claim they save tons of money by being vigilant and persistent. Some claim to save as much as $100,000 using coupons[4]. Coupon influencers love to share their “big scores” with readers, and some have even started businesses helping others find coupons.

Hidden Costs of Coupons

There is one thing all coupons share: a deadline. You have a deadline for using the coupon, and after that, it expires. This sense of urgency creates the fear of missing out (FOMO). You must act quickly, which means you may not use good judgment. Do you really need the item? Is the discount a good value?

You can get a new pair of shoes or a pound of liverwurst, along with the pleasant sensation that you have even saved money.

But the question is, are you, in fact, saving money?

Here are some costs to watch for.

1. Overbuying

As many as 38% of people buy more than expected because they have a coupon. At least 83% of frequent coupon buyers say coupons impact their buying behavior.

It is easy to overbuy when using coupons. You may be getting a good deal on quantities you will never use. Estimate how long it will take to use large amounts. A couponer can spend hours searching for the best coupons and the best offers and leave the store with 7 gallons of hot sauce at a deep discount. But do you really need that much hot sauce?

You may have “saved” money at checkout, but you’re just wasting money if you don’t use the goods you store or you buy items you didn’t really need.

🤑 Remember that stores offer coupons for a reason. They want to get you into their store and hope you buy other items on impulse. Don’t fall for it.

2. Returns

Keep in mind that there will be a cost for returning the product if it is not what you wanted. Those costs can include packaging, postage, and sometimes a restocking fee. The cost of returning the product will be greater than the discount you receive with the coupon.

3. The Time Cost

You can lose control of your time obsessing over finding deals. At some point, you have to place a value on your time.

This can be a dollar value, such as how much you could earn through a part-time job vs. the amount you save on coupons, or it could be the emotional value of the time you could be spending with your family. Assign a value to your time and compare that to the value you are getting from finding coupons.

How to Make Couponing Worth It

Couponing strategically will improve your chances of coming out ahead. Use these tactics.

1. Use Bulk Savings Wisely

You most likely have an ongoing need for items such as soaps, shampoos, sugar, and canned goods. Many coupons offer a discount only if you buy in quantity. Only purchase those things in bulk that you know you will use. You don’t need 20 years’ worth of cooking oil. Make a list of bulk purchases you would like to make and watch for coupons for those items.

2. Wait for Discounts on Dream Products

Everyone has favorite products. You may not want to buy an off-brand because you prefer the product you know. Some companies offer coupons on second-class brands to lure you into buying an inferior product. You can find coupons for name brands from time to time. Stock up on these when you find coupons. Until then, buy small quantities of your favorites and watch for discounts. You will save money in the long run and get the products you want.

3. Get Ready for Seasonal Savings

Watch for coupons during holidays like Black Friday, Christmas, and New Year’s. Plan your shopping for those high-coupon periods. You can save a bundle by being aware of these times and setting aside cash to make your purchases.

Also, watch for deep discounts after the holidays. Many companies have leftover inventory that didn’t sell as anticipated, and they issue coupons to help eliminate excess inventory.

4. Set a Budget

To avoid overspending, set a budget. Know what you spend each month. If you buy coupon items, count that toward your monthly budget, and don’t give in to impulse buying. Create a plan for your money at the start of the month, on paper and on purpose.

That said, you should set aside extra money for those times you want to stock up on discounted items. This will put you over your monthly budget, but it will reduce your expenses in the following months because you will have already bought the products you need.

5. Be Aware of Product Quality and Quantities

Online photos of a product can be deceiving. Sometimes the item pictured is different from the one you are buying. For example, the ounces may differ between the picture and what the coupon specifies.

Also, be careful when the store compares their product to another, more popular one. Saying something is “similar to” or “compares to” a brand-name product does not mean it is identical. Check ingredients, sizes, and customer reviews.

6. Avoid Emotional Buying

It can be exciting to find great deals. Some couponers like to tell others how much they saved, and the emotional rush becomes more important than the savings. Make wise decisions about products you want, and don’t buy “good deals” for the thrill of it.

7. Use Coupons to Create Your Shopping List

Collect coupons and review them before going to the store. This will remind you to get the item, and it will help you remember which products you have coupons for.

If you start your couponing efforts with a wise look ahead, you can avoid losing money and increase your savings!

Should You Join the Coupon Craze?

87% of low-income buyers, 86% middle income buyers and 85% of high-income buyers admit to looking for coupon deals.

What if you discover coupons for products that you will undoubtedly use? Congratulations, you’re saving money and winning.

Many millionaires use coupons regularly. It turns out that millionaires are not above saving money.

Several well-to-do celebrities use coupons. People like Kourtney Kardashian, Lady Gaga, and Carrie Underwood are couponers.

Focus on items you need or really want to buy, and you can avoid the hidden cost of unnecessary purchases. Wade into the craze before jumping headlong. Get used to the process and learn how much you can save. Though couponing can be a rewarding pastime, it is not the equivalent of a job. You can save money, but coupons won’t pay the rent.


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