Money Management,  Uncategorized

Why Coupons Aren’t All That

Coupon PyschologyMark and I had a little spat in February.

Before you scoot up on the edge of your seat, eager to be filled in on such juicy private details as marital conflict, I’ll tell you up front: It wasn’t that big of a deal. I mean, for real. The forty cents off four cans of Campbell’s condensed soup wasn’t that big of a deal.

Sorry if you were expecting something more dramatic. The truth is, Mark and I generally don’t fight. A deep level of respect for each other and the combination of two very passive personalities makes conflict almost non-existent in our marriage. This couponing fiasco is one of the very few times we have ever gotten aggravated with each other. That’s about as juicy as our conflict has ever gotten.

So any way… the coupons. Since we are a young couple in the ministry, for the most part volunteering our lives to God’s work, we don’t have a lot of money. This isn’t a big deal to us. It’s part of the package we have chosen. We left behind all the comforts of a cushy financial situation for the sake of the ministry and traded them for the joy of serving Christ in a full-time capacity. With that however, there is a perpetual juggling to make ends meet and the necessity of being beyond frugal.

Well, this particular month of February, I rediscovered coupons.

Coupons With Scissors XXXL

It happens every once in awhile.

After pouring over the Krazy Coupon Lady’s blog, and printing scads of coupons, and downloading cash back and grocery reward apps, I was raring to go. I was armed with coupons and felt empowered when we walked into Wal-Mart. Look out world, Miss Frugal is on the loose! Mark, not opposed to saving money, and perhaps thinking optimistically, trusted me to the grocery shopping and went off to browse electronics. He met up with me when I was almost finished collecting my delightful ‘deals.’

HOWEVER, when he rejoined me, he immediately started debating my choices. I wanted to use a chocolate milk rebate from Ibotta, so I selected the lowest price and the smallest bottle. A little 2 serving jug of milk was going to cost us $1.00 when all was said and done. I thought it sounded pretty great. He was quick to point out however, that my price per ounce was ridiculous.

Ok… sure. Buy in bulk. It looks like it will break the bank, it takes up a lot of space, but yes… you do get a bigger bang for your buck.

After that we traveled to the soup section where I started picking out my condensed Campbell’s soups that I was going to save $.10 on a piece. He just had to point out that we usually buy the Great Value brand, and buying generic was still cheaper than using the coupons. This of course was too much for bulldozer

Here I was, trying to save money, and Mark just completely bulldozed all of my sense of empowerment. In my stubborn annoyance, my reply was “See, this is why I don’t want you with me when I do groceries. I’m trying to save money and you just trounce all my efforts.” His exasperated response before abandoning me with my worthless coupons and the debit card was “I’m just trying to get you to think through it!”

Of course, he was right. What is the sense of couponing if you’re not actually saving money? And he, unlike me, was wise enough to see past the trickery of manufacturers, that I, as a typical woman, was too blind to make note of.

My little Campbell’s coupon wasn’t doing us any favors. In fact, it was actually making things worse. I made about as much sense as cartoon Becky in the picture below.

coupon feud

I was simply falling prey to the marketing tactics of the coupon. Fooled into believing I was getting a good deal.

I’m such a woman.

Thank God I have a husband to swoop in and rescue me when my female tendencies kick in and carry me away.

Once I got over myself and aligned myself with his wisdom, I revisited the coupon idea. And… This is what I have concluded.

stinky little secrets

1)            Unless you are a strictly name brand buyer, you aren’t saving money.


Mark and I are generic shoppers. Aldis, Great Value, Price First… Coupons are generally for name brand items. We do buy a handful of name brand items when the quality is truly a factor, but do the math. 90% of the time, coupons on name brand goods will NOT trump every day generic costs.

2)            Coupons are a psychological game.


Coupons are advertisements. Clever little advertisements. They are designed to compel you to buy a product. They feel like money that you must use, or you’re ‘throwing it away.” They have this looming expiration date that ignites an urgency within you to run out and use it before you miss out.

In reality, the companies are getting you to buy things you wouldn’t normally buy, accumulate quantities you’ll never use, and you’ll notice your bank account not building with savings, but shrinking with spending.

Frivolous spending.

It’s genius on their part, and a tough lesson on ours.


3)            Coupons are a lot of work


time15Coupons are still great, don’t get me wrong. I still use them, but… I’ve discovered that genuinely saving money with them is a lot of work.  If you’re going to beat generic prices with coupons, it’s hours of mapping out store sales, checking store prices, comparing rebate apps, doing a lot of math and breaking down your cost per units.

To ensure I am actually saving money, I built a spreadsheet where I tally up the coupons and rebates, sale prices and final value, and then… I compare it to what I normally pay. The truth is, 90% of the time, after you’ve done all the math, the deal isn’t worth it. About another 5% of the time the deal is barely beating your normal value. Sometimes it’s just a few cents, and you have to weigh out whether finding a three cent savings was worth more than the three hours you spend hunting it down. In that last little remainder you do find some nuggets, and admittedly, they can be worth all the time and effort.

4)            Coupons are a lot of fantasy


When I first starting stalking the Krazy Coupon Lady blog, I was enamored with all the “money makers” and freebies, and pennies for awesome deals… but I quickly discovered those deals don’t always translate. Some of the apps aren’t compatible with your phone, some of the “free” is actually store loyalty cash (Total rip-off, but a completely different post for a different day). Sometimes no matter how awesome the deal looks and how prepared you are to execute it, the items are not available or the cashier won’t stack them like they are supposed to. You end up making the purchase without the deal under the pressure of inconveniencing people around you. I’ve had a good many sparkling trophy deals flop before I got out of the store.

On the bright side of things, here is my list of tips and goodies that are working well for us.

money saving tips

1)            Wal-Mart Savings Catcher


Skip all the unnecessary work of comparing grocery store sales and download the Wal-Mart app. Just scan the QR code on your receipt with your phone, and let them do the work. They’ll search your area for any stores that currently beat their prices and refund the difference.

2)            Ibotta


There’s so much I could say about Ibotta. If your an avid couponer, you can use it as an additional savings, or if you’re just a lazy couponer, you can strike a deal with minimal effort. It’s a rebate app, so you pay full up front, but it feels like a little piggy bank. You just scan your receipt and Ibotta chucks a little change in your stash. If you’re like me, you hang onto little stashes like this for birthdays, Christmas, special occasions, unexpected expenses, etc. There are other rebate apps available as well and you can stack your savings and get some awesome deals. If you want a free $10, use this link!

3)            Stick with generic brands and discount grocery stores


Unless you’ve spent time on the math and you’re sure your getting a better deal on name brand with coupons, stick with the generic. As a general rule of thumb, they are already competitively marked down to beat manufacturer’s prices, even with the best coupons.

4)            Take a detailed “plan of execution” to the store with you.


I always print out exactly which products I am going to buy, what coupons I have to use in store and what rebate apps I have to use afterwards. This prevents me from impulse couponing (which is disastrous), helps me stay on track, and ensures that I’m actually utilizing the full potential of the bargain.

That’s my two cents, saved and offered. Maybe God will use our little coupon spat to rescue another female drowning in the quagmire of buyer manipulation. Don’t fall prey to the marketing snares! Keep your head on your shoulders and a calculator in your pocket and SAVE, SAVE, SAVE!



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