Coupon clipping has long been hailed as a staple activity in frugal households, but is it possible to go too far? Yes! You could even be spending more money in gas or indirect costs like time just to score a deal that isn't really worth the savings in the end. Here are some signs that you may be going too far just to save a dollar. (For related reading, also take a look at Is Coupon Clipping A Waste Of Time?)
TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics
1. Spending Too Long Searching for Coupons
Clipping coupons shouldn't be an obsessive activity that takes up your entire life. If you are spending every night surrounded by a pile of flyers and newspapers trying to find the best deals, it may not be worth the savings you accumulate at the end.
Be smart about picking and choosing where you clip your coupons, and balance your time wisely. You could select just a few newspapers that seem to have the best range of coupons for what you buy and focus on checking them each week.
2. Buying What You Don't Need Just Because it's on Sale
Just because you can find and use a coupon for it, it doesn't mean you need it. Saving money on items is only effective if you are saving money on buying what you actually need or want.
If not, you're "spaving", which is a term that joins the words "spend" and "save" together, coined for those who irrationally spend money just to save by getting that discount or deal. In the end, you will always be out of pocket each time you "spave". (Learn more in 8 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Use Coupons.)
3. Driving Out of Your Way to Buy Items Every Week
If your coupons can be used on your regular route of running errands or grocery shopping, then it makes sense to clip them and use them along the way.
The only exception is if you happen to come across a rare amazing deal where you get significant savings that makes it well worth your time to go an hour out of your way.
However, if you start having the urge to check 15 different grocery stores just to buy a normal week's worth of groceries based on the coupons they are offering, you may have wasted more gas and time doing so than what the savings were worth.
Stick to a few stores that are in your neighborhood or on your daily routes with their occasional coupons, rather than constantly wasting time or money for other stores just because of a $0.50 coupon. (To learn about online coupons, see 4 Coupon Sites Worth Checking Out.)
TUTORIAL: Credit Cards
4. Being Unable to Buy Anything Without a Coupon
If you are starting to feel like you can't buy anything without a coupon to give you a deal, you may be going too far.
You don't always need a coupon to buy something, and you should think of them as bonus savings rather than a necessary trigger to purchase goods or services.
Having a coupon doesn't automatically mean it's automatically cheaper either because some stores may price their goods slightly higher and then offer a coupon to lure shoppers, but in the end the savings may not be worth the trouble.
The best strategy is to do your research ahead of time with the few stores you feel have the cheapest prices in general, and focus on gathering those stores' coupons to maximize your savings. Then every six months or so or if your stores start raising prices on your staples, do a quick check on other stores' prices to compare and make sure the savings are still worth it.
Just because you can buy 50 packs of jumbo-sized toilet paper to save $1.00, it doesn't mean you should.
When your pantry starts overflowing and your basement is so packed with "deals" and "discounts" that you can't live comfortably in your house, it could mean that you're taking it to unhealthy extremes.
The difference between buying intelligently in bulk and hoarding is whether or not you can reasonably use the items within a time frame of six months or less; hoarding is when you're constantly buying in bulk to the point where you have enough supplies to last you for a year or more without going to the store.
The Bottom Line
Coupon clipping can be a great way to save with minimal effort, but when you're spending more in time and money than you're saving, it may be time to scale back. (For additional reading, also see Coupon Shopping: Clip Your Way To Savings.)
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