Couponing seems to be a time-tested strategy used by moms everywhere to stretch the household budget. But there are many reasons why using coupons won't necessarily help you come out ahead. Here are eight reasons why the savings generated from coupons aren't always worth the costs of collecting and using them.
In Pictures: 5 Money-Saving Shopping Tips
1. You have to buy a newspaper.
This doesn't apply to any free coupons you happen to get along with products or in the mail, but once you pay for a newspaper, you've lost money. You then have to make up for that loss by using enough coupons to break even. Then, you have to use even more coupons to come out ahead. And that doesn't even account for the value of the time you spend clipping and organizing them.
2. Clipping coupons takes time.
Yes, you can do it while you watch TV and turn "unproductive" time into "productive" time. But there are a lot of things you can do while you watch TV - mop the floor, prepare a week's worth of meals or actually let yourself relax and not do anything for once. Your time might be better spent on another activity.
3. Getting a newspaper invites lots of additional advertising into your home.
Advertising is powerful stuff - this is part of the reason why companies offer coupons in the first place. You might actually end up buying more stuff by having all those ads around, negating any savings you get from coupons. The same is true if a coupon compels you to venture into a store you wouldn't otherwise visit. (For more money-saving tips, see the Budgeting Basics Tutorial.)
4. Many of the coupons will be for things you neither need nor want.
Unfortunately, coupon circulars aren't customized to your shopping habits. If you are a die-hard bargain hunter, if may be hard for you to turn down a good deal, even if it means buying something you weren't planning on getting anyway. However, from a financial perspective, buying more than you need or want just doesn't make sense. (For more on this topic, see Attention Discount Shoppers: Don't Buy Just Because It's On Sale.)
5. Coupons can tempt you to spend your grocery dollars on things you shouldn't.
Coupons don't always market the healthiest foods. This might mean that they'll lead you to buy things that aren't very good for you. Anyone can see that clipping coupons that tempt you to purchase sugary cereals and fatty or salty snacks isn't the greatest thing for your health. If your idea of a healthy snack is more "I'll have an apple" and less "I'll just have one serving of potato chips," you're unlikely to find much in the coupon circulars at all that will interest you. The "fruits and veggies" section of your coupon organizer is going to be a lonely place. Do you really want an incentive to bring more junk food into the house? Plus, if you have a monthly grocery budget that you stick to no matter what, coupons will only get you more food or different food - they won't truly save you any money.
6. The same coupons tend to be offered over and over again.
After a few months of coupon clipping, you'll realize that you're repeatedly clipping the same coupons. This might work for you if you use the same products repeatedly, but it's not so great if you prefer variety and experimentation. You often won't use all the coupons you clip by their expiration date, so you'll have to toss that yogurt coupon that expired on June 30 only to clip another identical one that doesn't expire until July 31. This is time consuming - not to mention aggravating. The redundancy of coupons is especially annoying if the coupons are for items you don't even want to buy. (Check out alternative ways to save in A Map To Grocery Store Savings.)
7. You might become a slave to coupons.
It can be very difficult to buy something without a coupon once you get used to using coupons. Knowing that you can get ice cream for $2.50 might make it difficult for you to spend $4 on it even though many times, it would be worth it to spend the extra $1.50 rather than pine for ice cream and cast longing glances at your freezer every night for three weeks until your next coupon arrives. You might also find yourself making more trips to the grocery store in order to purchase things only when you have coupons for them.
8. Shopping takes longer.
If you have to hunt up and down the aisles in search of the item you have a coupon for, you'll spend more time at the store. This could also lead you to spend more money, potentially negating the savings you're working so hard to accrue.
The Bottom Line
Yes, you can save a lot of money with coupons, especially when you combine them with sales. However, there are some drawbacks to coupons that must be taken into account. Perhaps the most dedicated coupon clippers can overcome these hurdles and still achieve overall savings. If you're not one of them, there's no need to start clipping. (For another perspective on this topic, see Coupon Shopping: Clip Your Way To Savings.)