Ever heard of couponing? Nope, we’re not talking about that popular TV series that showed America just how far some people are willing to go—just to save a dollar.
But we are talking about your Great Aunt Betty who’s been couponing since before the Great Depression. What Aunt Betty taught us all was the value of saving a dollar or two—just by shopping the sales and never purchasing anything without a coupon (or promo code) in hand.
While some people are willing to spend 40 hours a week on mastering their coupon game hoping to get money back, save double, or come home with five gallons of generic laundry detergent, others are just shopping for discounts when they’re ready to make a purchase.
What Is Couponing?
Couponing is the act of searching for deals and steals on goods and services by cutting out ads (from newspapers and catalogs), searching for online promo codes, and sometimes even using extreme measures (like using expired coupons) to save at checkout.
You might think about it as a game—the saver’s version of Sudoku or Words With Friends. But instead of finding missing numbers or words, you’re finding All. The. Deals. Talk about satisfaction!
How Does Couponing Work?
If you’re like Great Aunt Betty, you do a little planning. Maybe you plan your meals around your favorite store’s weekly ads or what’s on sale. Maybe you only buy meat if it’s a Manager’s Special.
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But if you’re really extreme, you’re probably scavenging dumpsters in search of those little golden tickets (aka coupons). Others might steal their neighbor’s Penny Saver and shamelessly ask for unwanted newspapers. And still others might spend their time trying to find loopholes in their grocery store’s coupon policies. How many times can you use this coupon in the same transaction? Asking for a friend.
Why People Use Coupons
For some people, couponing is a way of life. It’s a simple and easy way to save money on the grocery bill and put that hard-earned cash to use somewhere else—like saving up for your next family vacation. And for others, it’s just a great way to save a dollar or two on something they were already in the market for.
Coupons are a great way to save money on things you were already going to purchase. So, if you’re in the market for some home décor but don’t feel like spending an arm and a leg, you might go to Hobby Lobby or Michaels because you know they have weekly coupons. You’re already going to buy the picture frame . . . so why not get it at a lower price? Score!
Why Stores Use Coupons
Retailers are actually smarter (and sneakier) than you might think. For instance, that Welcome to the Neighborhood 20% off coupon you just got in your mailbox isn’t just a nice gesture—but it feels pretty nice.
Stores know that the more they discount their products or the more they “give,” the more likely you’ll spend your money with them. Think about it: If you’re shopping for a new pair of shoes, you’re probably not going to go looking for the most expensive pair. You’re going to use that coupon for “$20 off your purchase of $100 or more” you just got in the mail.
But what stores don’t want you to know is that they’ve discounted some of their items so much that they actually lose money on that item just to get you in the door. They bank on these “loss leaders” to lure you into the store. Their hope is that you’ll blow your budget on a good sale and spend even more money—emptying your wallet and padding theirs.
Types of Coupons
These days, there are many different options when it comes to saving money. But most come in the form of paper ads or digital codes. So what’s the difference?
Paper: Most stores are still keeping the printing industry alive and well. Walk in through those double doors and you’ll probably see a stand with the week’s best savings on things like bananas and powdered peanut butter.
Digital Coupons: The use of digital coupons goes hand in hand with online shopping. Whether you’re standing in a brick-and-mortar store scouring the web for a discount (to scan at the register) or signing up for a store’s newsletter for that coveted 20% off, these are becoming more and more popular ways to save.
Money-Saving Apps: If you’re a frequent shopper, you’ve probably been bombarded with the option to download your local store’s app. Not only does it provide them prime real estate on your mobile device, it also gives you a way to collect an online wallet of weekly discounts. Wondering what stores have an app? Just name it and they probably have one (we’re looking at you, Target, Starbucks and Chick-fil-A).
There are also apps like Honey or RetailMeNot that connect to your search engines and automatically search coupon sites for the best deals and steals.
Is Couponing Worth It?
Here’s the deal: Couponing is only worth what you save, the time you spent looking for deals, and the value you place on the item you purchased.
Does Couponing Save You Money?
Coupons are a form of advertising that stores use to lure you into spending money on something you may or may not have needed.
By providing a sense of urgency (the sale is almost over) or touting their sale as the biggest of the year (giving you a very bad case of FOMO—Fear of Missing Out), they know it’s only a matter of time until you spend your hard-earned cash on those “must-haves.”
Seems like a win-win scenario, right? You get to walk away with a new pair of shoes and the nice feeling that you even saved money.
But the question is: Did you actually save money? The answer really depends on if you actually needed what you purchased. That’s where your budget comes in! If you budgeted $250 for groceries but spent half of that on a new set of pots and pans—you had a coupon—did you really save money?
Does Couponing Make You Spend More Money?
It depends. With extreme couponing, people can spend hours upon hours trying to find the best coupons and the best deals and come out of the store with 10 gallons of laundry detergent at a fraction of the original price. But the question is . . . why do you need that much detergent in the first place?
You may have “saved” money on paper, but if you don’t use the products you’re stockpiling, then you’re really just wasting money. But if you find coupons for the items you’re actually going to use? Congratulations—that’s what you call saving money and winning—at the same time!
In fact, more than one in three net-worth millionaires use coupons all the time!1 Turns out, millionaires aren’t above saving money. (Sounds like that might be what helped them reach that status in the first place.)
We get it—everyone loves the feeling of a good deal. But it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth the time, money and energy it takes to get the best prices out there.
The bottom line? There’s nothing wrong with couponing, especially if you’re trying to save money at checkout. But just make sure you’re not being lured in to spend money on something you won’t use . . . just for the thrill of saving.
That’s why it’s so important to get on a budget (and stick to it). Make a plan for your money at the beginning of the month—on paper and on purpose. Remember: Sticking to a budget is really the only way to save the most money and get the best deal for you and your family. Check out our free budgeting app, EveryDollar, and start saving!