As a frugal living blogger, I often get lumped into the same category as coupon bloggers, and am regularly mistaken as a "couponer." I like it about as much as the U.S. likes being mistaken for Canada.
I am not a couponer. In fact, I am captain of the Anti-Couponing Team.
I've tried couponing. I've attended the classes, read the blogs, and shadowed experts. I am here to say that while it may work for some, just as a lifelong crash diet of lettuce and raw flax might work for some, the rest of us prefer a sustainable life of hearty food and juicy steaks ... which we can buy it for a good price without having to surf the recycle bin first.
Many people think that to save money on groceries, or be frugal in general, they must become extreme couponers and dumpster dive for the Sunday paper. While I'm not opposed to the occasional dumpster dive (hey, you can find great treasures in there!), I am here to give you the top 7 reasons why couponing is a waste of time! And since I like you, I'll give you my top 3 tips for saving major moola at the grocery store -- without having to clip a single coupon.
1. Time is money
What money you might be saving, you are most likely wasting two-fold in the amount of time it takes you to properly shop with coupons. It's downright complicated. You have to subscribe to the newspapers, clip, sort, and store the coupons, find the store's deals that week, figure out what coupons can work with the deals, go shopping (often times having to visit multiple stores), and then, additionally, plan out and shop for the things your coupons don't work for (but you still need). If you spend part-time hours clipping coupons, go get a part-time job and actually make money. I promise it will work out better for you in the long run.
2. Name-brand, shmame-brand
Coupons are meant to bring down the price of name-brand items. But, have you noticed that name-brand items are typically more expensive to begin with? One of my favorite frugal living secrets is that store-brand items are usually made by the name-brand factories. Those Kirkland batteries? Made by Duracel. In most cases when you buy name-brand items you're paying extra for commercials, advertising, and market testing expenses -- not product quality. Stick with store-brand items and you'll save more money in the long run.
3. I hope you like processed food ...
Most coupons are for pantry items. It's next to never that you'll find a coupon for fresh produce, dairy, or meat ... which is typically the stuff that we go through the fastest, and costs us the most. But hey, who doesn't like a good cheese puff every once in a while ...
4. Raise your hand if you need 44 boxes of tampons!
The purpose of coupons is to get you to purchase a product that you most likely haven't tried before. Translation = IMPULSE BUY. If you wouldn't have put it on your shopping list to begin with, don't waste your time clipping a coupon for it! Additionally, just because something is a good deal -- whether you use it regularly or not -- doesn't mean you have to buy a three-year supply of it. I believe in stocking up when there is a great deal on something you go through quickly. But 44 boxes of tampons and 18 lemon cake mixes? Good deal or not, I'd bet money you just don't need it.
5. Crash diets are called crash diets for a reason
I like to think of saving money through couponing like losing weight through crash dieting. Sure, it might work. And it might even work well! But it's not realistic, sustainable, or fun. Most people I know who commit themselves to couponing do well for a while, then lose interest or time, fall off the wagon, and resign themselves to a life of paying full-price for groceries. It's all about balance. Pssst, spoiler alert: Keep reading for how to save money on groceries the easy way!
6. Enemy No. 1
Since TLC's Extreme Couponing show came out, stores across the nation have tightened up on their coupon policies. You need an encryption decoder, a magic wand, and a stiff drink to get away unscathed at the register any more. Save yourself the headache (and blacklist nominations) by leaving your four-inch thick coupon binder at home. Use my three tips below to save your wallet AND the people behind you in the checkout line.
More from The Stir: 12 Best Tips for Saving Big Bucks at the Grocery Store
7. Like a bandaid to a broken femur
Sure, a bandaid might help, but it certainly won't solve the problem. If your family is "in the red" each month and about to lose your house, chances are no amount of clipped coupons are going to solve your problem. It's safe to say there is a deeper-rooted issue lurking somewhere. In all seriousness, I applaud anyone who coupons for the sake of their family finances. But there is an easier way. If you were to step back and analyze all financial aspects of your life (debt, impulse buys, eating out, conveniences, gifts, how you manage your money ...) you could probably save more by getting organized and setting reasonable budgets than you ever could by clipping coupons.
Here are three things you can do to save half on your current grocery bill (with hardly any effort at all!):
1. Buy what's on sale, plan your meals around it
Each week stores will put food on sale to get you into their store. Sometimes they are even willing to lose money on those items ("loss-leaders"). Look at the front and back pages of your store's weekly ad for the best deals. Circle what you need, and plan your meals around those items. The best part? The best deals are usually produce, dairy, and meat.
2. Freeze, freeze, freeze
If it's on sale (and you'll actually eat it), buy extra and freeze it! Cheese, veggies, fruit, sour cream, any and all meats, bread ... you name it. If you can't use it up before it goes bad, freeze it for another day. (Tip: If it doesn't taste as good once thawed, add it to a dish like soup or casserole and you'll never know the difference!)
3. Only go shopping 1x per week, no matter what
Every time you step into a store for "one loaf of bread," you'll come out with $50 in stuff you suddenly need to have. Shop once, no matter what. It forces you to plan ahead, shop with a list, and think through your meals before going. Run out of milk? Borrow from a neighbor, or make toast instead of cereal the next morning.
Have you had success with coupons? What is your biggest financial challenge in getting out of debt and saving money? Share in the comments and Jordan may write about it in an upcoming column!
Jordan's advice from her FunCheapOrFree blog has been featured on TLC, The Today Show, Inside Edition, Today Australia, and the DailyMail. Be sure to check out more of her frugal living and lifestyle tips.
Image via DollarPhotoClub.com/Kimberly Reinick