Is Couponing Really Worth Your Time?

I have to admit that I’ve been a coupon snob in the past.

My hatred of the unorganized couponer that holds up the line as they leisurely thumb through their pile of 2-weeks-overdue clippings and then ask to speak to the manager in an effort to save a couple of dimes was partially responsible.  I didn’t want to be associated with the stigma those types of people created.

The hoarder-like people known as “extreme couponers” on TV did their part as well.  I mean it’s great that you managed to get a tube of toothpaste for 3 cents and all, but seeing as how you had to buy a whole shed full in order to accomplish that feat…

If I’m being brutally honest with myself, my overall laziness probably played the largest role in my lack of couponing efforts.  I might try to justify my laziness with inner monologue such as, “I’m a busy guy and it’s not really worth my time,” or, “coupons are more for grandmas with nothing better to do.”

I was wrong.  I admit it.

I Can’t Ignore Coupons Any Longer

episode12-cover-1024x1024In preparation for our latest episode of the Money Mastermind Show I looked into this whole couponing a little more.  It turns out that technology has essentially refined the idea of coupons to a level where a lazy guy like me can actually considering using them.

This past week I completed one of my least-favorite Canadian traditions: The USA Shopping Trip.  Every year millions of Canadians pour across the border in hopes of finding deals that our relatively small economy of scale and high tax rates just can’t compete with.  The substantial raise in how much stuff you’re allowed to bring back without paying taxes or duties on it from $200 to $800 for a 48-hour trip has been a godsend to conscientious shoppers like my fiancée.  Not so much for lazy anti-shoppers like myself.

Related: Why Target is Better Than Wal-Mart!

Sometimes in the past I’d stroll over to the computer 15 minutes before we left (in other words about 15 minutes after we were supposed to leave) and see if there were any quick printable coupons available for a couple of stores that I knew from past experience that we’d be hitting.  That was about it.  This time I still wasn’t willing to snoop around newspapers etc., but what I did do is check out this whole mobile couponing thing.

The basic idea is that instead of rifling through dozens of clippings as you go to the big box stores or stroll through a mall, you simply pull up the coupon/promo codes on your phone and have the cashier scan the bar code or just give them the digits for the promo code.  After spending too much time looking at my phone I realized that someone smarter and more motivated than myself had almost assuredly already invented an app for this sort of thing.  After a quick search the first one I clicked on was called Coupon Sherpa (how cool is that name/brand?).  I’m sure there are others out there that are great too, but this app saved me like $100 in an afternoon at the mall.  I’d just follow my fiancée around holding the bags as usual, but this time, whenever she went into a store I’d just scroll down my list of “retailers in your area” and see what was available for in-store promotions.  It was that easy.  It took maybe 45 seconds for each store.  The ease with which a person can piggyback off of other peoples’ hard work when it comes to today’s couponing strategies is pretty sweet.

*Editor’s Note: Coupon Sherpa is not available in Canada

I’ve written before about promo codes and at this point if you don’t take 15 seconds to Google “promo code for _____” before clicking “confirm purchase” you’re kind of crazy.  I’ve also gotten a sense of when things go on sale for the online retailers I prefer, and developed a modicum of patience in allowing some bigger-ticket groups of items to sit in my cart for a little while before the sale hits.  This episode made move beyond that however.

Related: Saving Money by Shopping Online?

How Much Time and How Much Money Are We Talking?

Peter Anderson of Bible Money Matters says that he believes he saves about $100 per hour when he and his wife do just the bare minimum of snatching a few coupons on the stuff they ordinarily buy.  He also quoted a stat from Coupon.com (admittedly a source that might be tempted to inflate things a little bit) that says the average family loses out on $900-worth of savings every year due to ignoring coupons.  If that’s not impressive, think about the fact that the $900 figure is calculated as after-tax dollars saved.  In other words, I’d have to make somewhere in the $1,300 range before taxes in order to equal the savings people could have from coupons.

Our special guest on the show this week Carrie Rocha is a grocery shopping wizard.  She talked about how a conscientious shopper who was willing to do a quick search of sites like her own Pocket Your Dollars before heading out could save hundreds every couple of weeks.  Ever wonder how Costco and Sam’s Club-style wholesale shopping stacked up against couponing wizards like Carrie?  Tune in to find out why Carrie has found a great balance between the different price-cutting strategies and why she refrains from calling herself an extreme couponer by any measure.  Insights about just being aware of what you pay and some of the sales cycles were stuff I hadn’t really thought of before (even though I realize that sounds kind of dumb now as I type it).

Of course everyone was quick to note you’re only really saving money if you use coupons to buy what you were going to buy anyway.  If you buy something you don’t need for $8 that used to be $10, you’re not saving $2, your still spending $8 on something you don’t need!

Still, Don’t be a Jerk About It

I still harbour some resentment when it comes to disorganized couponers who clearly feel their time is worth more than those around them.  If you’re going to make up your mind to save a little here and there over the net little while please take the time to prepare before you hit the register.  It’s just not cool to jerk everyone else around.  From my very limited experience, if you know what you’re doing before you start digging around in a bottomless sack for tiny piece of paper you clipped weeks ago, you can use coupons or mobile promo codes and only add roughly 10-30 seconds to your transaction time.

I’m sorry coupons and couponers, I apologize wholeheartedly.  I won’t say I’m ready to completely drink the kool-aid yet, but I’m ready to nibble around the edges at least.

Does anyone out there have some more tips for a semi-lazy couponing rookie or are you still solidly in the anti-couponer camp?

About Kyle Prevost

Kyle is a high school humanities teacher by day, and freelance personal finance author by night. He has been published in academic journals, and has also co-authored the book "More Money for Beer and Textbooks". In his free time Kyle likes to limp up and down a basketball court and pretend to be a tough guy in a boxing ring.

6 Responses to Is Couponing Really Worth Your Time?

  1. I can totally relate to not wanting to hold up the checkout line to save a couple pennies. My mom is a total coupon/price matching fanatic but more on the frugal side than hoarder.
    I can’t say I’m at the point where I’ll clip coupons just yet, but I definitely look for deals in the flyers and make a list before I head out.

  2. I’m one of those oddballs who gets really excited when coupons come with the newspaper. I keep them in a little pouch in my wallet and go through them from time to time to see if there are any that are close to expiring. The ones I don’t think I will use anytime soon, I get rid of.

    I try my best to have my coupons out and organized before it’s my turn to pay.

    I think it’s just as bad when people rummage through their wallet, trying to find the exact amount of change to pay their purchase with or the certain credit card they want to use. You’re still holding up the line. Have everything ready beforehand!

  3. I am one of those people that believe couponing is not worth the time. The main problem with couponing is that the coupons are usually for the overpriced name brand items, and all the coupons do is bring the price of those items down to the price of store brand products. Why not just buy the store brand products and save yourself a bunch of time?

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