Usually when I get a question from a reader, I pop it into the advice queue, and I get to it when I get to it. But this came in this morning and I thought it deserved a quick few words, so here we are.
Because you are so pretty and smart I know you’ll have a good answer for me! What’s your take on coupons? I’ve been reading around the blogosphere lately about extreme couponing, where people save gazillions of dollars on their grocery bill. Now, my take is that not many coupons are offered for stuff I actually buy, as I tend to stick to whole foods (bought on special!), and I wouldn’t be saving enough money to make it worth my effort. Thoughts? What do *you* do with coupons?
Thanks so much!
Having just recently addressed this very issue without delving into some caveats, I felt like Groovecatmom had a point that’s in need of addressing.
Here’s the thing: It is possible—and some would say, easy—to find/use coupons for items that come in boxes. Processed foods. Household items. Health and beauty care stuff. I keep reading about people getting a year’s supply of toothpaste for free, and such, and to them I say: Good for you! That’s all well and lovely.
I have seen coupons for meat, although rarely. Usually it’s a money-off coupon for a brand that tends to be more expensive, anyway. The exceptions to the rarity rule can be found by intersecting with the Processed Food rule, and that is to say that things like hotdogs and bacon (which are technically meat, but… yeah) will tend to have coupons. If you want ground sirloin or boneless chicken breasts or a nice salmon steak? There aren’t going to be coupons for those, for the most part.
The only coupons I’ve ever seen for produce are things like “buy two bottles of salad dressing and get a bag of salad free.” If you buy a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, it’s the same as meat; there aren’t going to be coupons for the most part.
So. Back to getting your $200 of groceries for $1. Is it worth it? Yes and no. Yes, it’s worth it, if you’re willing to spend the time and energy, and you’re buying things you’ll definitely use. No, it’s not worth it, if it’s going to cause you to buy more processed foods than you normally would. That is what most coupons are good for—food in a box or a can. I have no problem with either, by the way. But can you make a healthy diet of that stuff, exclusively? I don’t think so.
Bottom line? I think that if you decide to go the way of the hardcore couponer, there is money to be saved. But I would hope that most folks will still buy a reasonable proportion of fresh, local foods for which there won’t be any coupons. Stores run specials, and the grocery store I patronize will slap “Manager’s Special” dollars-off coupons on meat if they have an excess or an expiration date is approaching, so there are still savings to be had. But if I were to vow only to buy with coupons, I think I’d find myself with a very full pantry and a fairly empty fridge and fruit bowl.
The only way to figure out if it’s worth the effort, I guess, is to try it. And keep in mind the end goal—buying what your family needs. It’s great that you can get 100 boxes of Hamburger Helper (yuck) for free, if that’s what your family likes. But it’s not much good without the actual hamburger, you know?