Is cutting coupons worth the time?

I don’t bother going through the paper and cutting coupons for groceries and whatnot, even though money is tight. It seems like a lot of trouble for 50 cents here and there, and you probably have to change what you buy in order to save much.

Coupons serve as a form of price tiering, making things cheaper for people who will take the time, and more expensive for people for whom it isn’t worth the time. (They also may form as a one-time discount to get people to try new things.) Has anyone ever studied how much money a typical person saves for each hour of looking through and cutting coupons? Knowing that figure would help one figure out whether it’s worth it, depending on what their time is worth.

When I was married and all the kids and grandkids lived at home, I could save $30 to $50 a week on a $250 grocery bill. Now that I live by myself, I still clip coupons and save about $10 a week on a $75 bill. It’s worth my 30 minutes or so a week I spend clipping coupons. The above is a combination of store and manufacturer’s coupons too.

Yes. I heard a lecture a long time ago about why poor people are poor. The reason is that they literally don’t understand the value of a dollar. For example, poor people shop at 7-11 instead of the supermarket because they think the difference is too small to make up for the time and inconvenience, however the % they pay adds up.

Back to coupons: Lets say you get a coupon that saves 50 cents on a $10 product. That’s 5%. 5% of 10 dollars isn’t much, but on $100, that’s $5. On $10000, that’s $500, and so on.

What puzzles me is how some of these folks can get $350 worth of groceries and walk out with the store having paid $35. I thought there were limits on how many coupons per item could be used, etc.

Well, if money is tight, unless you have a job where you could be working that ten minutes it takes to flip through the coupons Sunday morning, I don’t see what it matters what your time is worth. Saving even just $5, is $5 that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

FWIW, we do a quick flip through the coupons each week and save $5-10 a week. Last week our supermarket had “super double coupons” and we saved $20 on a $120 order. My wife has a former colleague on facebook that take coupon/sales shopping very seriously and basically got a $130 order free at the same store.

I don’t think averages really mean much because it depends on how much effort you put into it and what you normally but. If you buy mostly fresh produce and meats, then there are usually few coupons for those. If you live on processed foods, you could do very well.

That’s what I’ve found - I don’t buy a lot of processed foods, so clipping coupons, if anything, encourages me to spend more. (“Hmm I have a coupon for Super Choco Sugar Cookies! I’ll buy 'em!” as opposed to not going down the cookie aisle.)

Even the processed foods I do buy (canned tomatoes, etc) are rarely included in the coupons. Seems like most coupons are for sugary fatty foods (cookies, cereal) or frozen meals.

No, the reason is, supermarkets won’t locate in the poorest parts of town, so poor people without cars are limited to whatever stores are within walking distance.

I once saw a news show (this must have been over 30 years ago) about coupon clipping clubs and such, and one woman with a full grocery cart gets rung up at the cashier, and after all the coupons are counted the cashier gives her money. :eek: But this is truly exceptional and the woman effectively made a full-time job of managing coupons.

I use coupons, because it’s stupid to see 50 cents sitting on your kitchen table and throw it in the trash. I spend 5 minutes a week looking at coupons so it’s not like a part-time job. But it’s true that coupons are mostly a marketing gimmick. I use coupons only for products that I would have purchased anyway, or for close substitutes for the product I would have purchased anyway. And that’s maybe three coupons a week. A lot of times the coupons are for new items being promoted by the manufacturer that the store doesn’t even carry. Also, it’s often still cheaper to buy a store brand product at regular price than to use a coupon for a brand name product. I save maybe only $50 a year using coupons, but it’s true savings because it’s for products I was going to buy anyway.

My best payoff is to time my purchases for things the store puts on sale. I also notice that there are certain items that my store puts on sale regularly, so for example, I never buy paper towels or toilet paper unless they’re on sale, then I stock up.

Yeah, and you could be a millionaire if you spent $20M… :dubious: My grocery store bill for a family of four for 2009 (not just food but anything bought at the grocery store) was a little over $10,000 and there’s no way I could have used $500 worth of coupons on the same purchases. If I modified my shopping list to use that many coupons, I surely would have spent a lot more, not less.

IME you can save more by buying smart and buying on sale than you can with coupons.

Some while back I knew a woman who was a manager with a New England grocery store chain. She said that they had a persistent problem with stores in “declining” urban areas - crime would increase, including store losses. The tipping point came when female employees were no longer safe heading to & from work. The store would then close.

The key to clipping coupons is, when you’re checking out, remembering which table you left them on.

I think this thread ought to be in In My Humble Opinion, since there isn’t really a factual answer; it boils down to personal evaluation of the worth of one’s time.

And I’m with Athena: coupons for items I normally buy are exceedingly rare, which means either

A) the coupons are dictating what I buy, or

B) I have to browse the coupons for a long time to find just the few that are applicable to what I do want to buy.

Frankly, I don’t like being a slave to to the coupons; I don’t want the factory-made cookies or processed luncheon meats, even if I can get them for 25 cents below the usual price. That means I will only use coupons for items that I really do want.

And if I spend 5 minutes browsing the coupons to find two that sum to a dollar off for items I want, well, that means I’ve been working for $12 an hour. On Sunday, one of my days off. For someone on a tight budget, that might be worthwhile, but I don’t need it. If I’m gonna work for pay on a weekend, the dollars-per-hour needs to be a lot better than my weekday job.


As was said, if you buy a lot of packaged food, and name brands, its worth more.

Some parts of the country double coupons, some retailers let you stack coupons, some then run specials on the items for which there are a manufacturers coupon. Where you can play these games (and you can join a site like the grocery game to help you plan), you’ll do better than in parts of the country where they seldom double coupons. (In the Twin Cities there aren’t many places that double coupons).

You need to be organized and willing to store and eat around coupons and pantry contents.

I know some people play the “donation game” and the “trading game” as well. They’ll use CVS and coupons to buy things they don’t need, but that come to free or nearly free after the coupon/rebate. They then trade these things to people who do want them for things they want. Or they donate them to foodshelves, abuse shelters (especially the CSV stuff) and write off the full retail value on their taxes.

There was about a year or two when Walgreens was doing their easy saver thing that all my moisturizer and shampoo was free, and my haircolor was almost free. I stopped doing it because the deals stopped being for things I wanted. But I’m not picky about shampoo. I know a lot of people who have made CVS work that way for them.

If money is tight however, $.50 here and there adds up quick. Be smart about it.

Start here. With a little effort and a little adjustment of your shopping habits, you can save a bundle every time you shop. Heck, just buying in bulk when things are on sale can save you plenty. You just have to develop some situational awareness.

I am sure there are many legitimate reasons why supermarkets pull out of poor neighborhoods. The point is, that causes poor residents to depend on what stores that remain, usually convenience stores with poor selection and high prices. It does not reflect how the residents “understand the value of a dollar” (as Superhal claimed), but rather the consequences of living in an area without supermarkets.

I don’t get the newspaper, but I use two websites: Deal Seeking Mom ( ) and Coupon Cravings ( ), although there are many similar websites out there. Deal Seeking Mom has a weekly roundup of what the good sales are that week at different grocery stores, and links to online coupons for those items, which makes it really quite easy to save money using coupons. Both sites will also point out things that aren’t in the Sunday Paper - for example, recently Herbal Essences had a coupon available for the first X number of fans to become a fan on Facebook, good for a free bottle of shampoo or conditioner. Even though I normally don’t use Herbal Essences, that’s a great deal!

The key thing that you have to note when you see those articles where they spend $30 on a $150 cart is that they’re not doing weekly shopping the way you think of it. It’s not all the ingredients for five meals. It’s more like (for example) twenty cans of tuna, eight jars of pasta sauce, eighteen bottles of marinade, etc. They stock up on things that are on sale and they have a coupon for, then they can use those things for the coming weeks. You won’t see a huge savings the first couple weeks, it takes a little bit for you to build up to where you can shop like that.

I think that’s simplistic. While its true that its often hard to find affordable supermarkets in poor areas…I’ve known plenty of broke people who don’t understand the value of a dollar. And we aren’t necessarily talking about “poor” people - but people who think that spending $2.50 (or more) on a cup of coffee is a reasonable expense because “its only $2” - but wonder how they are going to pay the heat bill this month. So BOTH statements have some truth to it. There are poor areas where there are good supermarkets. And there are poor people who manage their money well. And there are areas where there are good supermarkets, and people still buy their groceries at 7-11 because its a block and a half closer to home.

I had good luck using thegrocerygame when I was still home, even though it has a heavy, heavy emphasis on coupons. For pharmacy/drug-aisle items, I did get a heck of a lot of good deals with coupons. For grocery items, I knew when to stock up on the items that I use, despite the fact that there are very rarely any coupons for the type of grocery items that we consume at home, which is almost exclusively fresh produce, meats, and dairy.

If you eat food from boxes and cans, cutting coupons and combining them with store and vendor promotions (a la thegrocery game), you can save quit a bit of change. On the other hand, if you start cooking fresh, you’d probably save even more.

Coupons combined with knowing when to shop, that work in my lifestyle are these:
[li]Pharmacy-aisle stuff, including personal hygiene, etc.[/li][li]Lunch meats and lunch cheeses and processed, canned/bagged tuna, since I’m cheap and brown-bag my lunch, and need to keep up my immune efficiency to processed foods.[/li][li]Frozen waffles, because sometimes I dread the idea of cleaning the waffle iron.[/li][li]Condiments and spices, and especially the spices because I never use them all before they lose their flavor![/li][/ul]
As you can see, in my case, the vast majority (by quanitity) of coupons are completely useless to me. But by letting a website track sales and promotions for me, I can get a similar effect (i.e., e.g., thegrocerygame does track produce, meat, and dairy in addition to coupon items).

I’m sure there are actual studies out there about the behavior of clipping coupons.

But I think the fallacy in the OP’s question is by assuming we can put value on a person’s time. Most of us spend 8 hours at work and have 16 hours where we’re not going to be making income. We can use those 16 hours in various ways to save money (cooking our own meals, maintaining our own homes, etc.) but most people clip coupons during time that would otherwise be totally lost.

As for me personally… I skim a few sources of coupons for things I would buy anyway. I save maybe $10 a month that way, but I spend less than 15 minutes looking for coupons.

Same with Illinois - I Googled around and haven’t found any area supermarkets that double coupons here. Most of those big “save with coupons!” plans practically require you to find stores that do this.

I also have similar issues with couponing - most places don’t give coupons on things like fresh vegetables, various plain staples, etc. I do try hard to find coupons for “specialty” or “luxury” buys, whenever possible. Like if I prefer to buy a special natural cleanser or fabric softener, I do things like visit the company’s website and look for printable coupons.

I look at coupons the same way I would look at finding dollar bills inserted in the Sunday newspaper. FREE MONEY. It only takes a few minutes to go through the coupon inserts and my wife and I do it at the same time we’re making out the weekly grocery list, so it’s time we have to spend anyway.

Yes, it’s true that most food coupons are for packaged food. This is a so what. We mostly have fresh meat and vegetables, but we certainly don’t have the time to make everything from scratch. We use some prepared foods. If we find a coupon for something we already use that’s a bonus.

And the majority of coupons in the inserts are for non-food items. Shampoos, OTC medications, plastic bags, paper towels. That whole large and expensive section of the store is overrepresented in the coupon inserts. A dozen rolls of toilet paper won’t go bad and will always be needed.

There may be arguments against spending a few minutes a week cutting coupons but none of the ones given here make much sense to me. It’s FREE MONEY. Delivered to your door. Every week of the year (except holidays). Of course I take advantage of it.