Why I Hate Coupons

Don’t get me wrong.  Buying something at a discount is almost always a good thing, and that’s basically what a coupon accomplishes.  Coupons on their own really aren’t so bad, but that’s not why I hate them.

For a brief moment, I did think that coupons could play a major role in my life’s overall financial strategy, but I quickly found that I was wrong.

Allow me to explain…

A Quick Story

About a year or so a go, my fiance and I randomly stumbled upon several episodes of “Extreme Couponing” on Netflix.  I’m not usually one for reality shows like this one, but when you’re lounging around with some free time, it can be easy to get sucked into any TV show.  I’m ashamed to admit some of the awful TV I’ve laid eyes on before.

Some of the stories on Extreme Couponing were crazy, including one about a woman who was able to buy $3,100 worth of groceries for under $100.  With that kind of savings, a person could really cut down their monthly grocery expense to virtually nothing.

But, as the show’s title implies, this was an extreme example.  And you may want to consider exactly what food you’re buying at a deep discount; chances are, you aren’t going to have a need for 42 bottles of hot sauce.

Nevertheless, I was inspired to (very briefly) start “couponing.”  After all, how awesome would it be to save thousands on groceries every month?  I knew it was too good to be true, but I wanted to take a crack at it and see how much I could save.  A penny saved is a penny earned, right?

One Sunday, I decided to pick up all the local newspapers, surf a few popular coupon websites, and pick up a little organizer where I could sort all of my future savings.  With scissors in hand, I clipped my way through the afternoon.  So many coupons!  So much I could save! Free money!

It was only a matter of time before reality set in.

Lesson Learned

This may blow your mind (insert sarcastic tone here), but couponing isn’t going to be your path to spending virtually nothing on all of life’s necessities.

In fact, you may find yourself not only wasting a ridiculous amount of time with a pair of scissors, but also buying things you wouldn’t normally buy. Guess what? This is why coupons exist.  If they weren’t effective at getting you to buy things you wouldn’t normally buy, companies wouldn’t bother printing them.

My issue with coupons runs deeper than this though, because people can and do save lots of money with coupons.

The real reason I hate coupons is because it puts you in the wrong mindset.  If you really want to succeed (financially) in life, you should focus your energy on earning a dollar, not saving a nickel.  The value of time is debateable and it will vary from person to person.  For example, my time is likely more valuable than someone who works for minimum wage.  It’s unfortunate for the minimum wage worker, but that’s the society we live in.

Even if you earn minimum wage, there can still be a toxic mindset that comes with focusing the majority of your energy on saving pennies.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t be frugal — you need to be frugal — but even frugality has its limits.

At a certain point, you stop asking, “How can I earn $5,000 more next year?”  You lose focus on the long term.  You begin to ask questions such as, “How can I save $0.50 on this box of pasta?”  Even if you’re living day-to-day, and you’re saving wisely, you can and should still have an eye on the future.

It’s not to say that every minute spent couponing could be applied to some kind of income-generating activity, but over time, couponing will conquer any chance you have at becoming an income-focused individual.

There is a Good Side to Coupons

Before you jump all over me and call me crazy, understand that I’m not suggesting you take your pile of valuable coupons and light them on fire in the middle of your living room.  That’s dangerous.

Coupons, when used strategically (and with minimal effort involved), are awesome.  For example, I love “daily deal” websites like Groupon.  I’ve discovered so many new, delicious restaurants and have saved tons of money eating out by using a Groupon.

If a “$5 off” coupon falls into my lap for something I’m going to purchase anyway, I’m absolutely going to use the coupon.

And if I’m buying from a website, and I know I can get cash back through a site like Ebates (which I use and recommend), I’m going to do it without a second thought.

There’s a lot to like about coupons, but I think it’s a bad financial strategy to become a slave to the whole “couponing” process.  Even if you are using coupons strategically, your focus should still be on earning money, not squeezing every last penny.

What do you think about coupons and what role do they play in your everyday life?  Leave a comment below!

 

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5 Responses to “Why I Hate Coupons”

  1. Kinda disagree with you here. When I started couponing last year I started seeing amazing results. I was spending around $400/month on my grocery bill, I say that budget quickly shrink to about $100. Now a days I spend roughly the same amount as when I started couponing but now I get about $1300 worth of groceries.

    If needed I could scale back my shopping anytime to have a quick source of added income. Simply because I have two deep freezers full as well as my cupboards.

    You say you should worry about focusing on earning a dollar and not saving a nickel. Well what I say is… What is the easiest way to make an extra $100 a month? By using money you have already earned. This is done not only by couponing but by frugal living. I saved over $100 a month by switching to online watching and no longer have a cable bill. There are numerous ways.

    That’s just what I think.

    Cheers

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Jim. While we probably do disagree on some of the smaller details, I actually agree with your overall argument.

    I think strategic savings/frugality is absolutely important. In fact, I did exactly what you did – I canceled my cable TV and found internet substitutes, which has saved me close to $100/mo.

    I think the difference with this kind of frugality is that it’s smart and efficient. You make one move (canceling cable), which may only take a few minutes, and you get to enjoy $100/month savings forever, without additional effort. To save that same $100 per month with coupons, there’s a lot of recurring time that has to be spent.

    Budgeting is also an important part of a sound financial strategy. It’s critical to identify areas where you can cut costs – or more importantly – change habits to reduce future expenses. Something as simple as “eat out only two days a week instead of four” is a relatively quick change that can have long-lasting results.

    I still view “couponing” as its own animal, however. While you can become efficient with the process over time, there’s a limit to how much you can scale it. Clipping and saving two $0.50 coupons is generally going to take twice as long as doing one. It’s a pretty linear process that probably won’t improve over time.

    And again, it isn’t coupons themselves that I have a problem with. It’s the mindset into which it can put some people. I’ll emphasize “some” people, because this doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone.

    If you’ve found an efficient process for couponing that doesn’t negatively affect your approach to increasing your income, then by all means, keep at it. :)

    [Reply]

  2. You are totally right, Eric. I am in the same mindset as you for the most part. It usually takes me about two hours per week to get the kind of savings that I get. But at that same time, say I did save $100 for that week (usually it’s a lot higher). That’s $50/hr, which for most people is an incredible hourly rate. And at the same time, things that I don’t use on a regular basis I usually sell off for an amount of money that is a win/win for me and the customer.

    Cheers!

    [Reply]

  3. hi Eric,
    I like this post.
    i agree with you. I think coupons cannot help me develop a long time website. there are a lot of other ways to make money and attract visitors.
    Tony Nguyen recently posted… Top 11 basketball tips for beginners help you become a better basketball player with a few days!

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks Tony!

    [Reply]

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