Monday, May 31, 2010

Something got me thinking about coupons a couple of weeks ago and I started to write this post then forgot all about it. Found it today languishing in my drafts list, so here it is.

I find the whole coupon phenomenon somewhat fascinating. The main thing that fascinates me is trying to figure out what the couponers actually eat. Most coupons I see are either for processed food that I would rather not buy or things that are completely unnecessary. I’ll admit that I haven’t looked that hard, but I don’t see a lot of coupons for apples or rice.

It also seems like most coupons are buy one-get one or spend x amount of money and get a discount, so you have to actually spend a lot in order to “save” a lot.

This approach doesn’t work for me at all, as I really try to limit how much I’m buying and focus more on the total cash outlay than on the unit cost. I definitely spend more than many people on the individual items I buy, but the total I spend is generally much less than most people because I buy less. I also have much less tied up in inventory. I’m always amazed at how much food people have whenever I go to someone else’s house.

I didn’t used to do this quite so much, but after a brief period of trying to get the lowest price, I realized that buying a lot in order to get a low unit price often turns out to be a false economy, mostly because I’m weirdly picky about stuff, and if I decide I don’t want to use something, I won’t. Sometimes I don’t want to use it because I decide I don’t like it anymore, but sometimes it’s because I realize it’s completely unnecessary and I would be better without it. If you buy things in bulk, you then end up with a whole bunch of stuff you have realized you either don’t want or don’t need, and that’s no bargain at all.

But like I said, I’m mostly baffled by what people who get a huge shopping cart full of groceries for $1.75 actually eat. I see lots of condiments and maybe some snack foods and some other processed food items. There was this one video I watched online where a woman got this huge shopping cart of groceries and everything in it had a coupon; her total cash outlay was less than two dollars. They interviewed her while she was shopping and she talked about what she was getting. For instance she had a coupon for a dollar off from the seafood department, so she bought a quarter pound of fish, which was just over a dollar and used the dollar-off coupon, so it basically cost nothing. But at the end of that transaction, she had a quarter pound of fish. Which is one not-very-big serving. Is that what she cooked for dinner for her family? Yum. Eat up, kids.

I would love to know what the monthly menu is, and also what the total spending is for everything across a whole year, not just the trip where they use all the coupons and spend $1.75. How much did they have to spend to build up the “bonus bucks” and everything else they used on that trip?

It reminds me a little bit of this time I talked to my grandmother after she’d been to the racetrack. I said, “Did you win?” She said, “Yes, I won twenty dollars.” I said, “How much did you bet?” She said, “Well I don’t know, but I won twenty dollars.”

3 Responses to “Couponing”

  1. Lorrie Says:

    I completely understand how coupons would not be a very good way to go for someone in your position. I take kind of a middle of the road stance relative to using coupons. I get the coupon fliers in my Sunday newspaper and glance through them to see if there are any for foods that my family likes to eat. If I combine a coupon with a sale at my local grocery store for a cereal that my kids like (not the sweet sugary kind), for example, it makes for a cheap and somewhat nutritious quick breakfast. I also combine yogurt coupons with sales to get better savings. If I were alone I probably would not use coupons much. I don’t feel like I “need” yogurt or dry cereal or other things that I typically use coupons for.

    Just today I purchased 4 64 oz. bottles of V8 juice with coupons from Walgreens for $2.50 each. My husband goes through about one of these bottles each week. At my local Jewel Food Store, V8 in this size bottle costs about $4.50. So I saved $2 per bottle for something relatively healthy that my husband wants. If I don’t keep a supply at home he buys individual bottles at work for about $1.50 a piece. So, different strokes for different folks. Even in my poor starving graduate student days I used occasional coupons and stocked up on basics if they were on sale. That said, I probably keep too much food on hand. I shop for my pantry when things are on sale. Most of the time that serves me well. I’m trying to use up what’s in my chest freezer now and not buy anything for the freezer except what we really need.

    As usual you made me think, and that is a good thing, so thank you.

  2. Dana Says:

    I found your blog by googling “Dollar a Day”, then clicking through a story at an ABC news site. I’m fascinated by the idea of living so cheaply because I’ve been reading a blog by a man who used coupons throughout the month of May and only spent $31 on his food. He also managed to acquire food and personal products to give to his local food bank. I am not affiliated with his site (just a fan of it) but if you’re curious about how he did it, he’s at:

    He’s also continuing the challenge through the month of June, so you can watch to see if he still can manage to eat healthy foods and stick to a dollar a day.

  3. lessisenough Says:

    Thanks for the link, I’ll check it out.

    I think using coupons can work very well either if you need lots of stuff — like if you have a giant family or are planning on living in a cave for 5 years — or if you want stuff stuff to give away to shelters or through churches or whatever.

    However I think that many people would be much better off not even trying to play the game and just focusing on using less. The more stuff you have, the more you use, and the more you use, the more you need to buy. Manufacturers wouldn’t keep offering coupons if it didn’t make money. So some people may come out ahead, but most people don’t.

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