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The case against coupons

Submitted by on Wednesday, 23 September 2009 2 Comments

Ten years ago or so, I was a hopeless coupon geek.

I’d religiously clip the Sunday paper, sort the coupons into envelopes and then put them in order of expiration date. I’d write my grocery list based on the store that had the best buys that week – my mother used to shop at  three, taking advantage of sales at each, but my life’s too short for that – and then clip the coupons to the list.

Ten times out of 10, I’d return home with the coupons unused because, no matter how good the deal was, the store brand usually was cheaper.

So I quit. And I’m not about to start again, even if there are people out there who say they’re getting $160 worth of groceries for $30. I’d almost bet they’re living in areas where grocers routinely double and triple coupons – that wasn’t the case when I lived in Central California, and it’s certainly not now that I’m a captive market to the commissary.

The chief reason I quit couponing – is that a word? – though, was because most are offered for items I don’t buy. Convenience items and frozen foods – they’re just not staples here. Even if more of them were compatible with the multiple food allergies in our household, the poor nutrition in most make them poor choices for me.

A quick check of print.coupons.com shows that the discounts offered hasn’t changed. Of the first 20 items listed, I regularly buy only two. Before we moved, that list would have been zero because most of the time an off-brand cereal still is going to be cheaper than a brand with a coupon unless you happen to catch a sale before the expiration date.

A review of redplum.com, another major online coupon site, shows similar results. Only one product in the first 20 is something I’d buy anyway.

Out of the two sites, I would have saved a whopping $2.30. It’s really not worth my time unless they start offering an RSS feed.

I already feed a family of four on about $360 a month, and that’s not too shabby. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it would cost $107 a week to feed our family under its “thrifty” plan, so take that, Dad, the next time you complain about the grocery bill.

There are people out there who do it on half that much, but that includes bulk buying meat, which isn’t an option here. It’s a bit misleading, too, because it’s crafted with the assumption that you already have some ingredients. I also found a $45-a-week plan that accounts for every item in every dish, but its emphasis on beans would never fly here. Not even with Dad and me as often as they’re on this menu.

The common thread in my extravagant $400 a month and the more-frugal plans: All avoid processed and convenience foods – just the types of products that coupons try to entice you to buy.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • MtnMom said:

    I agree! I’m cracking up at the number of coupons that expired in 2006 as I go through my stack of unsorted files. It’s been that long since I sorted my files? Not really. These got stuck in the bottom of a box that got stashed in the garage with photos. Go figure! However, that is the last time I clipped coupons expecting to save money, and for all the reasons you mention. Expecially the junk food quality of the items offered. ICK! The incredients of some of those frozen foods sound like something that would remove my nail polish! I am going to check on that $45.00 a week plan. I wonder if it is sponsered by Bean-0?

  • Debra said:

    He he he. I almost used that Bean-O line when I was writing the post. I could just see my gasbag boys on THAT plan. Wondering if they make a Bean-O Jr. …