Saturday, July 31, 2010

To Coupon or Not to Coupon

Every day it seems, there are articles and posts on the pros and cons of couponing. Does it save you money?  Can you get "real food?  Is it worth your time? The discussion goes on.


For many years with a family I was both an extreme couponer and lived by the pantry principle in the fullest sense. I fed our family lamb, beef, seafood, soda, wine and other things on what would be considered by most as a thrifty food plan. I was extremely organized and had it down to a system.


These days, I'm on a  widow on a pension, eating a specific diet and feed only myself and my temporary roommate (my college age son). The amounts of food I buy have changed, as have some of the kinds of foods.


I still find coupon use to be a basic strategy of smart spending, and I think most people would  benefit from using coupons in some way, large or small, be they a family of one or ten. Here are a few reasons why:


Even if you cannot find coupons for real food (doubtful), by using coupons for personal and health products you free up your disposable income leaving more for real, good food.  Every week the major drugstores each have things that are on sale for free or almost free after rebates (which can then be rolled to use to pay for sale items the next week). Because I play the drugstore game (and take advantage of other deals), I have not paid for these items in forever. I save up my ECB and RR payouts from the previous week, pay for this weeks freebies and have nothing out of pocket. By doing this I regularly get shampoo, toothpaste, aspirin, contact cleaner, vitamins and even diabetic monitors for free. This enables me to always have the things I need. It allows me to put that extra amount to food, which in my life is an important factor. Lastly, shopping this way allows me to both give to charity, and stock up my gift closet for items to put in gift baskets for free.


We all use some packaged foods for which coupons regularly appear. The so called pantry staples in our life if you will. Granted, I use less than I used to, but since I cook mainly from scratch I still want to have a pantry. The number of items may be less, but the pantry is a need in order to cook frugally. There are regularly coupons on oils, baking staples and items such as salad dressings, condiments, and broths. By using coupons for these items I get them almost free (certainly less than generic prices).  While we all may make some of these things from scratch (I make barbecue sauce and tomato sauce), most of us still need some of the basics on hand.


There are coupons for real food. While these often match the cycle of holidays and special events, they do exist. And what's more, there are often store sales to match. The earlier mentioned baking products, coupons on hams at Easter, for turkeys in the fall, for clementines during the season. Often these items are on special at the same time, so by combining the sales, these items become very affordable.


Even though I use coupons, I don't buy more than I can need or use. Coupon shoppers generally do best by buying the smallest size (which will often be free with a coupon and a sale) rather than the so called family size. If they have a family, it makes more sense to use five coupons and get five small items in terms of overall cost. So, if I have a thirty five cent coupon on ranch dressing and it goes on sale for 99 cents for the smallest size, I am much better off than if I bought the regular price with said coupon. Especially since in my case that coupon will be doubled and I will pay twenty some cents for the dressing.

Lastly, with all the websites and help available today, mathching coupons to sales is not the effort that it once might have been. A free site such as coupon mom will allow you to match your stores sales with the coupons available, even telling you the date the coupon appeared in an insert. Time and money saving tools like this site make couponing even more of a realistic choice for busy families.


So the next time you rule out coupons, or throw out the insert, think for a minute. You may do better by hanging on to those inserts awhile.

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