Coupon use has increased dramatically over the last few years, with many families looking for ways to cut costs during the recession. It has also been popularized by television specials on extreme couponing and hundreds of blogs that post guides on how to get started and what deals are going on. But many people looking into the coupon world from outside are left wondering if it’s really worth it. For most, the answer is, “It depends.”
Types of Coupons
If you’re new to coupons, you may be surprised to learn that they’ve come a long way since the basic cents-off coupons you find in the Sunday paper. Although these still exist, and are often some of the best coupons, there are tons of other places to find them these days.
Printable coupons allow you to search by product and print just the ones you need. These can be very helpful when you’re putting together a shopping trip and want to save money on things you were planning to buy anyway.
Digital coupons are also becoming increasingly common. You can load them to your smart phone and have the cashier scan them at the register. Many stores also allow you to load coupons to your loyalty card to get discounts in the store as well. And Upromise, which specializes in building college savings, has coupons that don’t take money off your purchase, but instead put it in your savings account.
Most coupons are manufacturer coupons, which the product’s manufacturer prints in an effort to sell products, especially new ones. The store submits these to the manufacturer and gets reimbursed for them. The other type, store coupons, are printed by the store and do not trigger a reimbursement. Most stores allow you to use both a manufacturer’s coupon and a store coupon on the same product, which can add up to big discounts.
Saving with Coupons
Although buying every product for which you have a coupon will technically save you money off retail price, it probably won’t impact your budget much. That’s because you’re buying products you don’t necessarily need, and at prices that may be above what you’d ordinarily be willing to pay for a similar product.
The big savings come when you match coupons to each other and to sales. If a store has an item marked down and you have a manufacturer’s coupon and a store coupon for it, this can bring the price down to a tiny fraction of retail. Sometimes you can even get the product for free! The people who see big savings are doing this, carefully planning their shopping lists to match coupons with what’s on sale in that week’s circular.
You can sometimes even get paid to buy things if you use coupons on products that have rebates. The drug stores Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS all have programs that print rebates on your receipt, good for dollars off next time you’re in the store. These can in effect make your products free in some cases.
Is Couponing Right for You?
If you stay organized, use blogs to get lists of products on sale that have matching coupons, and use these to help you strategically buy items you actually need, you can save quite a bit of money. The process does take time though, so plan on spending at least a half hour each week getting ready for your shopping trip and finding the exact products you have coupons for. Many stay-at-home moms who have time on their hands feel that the savings are worth the hassle.
For others, couponing won’t do much. Unless you’re matching coupons with sales, most coupons just bring name-brand products down to the price of store-brand products. Therefore, you could get all the savings without any of the work by just switching to the store brand. Busy people whose time is in high demand may prefer to just buy store brand items and what’s on sale without bothering with the coupons.
Have you tried using coupons? Do you think it’s worth the time and effort?