One of the popular ways that many frugal people save money is with the use of coupons. I, however, could never get into penny pinching or clipping coupons. I've tried, at different points in my life to use coupons, but I'm not a coupon maven, and I wasn't willing to put in the time or effort. But I'm not sure that you even need coupons to be frugal. In my mind, frugality isn't just about completing a laundry list of items like clipping coupons, and buying the cheapest thing you can find.
Frugal is more of a state of mind — and a lifestyle.
Best Value For The Money
To me, one of the essentials of frugal living is getting good value. A frugal lifestyle doesn't have to be about getting the cheapest thing imaginable (and using coupons to do it). Instead, it's more about getting the best value. Sometimes, the best value isn't the cheapest thing out there. My favorite example is shoes. I buy high quality shoes that cost more — but they last longer. Instead of replacing shoes every six to eight months, I can keep them for years. I still have the hiking boots I bought 10 years ago. They've held up much better than the cheap pair I bought less than a year before I spent the money for a better product.
Whether it's food, clothing, tools, or other items, sometimes the cheapest thing you can get is not the best value for the long term. It is worth it to carefully evaluate what your buying. In some cases, the truly frugal choice is to buy the higher quality item without the coupon. Saving $2 now isn't going to be a big deal if you have to spend another $15 in a few months to replace a low quality item.
Do You Even Need (Or Want) That?
The savviest couponers, I know, only clip coupons for what they need/really want. However, there are many more who are convinced that they are being frugal because they bought something with a coupon — even though they had no intention of buying that item in the first place. Using a coupon to buy something you don't want or need isn't true frugality. Instead, you are still spending money, no matter how much you think you are “saving” with the coupon.
A problem with using extreme couponing to stockpile food is that it can go bad before you use it. If you have to throw away items in your stockpile, what's the point? Another problem is that many of the foods you can buy with coupons are pre-packaged and outright junk food items. This isn't healthy, and can cost you more in the long run as health care costs go up. Pay attention to the types of things that coupons encourage you to buy, and be wary of them.
In the end, coupons work well for some people. They enjoy the challenge, and don't mind spending the time. However, I would rather use the time to make more money, and not worry so much about saving a few dollars at the store.
What do you think? Can you still be frugal even if you don't use coupons?
Bryan at Pinch that Penny! says
Also, be wary of coupons that encourage you to spend more money for not very much benefit. I got an email coupon to Fuddrucker’s that said I could get a combo meal for $7, so my wife and I ate there the other day. The combo meal’s actual cost (without the coupon) was only $7.89, so we saved less than a buck, and we bought another meal for the other person. So, our cheap meal ended up costing close to $20 (which isn’t outrageous, but it didn’t end up being as cheap as I figured it would be).
I’ve never really been a user of coupons for small ticket items. In general, I’ve just failed to spend the time to gather and use them. Now, I WILL use a coupon for 15% off brakes or new tires, etc. As far as extreme couponing,it looks a little too much like hoarding for me to see the value. I always ask myself, “Who really needs 150 tubes of toothpaste?”
A 25% online CVS coupon, used it to buy what I’d have bought anyway, and it was cheaper to begin with on line. Saved $40 altogether.
From Sunday paper, I’ll cut out for the item/brand we use and try to match it with a sale. Bar soap and toothpaste turn in to pretty good deals this way, and if you have 6 months worth of soap, it’s not like it will go bad.
It’s all about balance.
I agree with JoeTaxpayer and I agree with the article as well. Buying something of good quality that will last you several years is indeed the more frugal choice. I invested in a more expensive kitchen appliance than I would have usually bought because I was tired of having to replace the cheaper version that broke down every year or so.
However, there is a vast difference between someone who practices Extreme Couponing like you see on TV (and those people are far and few between) and those of us who are trying to stretch their dollar and budget by judicious use of coupons. I would rather spend a few hours every week clipping and printing coupons and monitoring blogs which alert me about great deals than work a minimum wage job (or two) trying to make ends meet and paying full price for everything because I am too tired to even open the newspaper. But that’s just me. I save at least 60% of my grocery budget with coupons, which in turn allows me to purchase things like a more expensive and durable kitchen appliance.
As JoeTaxpayer said, soap won’t go bad and if you have the room to store 18+ bars of soap, more power to you. I just packed 2 huge bags of donations of food and toiletries for local food/personal care drives at my kids’ schools and I was able to donate that much because of the next-to-nothing cost to me. Personally, I think my time clipping those coupons was well spent indeed :)
I tried to use coupons to save money, but all of the coupons are for things I’m not interested in buying. Buying something just because I have a coupon isn’t saving me money.
I still look through the coupons looking for coupons for things I buy. Every once in a while I find one, but most of the time, I come up empty.
As a vegetarian-turning-vegan who is interested in whole and natural foods, yeah, most coupons are useless to me. But there *are* coupons for natural food brands, sometimes even coupons for produce, and there are coupons for almost any personal health or beauty item I may need, and if it’s cheaper to buy the name brand on sale with a coupon than the generic I was going to buy, then why not? I’ll clip/print the coupon. I will never get the “deals” those extreme couponers get, but I save 20-50% thanks to matching coupons I do find with sales for that item.
In Canada you are almost never allowed to stack coupons so extreme couponing doesn’t exist here.