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The Cost of Coupons

IMG_20160905_183104A winter wind whips out of the north, sleet pelting the windows, as Mrs. Accountant quietly organizes her cache of coupons at the kitchen table. She has turned couponing into a science of savings. She uses Swagbucks and other vendors to supercharge her coupon values; she gets an additional ten cents (or more) back in cash from Swagbucks for each coupon used. Her coupon book is an old photo album converted to money-saving use. As I walk past Mrs. A and head to the barn to take care of the animals it does not seem so cold for a November afternoon in NE Wisconsin.

There is something intoxicating about coupons and the potential savings they promise. I don’t use coupons myself and have had a love/hate relationship with the scraps of paper over the years. It is much easier with many coupons in electronic format today; just load and use.

Coupons do offer a discount, but at what cost. Coupons through Swagbucks give you an additional ten cents cash back per coupon used. Still, coupons take time, lots of time. They also encourage you to buy things you normally would not so the savings are an illusion. Also, most coupons are for processed foods we should eliminate from out diet.

There is no free lunch, but if you have a coupon it can get darn cheap. Mrs. A is a power shopper. Half our food is produced on our little corner of the world; the half purchased is handled by the ninja, Mrs. A. I have actually seen store clerks cry by the time she is done hosing them down.

Our household has one major grocery shopping run per month with one smaller run per week the remainder of the month. Some people take couponing to a whole new level. Mrs. A does not. Mrs. A saves on products on her shopping list and compares to generics to find the greatest value. There is a breed of shopper who takes couponing to the level of mega-savings. These people strategize couponing with stores that double or triple the coupon value so their food is free or so close that we will call it free. Other household goods also fall under the couponing umbrella. Groceries, vitamins, toothpaste, and more are available with a coupon discount.

But is all this couponing worth the effort? The time invested in gathering all the right coupons to get the most goods for free seems daunting. Even the time Mrs. A spends gathering and using coupons seems a waste of time to me. The return on the investment, for the investors in the room, seems rather low.

And all that free or cheap stuff is really reflective of our over-consuming societal habits. Mrs. A is at least sane when she coupons. She buys what we need and stops. We do not have a three year supply of ass-wipe stashed in a back room. Buying for the sake of buying is a symptom of the insanity American culture has bred for decades. It is a sickness we need to fill at any cost. If it is free it must be good, goes the mantra. By that logic a free semi load of used pantyhose would be a gift from the gods. It’s not! It’s used pantyhose, for Christ’s sake.

IMG_20160905_183037Just because something is free does not mean it is good. Mrs. A also loves doing surveys and testing products for companies. She gets loads of free stuff in the mail for us to try and gets paid $500 or so a month for all her efforts. Some of the stuff is good; others I would pay you to keep. The extra mad money is nice though. Considering the time invested it is still something I would not do personally.

Let’s recap: Coupons save money, but take a lot of time. Your time is valuable so it is not worth the effort if your only incentive is to save a few dollars. So why does Mrs. A do it? Because it makes her happy! And if something makes Mrs. A happy I am not standing in the way. She wants to contribute to the family financially to feel good about herself. I get it. I keep doing what I do because I am happy doing it. What more can you ask from life?

If couponing is fun for you and it makes you happy then the time spent couponing is worth every penny saved.


Taking surveys and sampling products is fine as long as it does not affect your spending habits. A free box of granola bars or a roll of paper towels will not upset my lifestyle. If Mrs. A wants to sample stuff and earn some change on the side I am okay with that.

Coupons are different. Some coupons offer a free sample or deep discount to try a new product. I am okay with this as well. Where I have problems is when spending takes place just because we have a coupon. One, the money is wasted when you do that. Two, I don’t want a pantry or medicine cabinet full of shit I either do not want to or will not use.

Couponing seems to be a topic among the frugal crowd. Dedication to early retirement and financial independence usually requires a serious look at coupons to reduce spending. Unfortunately, a large number of coupons are for over priced products where generics are cheaper even after the coupon or for really shitty food, like candy and heavily processed foods. A generic bottle of aspirin is still cheaper than a name brand even after coupon and it is an identical product sans price.

I find coupons encourage a bad diet. Buying stuff bad for your health is not saving money. If it makes you gain weight, makes you lethargic, or harms your health (processed sugars, for example) then you should avoid the coupons.

But it is such a good deal! If the food you eat and the vitamins you consume do not allow you to live a vibrant, healthy life it is NOT a value. The huge discounts on the worst food make passing the coupon hard. You have to do it or it will cost a lot more later, including quality of life.

The last risk is over-consumption. Filling the garage with a lifetime supply of toothbrushes requires an immediate intervention folks. This is just fucking stupid. How much does that space in your home cost to heat, cool, insure, and maintain? It is not free. I don’t care how many triple coupon deals you got. And if you are planning for the apocalypse you don’t need coupons; the money you save will be worthless when the aliens land, the first atomic bomb pops, or the zombies show up.

Unless couponing is fun for you your time is better spent in other pursuits. You will make a lot more money from the time spent couponing doing something else.


Coupons take more time than they are worth unless you enjoy the process of snagging an awesome deal while avoiding the risks. For the rest of us, there has to be an alternative to cutting grocery costs. There is. I have a post in the queue that outlines how you can cut your grocery bill 50% or more, no coupons required. The best part is the food I talk about is good, healthy food your body will enjoy.

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Monday 16th of October 2017

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