Why I Clip Coupons

"I don't do coupons."

I hear this statement from time to time from various people, usually middle-class consumers.

I suppose if you're really rich you don't need to bother with coupons... although nobody's stopping you. And if you don't have a lot of money, couponing might be something you need to do.

Which indirectly implies yet another point, something Thorstein Veblen might say: if you clip coupons you risk sending a signal to others that you need to. Which, perhaps, explains why people might tell everyone around them they don't.

Well, I do clip coupons. And I do so for several reasons. At the most basic level, couponing (and occasionally flipping through store circulars) helps me remember the prices of things. As a result, it helps me keep context for value whenever I'm out in the consumer marketplace. What should a given product cost, what does it normally cost, and is the price I see right now a good value or not? Is it a great value, as in should I buy a year's supply of it at this price?

There are some early retirement/investment blogs out there that mock couponing. The point usually made here is that we're better off concentrating on the income side of the ledger (see for example Wall Street Playboys), or to focus on bigger or recurring savings wins (see for example Ramit's I Will Teach You To Be Rich).

These perspectives aren't wrong, exactly. But I look at the act of couponing differently, and this brings me to the most important reason why I do it. I consider couponing a practice of the skill of recognizing value, and I use this same practice in the larger-scale world of personal investing.

In fact, to borrow a term from the martial arts world, I consider couponing a type of kata, a daily practice or discipline, and practicing it helps me stay in shape for larger investment opportunities that could impact my personal wealth on a far greater scale. I look at stocks in much the same way that I look at items in the grocery store: What should this stock cost, what does it normally cost, and is the price I see right now a good value or not? Is it a great value? The two disciplines of shopping and investing are strikingly similar in this way.

In other words, couponing doesn't just save you money. It indirectly makes you rich.

You can save a few bucks here and there with coupons, and that's great. But in the longer run, you can make tens or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars with your investments as your investment capital grows. If you knew the former helped you with the latter, wouldn't you coupon too?


Karin said...

Or you can shop at Aldi, and save money without spending the time on coupons. :)

Peggy said...

I don't clip coupons because there aren't many for fresh, whole food. I do get coupons occasionally as a result of a store loyalty program, and I use those consistently, but the coupons in the weekly inserts are usually for over-processed stuff that I don't choose to buy.

Marcia said...

I almost never clip coupons, however I do page through all of the store circulars every week. Here's what I've found about coupons:

1. It's almost always processed food that we don't eat
2. When it's not heavily processed, it's branded food, and with the coupons - it's still more expensive than either regular prices elsewhere, or sales prices

Back in the day, I found myself clipping coupons regularly (even though we don't get the paper, so there weren't that many sources). About once every 2 months, I'd be able to line up a sale on pasta with a coupon, that would make it cheaper than a regular sale price.

I decided back then that spending 15 minutes a week clipping, and then additional time each week scouring the stores for matches, simply was a waste of my time. Especially when my top 3 stores are:

Trader Joe's (no coupons)
Costco (no coupons)
99 cent store

On a very rare occasion, I find our local grocery store will have an in-flyer coupon for something worthwhile, like eggs or cheese or something like that. Once I found a $1 coupon for the 99 cent store. Twice my Sprouts flyer had $5 or $10 off. The $10 off day, I simply could not spend $50. I wasn't going to buy extra just to hit the spend, so I gave the coupon to the person in front of me.

Jen Blacker said...

There are good places for coupons, especially fresh stuff. Places like SavingStar you clip virtually and every week there is a new produce item. Ibotta too has this, even coupons for milk and eggs.

I'm fortunate to have a Wegmans in my area. Their digital coupons are great. Always Wegmans brand which includes fresh items and meat.

Daniel said...

Good comments, thank you. I guess I'll add that if you have any intention of saving money, you only use a coupon for something you already intended to buy. :)

And, as Marcia puts it, sometimes the coupon STILL doesn't take the price down below where it's worth it. This is another reason to be conversant in prices in general: It will help you know at a glance whether a coupon represents a genuine value... or a trap.