If you’ve been reading KOAB for a while, you already know about my personal journey into using coupons. When I first set out to cut our food budget, I really couldn’t wrap my head around HOW coupons were going to save us all this money.
Fast forward three years later, and we’ve reduced our food & household expenses budget to $500 per month. We were spending between $1000 and $1500 a month, so that’s a monthly savings of as much as $1,000 – or, as I like to say, “real money”. And then some.
What I figured out along the way is that my misconceptions about coupons were holding me back. Maybe you’re having the same hang-ups. Don’t let it stop you from saving hundreds of dollars each month.
Here are five of the biggest coupon misconceptions… debunked.
1. It’s cheaper to buy the store brand than to use coupons on name brand items.
Take two boxes of cereal. The store brand of “Os” costs $1.59. The Cheerios cost $2.99. With the typical $.50/1 coupon, you’re still paying $.90 more for name brand. Even if your store doubles coupons, it’s still less expensive to buy store brand Os. So, what gives: Didn’t I just prove that the myth is true?
Not quite. You see, I don’t ever recommend buying your name brand products at the full price UNLESS you are are completely out and really don’t like the store brand. In which case, that coupon will keep two quarters in your pocket, which wouldn’t have been there otherwise.
But when you use coupons the “right” way, you waiting for the sale. So now Cheerios cost $1.99, and using your $.50/1 coupon will actually save you $.10 over the store brand. If your store doubles, you are really in business. Combine that sale and coupon with other store incentives, like ECBs (at CVS) or $5 gift cards (at Target), and your cereal will be even cheaper!
2. It’s cheaper to shop at a warehouse store than to use coupons.
I love Costco as much as the next person. But I have learned that we have to be very, very careful at Costco. Sure, there are some stellar deals. (My favorites include the gallon of RBST-free milk, and the pound of mixed organic greens.)
But shopping at Costco is no guarantee that you are getting the lowest price on everything in your cart. In fact, there are many items that are more expensive at Costco than at your grocery store. When you combine a sale price with coupons, you can net an even bigger savings over the regular Costco price.
3. Coupons are only for highly processed junk food, and we don’t eat that way.
Yes, there are plenty of coupons for potato chips and “fruit” snacks, but if that’s all you’re seeing, you need to look harder. From produce to whole grains to yogurt to eggs, there are coupons for just about everything I buy for my family. And while I’m not a whole-foods-only-or-bust kind of mom, I do put a premium on feeding my kiddos homemade, wholesome meals.
Even if you aren’t convinced by the savings on food yet, you can definitely start by saving a bundle on your toiletries and household cleaners — that’s what I did. I spent a year building up a stockpile at CVS before I turned my attention to the grocery stores. If you never had to pay more than pennies for your toothpaste, shampoo and laundry detergent, wouldn’t that make your food & household budget a lot easier to manage?
4. I don’t “need” to save money at the grocery store.
I know that my readers come from a broad range of financial backgrounds. But no matter how tight your budget is – or isn’t – couldn’t all of us find a good use for an extra few hundred dollars every month?
Whether you put your grocery savings toward paying off debt, saving for your retirement, going on a family vacation or giving more generously to tzedakah, couponing creates margin in your budget. And margin gives you options. And options, at least in my world, are a very good thing.
If you’re still not convinced, you may want to try my little one month experiment where I tracked all our spending, religiously, for a month. You may be spending a lot more than you think you are at the store – I know we were.
5. I don’t have time for couponing; it takes too long.
I won’t lie to you. There is a learning curve to using coupons. But you don’t have to tackle it all at once. And once you get the hang of it, it will hardly take any time at all.
To make my menu plans, pull and clip my coupons, and make my shopping lists, I spend no more than 30-60 minutes each week. Some weeks, I don’t do any shopping other than milk and a bit of fresh produce, so I spend 0 minutes. Now granted, I’ve been doing this for a while and I write this blog, so I’m kind of immersed in it.
But even if I’m wrong and it takes you as much as triple my estimate, ask yourself this: Would you spend an hour and a half to earn $250? After taxes?
Have you taken the couponing plunge? Or are you still holding back? What’s hanging you up? Do any of these misconceptions resonate with you?