It’s cheaper to just buy generic.

That’s what a lot of people think — and it’s a typical excuse for not using coupons. But it’s actually not true.

There is an art to using coupons. I wouldn’t have believed it when I started doing this whole save-money-on-my-food-budget thing two years ago. I thought it was pretty straight-forward: Cut out the coupon. Go to the store. Buy the item. Use the coupon. Save 50¢.

But, then why wasn’t it working for me? I’d cut the coupon, go to the store … only to discover that the store brand of mayonnaise (or whatever) was inevitably cheaper than the brand-name mayo, even with the 50¢ coupon. It was mystifying. Why would people bother clipping coupons when they could save more money just buying the store brand??

Oh, sweet naive coupon newb that I was. It took me a while, but I finally figured it out. You don’t save money by using coupons when an item is full-price. You save money by using a coupon when an item is ALREADY ON SALE. Sale price minus coupon minus any additional incentives (like gift cards at Target or the 10% off case-discount at Whole Foods) = BIG SAVINGS. Much bigger than the generic brand. Sometimes even free!

So unless I have some insane brand loyalty going on, using coupons to buy full-priced products just won’t save me money – at least not over the generic brand alternative. If I need the tin foil that badly that I can’t wait for a sale combined with a coupon, I buy the generic.

Make sense? Are you mystified by us fanatical coupon clippers? Wondering how to make it work for you and your kosher-keeping family? I’m going to be running a little series here on debunking coupon misconceptions. So if you have a conception – mis or otherwise – about using coupons, leave me a comment or drop me an email. I’d love to hear from you!


  1. Yeah, I have no clue how to use coupons at all. I know there’s a trick to it, but I never seem to come across coupons for things I’d actually buy.

    • @Amy ~ Hi!!! That’s a good (mis)conception about coupons actually, I should post about that one soon. Stay tuned… 😉

  2. I’m pretty mystified by the process too. I agree with Amy about not finding coupons for stuff I like, especially the natural/organic-y/vegan type things

    Mara, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about bulk stores like Costco, especially combined with couponing.

    I just want to thank you for the tip of buying the case of Eden beans at Whole Foods. I knew about their case discount, but didn’t think of applying it to that.

    • @Julie – Ha, you guys are beating me to the punch 😉 Yup, I’ve got a post planned on “I don’t need to use coupons, I shop at Costco.” It’s coming… I promise. Hopefully early next week. And one on “but I only eat organic!” I hear you on the more nature type stuff. I try to go that route, too. Hopefully I can show you how to save some money on those products, and not just the HFCS parade.

  3. Hi Mara
    I am really enjoying reading through your blog, which I found through Orthonomics. I see that you have experience living in Israel, where I am. Were you ever able to make coupons work for you here? The only ones I have come across come from the grocery stores and have serious time limits on them. They occasionally can be useful (diapers!) but I find that they generally give money off of the higher-end items which I’m not buying anyhow. Did you have better luck?

    • Hi Elisheva, I’m so glad you’re here! Thanks for reading 🙂 The lack of coupons in Israel is such a bummer. Honestly, I never found manufacturers coupons, and like you said, the few store coupons there are aren’t really all that helpful. I had to use other strategies there and frankly, I did spend more on food in Israel than here. Even with the higher cost of kosher meat/chicken/cheese in America. Take advantage of inexpensive produce, shop at stores like Rami Levi (if you have one near you – despite the balagan, it was far cheaper than any of the alternatives), and go to the shuk if you can.

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