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 50ยข.

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 50ยข 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… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  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 ๐Ÿ˜‰ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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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