Reader Q&A: Coupons Aren’t Working for Me. Now What?

I love getting your emails and reading your comments on this blog. I’m happy to answer any question I am able to, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re confused about something.

Recently, I got this email from a reader in northern California who has been trying without much success to save money through coupons. She’s about at the end of her rope. Here’s her question and my advice, but I’d love for you to chime in, too.

I really appreciate the inspiration to save money from a Jewish perspective. I grew up in a family that was bad with money and my husband and I seem to be following in those footsteps unfortunately. I started reading your blog in August and have been trying to do some of the drug store shopping and other deals you recommend. We don’t have the same supermarkets that you do, but we do have a Target of course. The thing is I am really not having any luck. I can’t seem to keep track of my newspaper coupons and I feel like I’m wasting so much money on printing the online ones. Half the time, when I get to the store, I realize I forgot a coupon I needed at home, which completely throws off my whole trip. It’s just not working for me, and I don’t know what to do now.

Okay, so first off, I’d say you are probably taking on too much all at once. Two months ago, I’m guessing you were just throwing whatever looked good in your cart and now you are trying to go to completely the opposite extreme. It’s too much, too soon. Not to mention that it sounds like you might have some “baggage” about money from your family — most of us do — and that’s likely affecting how you feel about your ability to stick to a budget in the first place.

So, here’s what I suggest: Take a break from coupons. I know, I know, I keep telling you how important it is to combine sales with coupons and now I’m telling you to forget about the coupons. You’ll get back to it, sooner than you think, but you need to take baby steps to get there.

My advice is to first focus on the drugstore deals – I like CVS the best, but if you have a Walgreens or Rite Aid in your area, there are plenty of bloggers doing deal match-ups for those stores. Build up a nice little stockpile of free toothpaste and inexpensive shampoo and bargain toilet paper. All the while, track your spending, so you can see the progress that you are making. That progress will embolden you and give you confidence in your ability to save money in other spheres.

To steal an idea from Dave Ramsey: You didn’t learn these spending habits over night, and you’re not going to correct them overnight either. (She says from personal experience! And with much faltering along the way, up until today!) Pay attention, work the deals at the drug store, and then — slowly — add in more aspects of deal shopping for your groceries.

What do you think? Do you agree with my advice to take a giant step back and then baby steps forward? If you’re a coupon shopper, did you ever have periods of coupon burnout? (I know I do!) What advice can you offer to my California reader?


  1. I am not a frugalista (is that a word?) by a long shot, so maybe take the opposite of my opinion…BUT-I think there are ways to be frugal that do not involve coupons\deals. I try to focus on those. The few times I have tried to do some cool cvs deal, i lose the receipt with the extra care what have I accomplished? Things like menu planning, shopping generic\sale items, less processed foods, less waste, etc, I think can be a fantastic start, even without the dramatic awesomeness of couponing. Like I imagine weaning my kids (and myself) off of breakfast cereal, to store brand oatmeal, even without a coupon would save me tons…
    Obviously, I don’t know enough about the writer, it could be she is very much doing those things, and still struggling..
    Good luck!!!
    Chag Sameach!

    • I completely agree!! Coupons are a *great* way to save money, if used “strategically” especially. But if they are making you crazy, it’s time to take a step back and focus on all those other strategies. I should have been more explicit about them in my response, so I’m glad that you were in your comment! I’m a huge fan of menu planning and I love your strategy about weaning off of breakfast cereal. We all have to start where we’re at!

  2. Mara,

    I just wanted to let you know I am really enjoying your blog. It’s Amy C from YJ. I have been trying to reign things in myself and reading this is a great support for me. I’m sure that the fact that I know you helps as well, but I really like that you are realistic and down to earth about the whole thing. It makes it feel like I can do it too.

    • Amy, hi! I’m so honored you’re reading, and I’m glad that I’m helping in some small way. You can TOTALLY do it, too!

  3. I try to keep track of coupons and savings, but I don’t get the newspaper which has all the weekly coupons. Is that where the Red Plum come from? Thanks

    • Hi Yaakov, thanks for stopping by! Yes, the Red Plum comes from the weekly paper. There are RP coupons available online, but maddeningly so, they are not the same ones as in the paper. My paper (the KC Star) has a free weekend subscription to something called “Yes!”, which is just the circulars and the coupons. Maybe yours has something similar?

  4. Hi Mara, I am a huge Dave Ramsey wanna-be follower, but I cannot get my husband on board. I am really enjoying your website (found it through another off my faves orthonomics). I can really relate to this because every “tutorial” I read on coupons just makes me exhausted.

    It’s very frustrating because I just figured out that my monthly food budget is >$1,000! I probably cater to my kids too much and eat too much meat during the week, but food is the one area that seems to me to be out of control.

    I’m going to wander over to your monthly menu. Perhaps if I emulate your menu exactly I will end up with a smaller budget. 🙂

    But noone in my family eats tuna, my husband insists on boneless chix breast on Shabbos, and I have one kid who wont’ even touch leftovers with a 10-ft pole. And, oh yeah, my family loves Morningstar products and they eat at least one box a day.

    I finally sat down and tried to figure out how much I spend on Shabbos alone and it’s $70. Crazy. But I work full time and am exhausted and therefore take the path of least resistance most of the time which is usually the most expensive path. But I sure would love to have a few hundred of those food dollars for other things….

    Keep on keepin’ on. Not only is your website content really inspiring, but it looks very professional.

    • Hi TDR, thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you found me 🙂 I completely understand the struggles you are facing. It is hard especially when you work full-time and barely have time to eat with your kids, let alone shop, cook and clean up. Couponing? Forget about it!

      However… do you mind if I make one small suggestion? I know this won’t totally rock your world, but it’s an example of how a minimal effort can save $10 or $20 a month. Do that a couple of times, and you’ve cut your budget by 10% without hardly even trying. Okay, so here’s my example: Take the Morningstar you say your family loves. We love that also, but only buy when it’s on sale and we have a coupon. Last week, Target had it for $2.99 and I had a $1/1 coupon, so paid $1.99. That is still $.50 per patty, which is expensive, but a lot better than when the box is full price at $3.59 or higher.

      Sometimes there are printables, and I’d point those out on the blog when there are. But a quick and easy way to get coupons for the products you love is to write to the company. So, in this case, I’d write Morningstar an email, tell them what big fans your family is of their product, and how much you appreciate it being hechshered. Then I’d ask them to send you some coupons – tell them you eat at least a few boxes a month and some high value coupons would really help you out. I did a post about how to do this here.

      Anyway, as I said, I know it’s just one small drop in a bucket… but enough of those drops and the bucket’s gonna fill up, you know? Hang in there! I know it can be overwhelming!

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