Recently, I received an email from a regular reader about frugal living with coupons and she had several great points and a different perspective so I wanted to share them. This reader felt that I was against coupon usage and wanted to point out the benefits and savings involved with using coupons.
Coupons may be a good way to save money if they are for the items you and your family need and want. If coupons save you money, you should definitely use them.
The beauty of being frugal is that it allows us to live richly in ways that we choose. While I mean that metaphorically, I also mean that literally. How I chose to live frugally may be different from how someone else does and that’s okay. I certainly do not want readers to think I look down on coupon use if it saves your family money.
The goal of this website is to encourage living well on less and to save money, resources, and time. If your version of frugal living involves coupons and you enjoy it, by all means, clip away.
From the email I received:
I realize that to many, couponing seems like a huge time waster, with little to show for in the end. But to some, it is a fun hobby, and for others, a way to provide for their families. I subscribe to another blog, Frugal Living NW, and while she espouses many of the same money saving philosophies as you, she also has a coupon component in her blog. I am not suggesting you do this. It just seems as though you are looking down on couponers, and there is no need to do that while touting how you choose to save money. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. By the way, I have found Winco’s prices are not great on toiletries. If people do nothing more than coupon for these items, they will save a lot of money, and by sticking to a select few items, a lot of time as well.
This is a completely different perspective from mine. It has been my experience, that for my weekly grocery shopping, the majority of the items I buy (bulk bin items that include: beans, pasta, baking ingredients, and fruits/vegetables) what I’m buying is already less expensive than the equivalent item that has a coupon, even after the discount has been applied. If there were coupons for these items, I would definitely use them and I’d be thrilled!
For toiletry purchases, I completely agree that WinCo doesn’t have the lowest or most competitive prices. For those purchases, I either head to Costco, Target or Walmart, whichever one is close to where I’m headed. At those establishments, I generally try to stick with generic or store brand versions. When I venture to these stores, I stock up so that I’m only going once every month or two, rather than every week.
If couponing is your hobby or sport, and you enjoy it, please check out Frugal Living NW. Angela has many great ideas, tips, and coupons.
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this topic. If you’d like to share something, please check the ask + share page HERE.
Are you a coupon clipper when it comes to shopping for you or your family?
Go Gingham related links:
National Match-Up Day: A step-by-step on how to clean and organize your food storage containers!
Grocery shopping from the bulk bins and food storage containers
Reusing glass jars and how to get them ready for re-use
Frugal grocery shopping – without coupons!
24 thoughts on “Frugal Living with Coupons”
I don’t use coupons – but I do stock up on toiletries when they are loss leaders and use from that little stash throughout the year. Same for staples and meats that I can freeze. We don’t buy much processed food at all – which is what most of the coupons that I see are for. Though I also think we don’t have the great coupon possibilities in Canada that you do south of the border. With buying on sale and growing some of our own food, plus buying local in season food, we usually stay on a pretty tight self imposed budget.
The self-imposed budget is generally best and dare I say more healthy?
The coupons I see in our Sunday paper are usually for processed foods. I do always check my local store sale insert for what they may have a coupon for and if it’s the type of cheese or butter we like and then I stock up and freeze.
Thanks, Heidi, and happy new year!
I also choose to live frugally without coupons. I tend to be obsessive compulsive, and coupons make me think too much about sales, prices, brands, and shopping.
I know for some people it becomes a money-saving hobby and I think that’s great. Couponing is not my hobby, however, and I found it took time and energy away from my other money-saving interests (cooking, gardening, neighborhood co-ops, etc.)
I also agree with you that I can usually find lower prices than coupons afford me if I buy generic brands and whole foods. People who are really good at couponing can get stuff for free, but this process often involves stockpiling, which doesn’t work for me and how I like to keep my house.
As you say, everyone needs to find out what works for them, and when you are running a website, you need to find a niche to stand out. Choosing not to use coupons is something unique about our frugal way of living, and that is fine too.
Thanks for tackling this difficult issue. I liked hearing your thoughts.
I completely agree:
“People who are really good at couponing can get stuff for free, but this process often involves stockpiling, which doesn’t work for me and how I like to keep my house.”
I keep less in my cupboards now because I got tired of buying more and then forgetting what I had on hand or storing it in my basement only to really forget.
Sometimes I talk a moment to remind myself that it’s okay to run out of something and make do or wait. The exception to that is chocolate!! 🙂
I operate much like you and Frugal Mama do. I did the coupon thing for a while, but eventually decided I’d just prefer to buy generics and whole foods instead.
And when I discovered Aldi, coupons became completely unnecessary. Aldi has such great everyday low prices and I don’t need to clip coupons or watch sales or try to calculate how much I need to buy before the next sale happens.
So, I’m saving money AND time, which is marvy-fab. 😉
I wish we had an Aldi here. (There was an Aldi store that we shopped at on our home swaps to Europe and I wonder if it’s the same company…)
Yes, I think if you can find a store that has low prices and you purchase whole foods and generics, it’s tough to beat those deals.
Time and money are two resources I like to save, too.
Thanks ~ and happy new year!
Yep, Aldi started in Europe, actually. The U.S. is it’s own division, but they’ve got the same parent company.
Aldi is slowly moving west, so maybe they’ll eventually land in your neck of the woods!
When the couponing craze hit, I checked into it. For the most part, I found that most coupons available to me were for processed food, which we don’t eat a lot of. That being said, I do sometimes use them, and I feel like I am more conscious now of trying to match up a coupon with a sales price than I had been in the past. It is a thrill to be able to do that, I have to admit–I love a good bargain. None of the grocery stores in my area have double or triple coupon offers and I can do so much better at Aldi’s (and get in & out of the store more quickly) that I prefer to shop there when I can. But hey, do whatever works for you and your family!
Kris, I love a good bargain, too!
I don’t know of any stores around here that double or triple the coupon offers but they might and I don’t know.
Sounds like Aldi is getting good reviews here….
Thanks, Kris, and happy new year!
I’ve found saving money on food purchases includes a number of things including coupons, even though I don’t use many of them.
1. I find the first way to save is to have a food budget and use it for food only. Our budget is $125/month. I try to keep meat purchases to $2/pound or less, and no more than $10 per week for meat at any price. We have lots of vegetarian meals and mix small amounts of high-priced meat with low-costing meat alternatives to get a full serving of protein.
2. Buy whole, nutrient-dense foods, including grains/seeds/beans, and make my cereal, snacks and “convenience” foods from ingredients in the pantry. I make all our bread and baked goods with freshly-milled grains/seeds/beans.
3. Use coupons when the item is also on sale so you can “stack” savings. My store sends coupons that are for items I normally purchase including meat, produce, and frozen foods. I often get a coupon for a free dozen eggs or a free jar of peanut butter.
4. Since one banana is generally used as a serving, buy the smaller bananas so you’ll end up with more “servings” per pound.
5. Use egg inexpensive substitutes when eggs are expensive (chia seed gel, flax/water, etc.). Egg economy: If the price difference between large and medium eggs is less than 5-cents per dozen – buy the large size eggs. If greater than 5-cents buy the medium eggs. 5-medium eggs = 4 large eggs. For most things you won’t notice the difference.
6. I practice home food storage so I “shop” at home for meal planning and replace items when I find them at the lowest possible price.
7. Grow and make as much food from scratch as you can.
8. Practice portion control. Overeating anything is wasted food and wasted money.
9. I purchase Grandma’s Country Cream Non-Fat Dry Milk by the 25# bucket to save on milk. I use it for drinking, baking, homemade kefir/yogurt, and lots of “convenience” foods (pudding mixes, cream of ______ soup mixes, Magic Mix…
10. Wasted food is the most expensive food we buy. I find I use my dehydrator to dry many food items that might otherwise go to waste.
Bonus: I keep a Price Book so I can track prices at the stores I buy groceries from. I also keep my food inventory in this same book so I don’t waste money buying things I really don’t need.
I am so impressed with your methods! Really ~ all are great ideas for saving money.
Knowing prices – of food or anything you buy – is the key here. Your system of keeping a price book is very smart for keeping track of how much food items cost.
“Wasted food is the most expensive food we buy.” This is so true and it sounds like your dehydrator is the answer for you. I use my freezer in the same way – when food looks like it’s getting to the end, I freeze it.
Thanks, Karen, and great job!
PS I’ll have to look into your brand of powdered milk, too. Previously, powdered milk didn’t make sense for our family if I could buy it on sale but now I may review it again. Great tip!
Sara, I grew up with an avid coupon clipper for a mother. She used them to feed a family of seven on a schoolteacher’s salary. Back in the day, she would load up my sisters and me with separate trips through the checkout to make the most of her trips to the grocery store – which I hated – but it made a lasting impression, especially when we got our groceries for free. Between coupons and rebates she saved as much as she might have earned with a part-time job, but it did take an investment in time and mental energy, not to mention storage space.
When I was a newlywed in grad school many years ago I realized that the money I saved by using coupons didn’t compensate for the effort I put into the process, and gave myself permission to shop at just one grocery store, with or without coupons. I may have spent slightly more on groceries, but I made better choices and enjoyed my down time a lot more.
I still clip a few coupons I think I will use (and my mom still gives me a sheaf of coupons whenever I see her) but I agree that it’s unusual to find good coupons for non-processed foods and environmentally-friendly products, and even with a coupon it’s tough to beat prices for bulk and store brand items. These days I find that a coupon might help me choose between two brands, or bring a brand-name item like breakfast cereal down to the same price as its generic equivalent.
Sara, yes, I can relate and especially when looking at how you want to spend your time. Time is a very precious commodity and I’m not one to drive to different stores or across town to save a few cents.
Thanks, Sara! How’s your house project coming along?
Happy new year! 🙂
I’m with you, Sarah. I use the occasional coupon, but I don’t obsess over them. I think couponing is a great hobby, if you love it. But there’s a long list of other activities that I love to do that save money, I don’t give time to coupons. I also find coupons can backfire with kids especially, creating name brand “wants” they never realized they “needed”.
Robin, thanks! I hadn’t thought about the backfiring of coupons with kids but I would imagine that can happen.
My kids use coupons now because they want the name brand deodorants that I won’t buy and so they buy it themselves. Name brand toiletries cost more (and honestly smell more!)but teenagers seem to think it’s worth it.
Thanks, Robin. Glad you stopped by.
We use coupons, but not to excess. We do participate in a rewards program at our local Fred Meyer (a Kroger store), and that’s where we do most of our shopping. I only clip coupons for items and brands I would normally buy. We receive reward discounts and coupons quarterly, and generally those are for items that we purchase on a regular basis. We take advantage of the 1st Tuesday of the month – Freddie’s gives a 10% Senior Discount to those over 55 years old on a wide variety of items, and if we need to hit New Seasons, we do that on Wednesdays – they also provide 10% off to those over 65. I know that on one large trip to Freddies, by using the coupons in the newspaper and our reward discounts and coupons, we spent about $75 on a grocery bill that started up at around $165. It’s worth it, but I refuse to purchase items I wouldn’t normally buy. That’s just a waste.
Cathy, sounds like you’ve got a good routine with the senior savings! Good to know ~
I receive the coupons in the mail, too, and use them. When the coupon is for $2.00 produce – that’s right up my alley!
Thanks, Cathy. Happy new year!
I keep my eyes open for coupons. But often don’t find what I need with them. I shop a restaurant supply for most staples, and buy in 25 to 50 lb. sacks (no coupons for those I’m afraid), or I shop Trader Joes (again, no coupons for their label). But there are things that have coupons that I specifically look for —
haircuts (the cover to the Red Plum flyer will have Great Clips coupons about once every 3 months),
online purchases (before I buy anything online, I google the retailer to see if they have a coupon code out),
if a family birthday is coming up, I’ll look through the local coupons that come in an envelope, for restaurants in our area that we would enjoy for our celebration,
If traveling, and will need a hotel, I’ll google to see if a particular hotel has a coupon/rate that would save us money (I’ve had instances where buying the Entertainment book for an area saved us a couple of hundred dollars on a motel stay, much more than the cost of the book)
and when shopping in a grocery store I go through their ad to look for coupons before shopping (Fred Meyer has coupons every week in their ad, Albertson’s, QFC, Safeway about once every couple of weeks).
I make a quick look-through the grocery coupons that come in the mail, and will clip the coffee ones, and one or two others that I may buy, if it’s something I already use, and it will be less expensive than any other way of purchasing, to use the coupon.
Mostly my coupon searches are just a casual thing. It’s not where I choose to direct my time and energy. But I can certainly see how couponing can be advantageous for some folks.
You made a good point that coupons may be a good way to save money if they are for the items we actually need. Before I purchase anything online I google to see if there’s a coupon. I probably saved hundreds of dollars that way. Happy 2013!
I think your method of looking up coupon codes for items you’re purchasing online is smart. You’re also saving because you’re not having to drive across town or print up a coupon to save on your purchases. Many times coupons are used for items people don’t actually use or need but just because it’s a good deal. Thanks for leaving a comment and happy new year!
From time to time I actually find a coupon I can use. I clip it out with the full intent of using it before it expires. But lo and behold, by the time I have a chance to go to the store, the coupon has expired. Most of the items for which there is a stack of coupons, I do not use. Back in the day I tried to buy only those items for which I had a coupon. That did not last long. The items were over priced to begin with, even when they were on sale, and they did not taste better than my brand. If I find a coupon for what I use, I do cut it out and hope to use it. But for everything else, there are no coupons — veggies, fruits, meat, fish, chicken/poultry.
I look at the Sunday circulars to see what’s on sale but I refuse to drive out of my way to save 50 cents. I have found some pretty good deals on toiletries at Rite Aid and Walgreens, and since those stores are typically on my way home from where ever, they are my go to stores for those items. And yes, I calculate the price of each tissue and sheet of toilet paper. Sometimes a good deal is not a good deal until you calculate the unit price (tissue/sheet).
I hate the BOGO sales. I consider that lazy marketing/retailing. In order to reap the rewards of a good deal, you have to buy two of that item. Not what I consider a good buy.
I hate even more the Buy 2 get 1 free sales. I just want one item, but I want it at the reduced price, not the full price. I don’t want to buy more than I need (that’s wasteful), so, I won’t buy those items until they go on sale. I like low prices without gimmicks. I hate jumping through hoops and I totally hate rebates! REBATES are my worst nightmare and a pet peeve. I have gone so far as NOT to buy items if rebates were involved. The amount of time I have wasted on tracking down rebates I will never get back, leaving a bad impression of the company that has not honored their rebate.
I look at the Sunday circulars, too, but like you, refuse to go out of my way for a few cents off.
You are right about calculating the unit price. Until you really understand how much an item costs, you can’t compare. Toilet paper pricing does drive me crazy though – the single sheets vs double sheets can really make a difference.
As far as the rebates go, they are much easeir to get now that you can do it online. I don’t like them either but my husband usually does them now (because I complained about them too much) and we did just get a $25 rebate check on contact lenses for our son. I much prefer just giving the sale price without lots of hoops to go through.
Sue, since you mentioned Rite Aid and BOGO sales, the Rite Aid near us puts their vitamins and supplements on BOGO-free, frequently. Several years ago, I asked the manager if I could buy just one at half price. He said yes, and that’s what I’ve been doing at this particular Rite Aid for several years now, when I just want one of something. Can’t hurt to ask.
That’s very smart! And you’re right, it doesn’t hurt to ask. I find that most managers are happy to honor a request like that’s reasonable.
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