Friday, June 5, 2009

My Perspective on Couponing

If you've been reading this blog at all, you know that I am a dedicated couponer. (For instance, check out my recent double/triple coupon shopping trip here.) I have fun getting great bargains with coupons, and I save a ton of money. However, I believe that my posts also show that I am also a big fan of making food from scratch and that I also buy generic products.

Sometimes it seems like the two types of frugality -- couponing and what I'll call "simple frugality" -- are opposed. Specifically, the Tightwad Gazette, that bible of frugality, is actually somewhat negative about using coupons. The author posits that coupons just save some money on prepared products that will still be more expensive than making your own. Her style of frugality is very focused on buying ingredients and making everything homemade.

Personally, I believe that both approaches to frugality are important, and that the key is to balance the two. Without couponing, I don't believe that I could have reduced my grocery budget as much as I have and still be eating in a very similar way to how we always have (or better!). However, I would never be able to buy everything with coupons, so it's also been very important to focus on home-based types of frugality, such as cooking and gardening. I thought it could be helpful to go through some of the pros and cons of couponing, which will help each person make a decision about how coupons could fit into her life and budget.
The "pros" of using coupons are many. First of all, although it may be relatively inepensive to buy plain ingredients and whole foods, it is probably impossible to get them for free or a few cents, as I regularly get products with coupons. Furthermore, the products I am getting with coupons are usually name brands, sometimes even quite expensive brands, where without them I would have to be content with the cheapest store brand. Another fun aspect of couponing is the chance to try new products without spending extra money. Every so often I will fall in love with one of these new products, and as long as buying it will fit in my budget, that's okay.

Couponing can definitely have a downside. The argument that many people have against it is that it will make them spend more money by buying items that they don't need. That is definitely a danger, but I believe that it is one that can be avoided. Also, there is no doubt that using coupons takes some time and effort, although that can vary widely based on individual commitment.

Personally, I believe that the way to save the most money and to make the best use of my time is to combine couponing and "simple frugality." I try to get the best bargains available with my coupons (such as at triple coupon events), and then I fill out the rest of my grocery list with generic products and simple ingredients. I spend time clipping and organizing my coupons, but I also spend time baking bread and working in my garden.

The key is to figure out what frugal strategies fit into your individual lifestyle. I am a stay at home mom, and although my girls certainly keep me busy, I also consider couponing and bargain shopping to be a part-time job. Saving money, instead of earning money, is a way that I help provide for my family. On the other hand, a mom who works outside the home may not be able to spend as much time either couponing or cooking as I do, so maybe she decides that she will buy mostly generic products. Someone else who doesn't enjoy cooking might really get into couponing, in order to get convenience foods for a lot less money.

As always, it is important to figure out your priorities and lifestyle contraints and decide what types of money saving are practical. I would also encourage you to be open to trying new strategies, which just might work for you!

For more details on common misconceptions about couponing, check out the first two installments of Alyssa's series here and here. Also, next week look for my post on how I manage my couponing and control the time that I spend on it.
For tons of frugal living tips and ideas, check out Frugal Fridays at Life as Mom.


  1. Very thoughtful post! I, like you, try to maintain a balance. I use coupons on products that we use and enjoy, yet do as much cooking from scratch with basic, inexpensive ingredients as possible. I love visiting our farmers market to get fresh, in-season produce to round out our meals.

  2. I agree- a balance is important. I too buy generics when it's cheaper than the name brand even with a coupon. In fact, that's usually the case unless the name brand is also on sale. I also don't like to buy prepackaged foods, so I hear you on that one too :) What coupons are great for are things like toothpaste and deodorant.... I won't be making those from scratch any time soon ;)

  3. You and I think alike. I also like to balance coupons with scratch-cooking and generic purchases. I have never been able to understand the caveat that coupons might make you buy things you don't need. Frankly, if you're buying diapers because you're getting a killer deal, and your youngest kid is fourteen, you've got bigger issues, LOL! Then again, sometimes I have to remind myself I already have six tubes of toothpaste so I don't 'need' another one, no matter how great the deal, LOL!
    I think you have to find out what products work for you. Some generics are great, and some are really a waste of money (plastic wrap and dish detergent come to mind).

  4. I am on the same page as you and I am always amazed at the mud slinging I hear about on both sides. Basically all of it is about saving money on what your family uses and doing what it takes to make that work for you. Great post and I agree wholeheartedly.


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