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Coupons: To Clip or Not to Clip?

Coupon clippers, or "Couponeers," as I call them, are among the fiercest of all bargain hunters. If you've ever seen them charge "en masse" into a grocery store on a double- or triple-coupon day, you know what I mean.

See also: 99 Ways to Save on Everything

The legions of Couponeers have grown even larger since the start of the recession. According to a research study conducted in collaboration with the Nielsen Company, coupon redemptions have increased by more than 25 percent this year alone (compared to 2008), to nearly 2.4 billion coupons. Just think of all those paper cuts!

Coupons can reduce the price you pay at the cash register, but do they result in genuine savings? Are they worth the time and hassle? Here are 10 things to keep in mind when considering whether or not to clip:

  • Is it something you'd buy, even without a coupon? If you're tempted to buy something simply because you "have the coupon" and it's not something you'd buy otherwise, you're not really saving money, no matter how much the coupon is worth.
  • Are you paying extra for a brand name? Most coupons are for brand-name products, which are sometimes still more expensive than comparable house brands or generic products even after a coupon discount.
  • Time is money. Before going coupon-crazy and clipping every coupon you see, remember that time is money. It's a waste of time to clip and organize coupons you don't use. You can waste even more time, and gas, if you have to visit multiple stores in order to redeem them. Save only those coupons for things you know you'll actually buy, and at the stores where you normally shop.
  • Watch your intake of processed foods versus those cooked from scratch. Grocery coupons tend to be more common for processed and prepared foods (including snack foods) as opposed to cooking staples, such as meat and dairy products, or fresh fruits and vegetables. Make sure your diet doesn't suffer as a result of relying too heavily on coupon products.
  • The devil is in the details. Read the fine print on the coupon before you put an item in your shopping cart. Otherwise, when you get to the checkout line, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise. Check coupon expiration dates, product-packing info, and other details carefully. The pretty picture on the front of the coupon may be misleading in terms of the actual offer and what's required for redemption.

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