Dear Liz: On TV, I saw a woman use coupons to get $1,100 of groceries for $40. Is it possible to get the same results in real life?
Television reality shows are full of behavior you shouldn't emulate. Going overboard with coupons, as shoppers do on TLC's Extreme Couponing, is a good example.
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Using a coupon for a product that's on sale can net you big discounts indeed: The digital coupon site Coupons.com claims that shoppers can shave 40 percent off a weekly grocery bill by spending 30 to 45 minutes a week tracking coupons and sales. In my own couponing experiments, I managed to achieve discounts of 26 to 38 percent. But I had to buy more name-brand products than I normally would have; when compared against store-brand prices, the savings became less impressive.
To measure up to the extreme couponers on TV (who knock 80 percent or more off their bills), you'd have to invest hours of time — and buy a lot of products that aren't very good for you. Coupons for fresh produce are harder to find than those for snack foods and highly processed convenience items.
Hard-core couponers also need serious storage space, since they stock up when prices are lowest. If you can't use everything you buy, you're wasting money, not saving it.
Remember that the key to a sound financial life isn't getting everything at the cheapest possible price — it's getting good deals on what you need. And because we all need more time, spending too many hours each week clipping coupons could cost you in the long run.
- Websites like CouponMom.com, The Grocery Game and HotCouponWorld can alert you to sales and when to deploy the coupons you find in Sunday circulars.
- A coupon from a circular will save you even more if you wait until the item is on sale. (Many items go on sale every six to eight weeks.)
- Sites such as Shortcuts.com allow you to link electronic coupons to your store loyalty card, so you can save automatically.
- Some stores offer mobile coupons, which they deliver as texts to your cellphone.
- Check the store-brand price before buying the name brand with a coupon.
- You can donate coupons — even recently expired ones — to military families overseas.
Liz Weston, author of The 10 Commandments of Money, blogs at asklizweston.com
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