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.
- Always compare the per-unit pricing. "Per-unit pricing" (which can also be called "cost per ounce," "cost per count," or "cost per serving") is usually found on the shelf label, for most products sold in grocery stores. This simple price breakdown allows you to do the math and figure out whether a product is truly less expensive than a comparable product with a coupon.
- Beware of "BOGO." "Buy-one-get-one-free" deals can often be a good value, provided that you can actually use two of the same item. Remember, it's sometimes possible to save even more and use two coupons when taking advantage of a store-sponsored BOGO offer, since technically you're buying two of the items, even if one is "free."
- Downsizing can pay off with coupons. If a coupon is for a fixed value (that is, not a percentage off) and doesn't specify the size of the product package, the best value oftentimes is buying the smallest, least expensive size. That's when you can sometimes pay only pennies, or nothing at all, for an item when using coupons.
- Print coupons online. A growing number of Web sites have sprouted up allowing you to print out manufacturer coupons online. Online coupons frequently have higher value than the ones you find in the newspaper. Check out CouponMom.com, SmartSource.com, and Coupons.com for special online and in-store coupon offers.
- Earn the grocery-shopping trifecta. It's hard not to get excited when you can use a coupon for an item that is already on sale, and you top it off by using your supermarket loyalty card for additional frequent-shopping perks. That's once, twice, three times the savings!
Jeff Yeager is the author of the book, "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches." His Web site is www.UltimateCheapskate.com.