Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cutting Costs with Coupons -- Carefully

If one of your primary motivations for embracing sustainability is saving money (and good for you, if so), then you will have found numerous books and blogs advising you to clip coupons.  If you watch daytime television, you have no doubt flipped on a show featuring some consumer who has managed to get her weekly groceries for free thanks to some fortuitous combination of coupons, coupon doubling, store sales, and rebates. 

If you are like me, after you deal with your feelings of coupon inadequacy, you start wondering what this woman is feeding her family.  If I actually could pull off a stunt like this, something tells me I would have a cart full of Go-Gurt and Pop-Tarts, plus 117 packages of disposable razors.  You will notice that the best sales always come on items that are full of HFCS, are overly processed, or are headed for a landfill after use.

Processed food and consumer product companies know that the small sales promotion known as a coupon will bring in those of us trying to save money; they hope it will gain them a convert to their product.  But be aware, they don't really want to let you have something for nothing.

Last night, I made my way out during Snowmageddon for an appointment, and along the way I stopped at the grocery.  (Names omitted to protect the guilty.)  I had in my hands a recent sales promotion for a premium brand of coffee offering a "free pound of coffee, up to $4.00."  Naturally, this is something I wanted to take advantage of.

Well, the store didn't post the price per pound, and I wasn't as vigilant as I should have been.  (This is thanks in part to the 20 minutes I spent digging my car out of the snow drift I call a driveway, but I digress.)  The end result was that I wound up with a pound of coffee listed at $7 and change per pound, for which I had a $4 coupon.  Still a respectable discount, but nothing to write home about price-wise.

My lesson?  If you are going to play the coupon game, remember that the deck is stacked in favor of the house, and it takes a great deal of planning to truly score a coupon deal.  I can't grow coffee, and I will drink this, so it is a fairly cheap lesson.  Had I purchased a food I could grow or make for myself and had a similar situation occur, I would be extremely angry.

The Analysis

Fast:  Coupons require time to clip, organize, and coordinate with your grocery list and store sales.  Only clip coupons for items and specific brands you would buy anyway, at full price. 

Cheap:  Not necessarily.  It is not at all out of the question for there to be a temporary price hike, either by the manufacturer or the store, that offsets your coupon.  Again, a coupon is only a deal if you would have purchased the item anyway.  If the coupon is the deciding factor, put the item back.

Good:  Make it your goal to try to restrict the food portions of your grocery list to the elements of food, rather than processed food, and you will see that your food bill goes down and that there are very few coupons available for you anyway.  Coupons for flour, spices, meat, and veggies are few and far between.

Fast food at its best!
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