Why I Terminated the Grocery Coupon Experiment

Stop! Before you unsubscribe, just be aware that I’m still going to help you with grocery coupon use.🙂 This post is more about why it didn’t work for us, and why it might not work for you. It all depends, like just about everything in personal finance.

See all the grocery coupon experiment posts.

What’s more, I am now very interested in using coupons for non-grocery items, like toiletries, paper towels, etc. So while my approach didn’t work for our groceries, it may still have positive effects on our “home goods” budget.

I’ve tried to evaluate our failure with some objectivity and list the primary reasons why it didn’t work:

  1. We currently spend about $300 each month to feed a family of 3. In the grand scheme of our budget, there’s not as much savings to be had as, for example, a family that spends $1,000 on food per month.
  2. Over 75% of our grocery budget is spent on fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins. Since coupons for these niches are rare, that leaves about $75 of our total food budget that could be reduced by coupon use. You also can’t “stockpile” fresh groceries like you would with typical “extreme couponing.”
  3. Coupons don’t often align with the rest of the groceries we buy. On the remaining $75, we rarely want to buy the products that are advertised on coupons.
  4. A majority of our fruit & vegetable budget is spent in cash, at the local farmer’s market. They would laugh at my coupons.😉
  5. We try to buy organic foods, whenever possible and affordable. While the organic coupon market is expanding, deals are still not as widely available.
  6. As coupons become more popular, I believe they will become less sustainable. As shows like Extreme Couponing become the latest craze and get people excited about coupon use, manufacturers and grocery stores may start feeling the pressure and change their policies.
  7. Coupons are time-consuming. Given the small savings to be had, and the amount of time required to find, sort, track, and use coupons, it’s simply not worth it for us.

Finally, since drafting this post, I noticed Wise Bread came up with their own list of reasons they’re avoiding extreme couponing, which include the time commitment and space required to store your stockpiles. I agree with most of their points, so I would encourage you to take a look at their post.

Do you use coupons? Why or why not? How have you overcome some of the reasons they failed in our situation?

20 thoughts on “Why I Terminated the Grocery Coupon Experiment

  1. It’s too bad you didn’t stick with it a bit longer. It takes about 9 months of diligent collecting and researching the coupon trends and deals to get to the point where your groceries will be free. I currently make money grocery shopping so all our produce, meats and dairy are all free (along with all household consumable products). Using coupons for items you have no need for but it is a moneymaker, along with using $ off $$ coupons to give overage will make the difference. You say you spend $300/month for your family, but you could get it to zero. The $3600 you would save annually, could be used for other expenses. This is possible without being extreme too, You don’t need to get 20 items of every deal, and build a huge stockpile to save money. Just a good size kitchen pantry and cupboards.

    Granted the stores won’t give you cash back (except walmart) so you need to be creative and get your savings back in gas cards or gift cards for merchants you use. When you have too much of the moneymaker stuff you can donate it or sell it. There are lots of places to get rid of vitamins, toothpaste, deodorant, and shampoo. If you have a stockpile sale once a year you can make enough cash in about 3 hours, to buy your fruits and vegetables for 6 months.

    But I have to admit it does take time every day, it is a hobby or quest for savings. I secretly am hoping new couponers experience what you’re going through and give it up. There is not enough product to go around and bare shelves and getting rainchecks is a hassle. Having to shop on the first day of the deal to make sure you get some product is a hassle too. Actually a lot of things about couponing are a hassle. So maybe you do have it figured out.

    1. A lot to think about in your response–thank you! Among my concerns were a. what would I do with all this stuff I didn’t need (i.e. the “free stuff” you mention) and b. how is this going to work long-term? And, of course–the hassle.🙂 I really don’t know if we made the right decision but I’m going with my gut.

  2. My wife and I have a very similar mindset. For better or worse, we’re not that interested in coupons unless they line up with what we already purchase. I suppose that in order to really save money we would have to adapt to the coupon (not the other way around).

    I do really like Frugalapolis’s response. I read it twice to absorb it all.

    Maybe you do have it figured out…🙂

    Austin

    1. I enjoyed it, too.🙂 I share your feelings about lining up. While I could find a few coupons for the things we bought regularly, it was tough.

  3. I used to feel the way you do, but I was going about couponing the wrong way – by trying to clip, organize and combine coupons and sales. Wrong.
    Now I use websites that do all the work for me, they list what’s on sale at my favorite stores and tell me where the coupon is located so I spend about an hour a week to save around $100. I also get razors, shampoo, soap, etc free most of the time. We do get our milk and eggs from a local farmer, and only buy grass fed meat. Still I spend under $200 a week to feed a family of 8. And I don’t eat processed junk either. The “Good” coupons can be found, most of them have to be printed online.

    1. Any specific resources you use that would be helpful? I did 90% of my coupon searching online and still didn’t have much luck.

  4. I agree with your post, my family cares about what they put in and on their bodies. I either garden or buy organic when possible. Often I see coupons for scented products that I will never buy.

    I have found that my best savings come from shopping at ethnic stores. For example Patel Brothers 45 minutes from my home sells bulk, beans, grains, spices and other items. Items like cream of wheat (sooji) I can buy 3-4 times the amount in commercial boxes for the same price. Also the prices on rice, spices. beans and pulses are great.

    I pretty much never purchase an item that “hydrogenated” on the ingredient label. I think that my husband would divorce me if I ever tried to serve him hamburger/tuna helper, too many chemicals and so little nutrients in those type of products.

    1. I’ve heard the tip about ethnic stores before–I really have to look for one locally and see what I can find!

  5. In the local South Florida paper, it was noted that Publix is changing their coupon policy:

    http://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/os-publix-coupon-policy-20110511,0,3151577.story

    Besides, I sometimes forget to bring my coupons, or 70% of the items listed weren’t worth it. I don’t want to end up being a food hoarder like some of the extreme couponists.

    You can also clip coupons (or print them out) for even restaurants, like Friday’s, etc. Not the best out there, but hey, they give you a great deal.

    heath

    1. Thanks for the link, it looks like the response from stores is already starting. When you watched the video, did anyone else get a sense that this is close to a full-time job? (“Many of my readers will check my blog multiple times a day for the latest deals…” — paraphrase).

      1. Yeah, they can make a little money with their blogs, that’s for sure. I just can’t justify buying things, even for pennies, that I’ll never use and watch my cupboard overflow with things I’d end up donating anyway. I’d rather donate the money and buy what I need.

        heath

        ps-You can’t get any bigger than Publix!

  6. Heath said: “I just can’t justify buying things, even for pennies, that I’ll never use and watch my cupboard overflow with things I’d end up donating anyway.”

    To me, that’s using coupons the wrong way. And a lot of people do that, especially when they first get started. Everything sounds like such a bargain! And it’s easy to end up spending even MORE than you did in the first place–just to snag all the deals out there.

    But once you get the hang of it and locate a few reliable blogs that alert you to sales and coupon matchups, there are real savings to be had. And it does NOT take much time.(money saving madness dot com or common sense with money dot com are good ones) I spend about an hour a week on mine, and I often save 50-75% on my grocery bill. We don’t buy much processed or junk food, either. But everybody buys toilet paper, cleaning products, toiletries, etc. That’s where you can rack up some big savings with coupons and sales. (With two teenaged daughters, we go through shampoo, soap and razors like mad.)

    I’ve learned to be very selective about the coupons I use and the time I spend on it all. If I hesitate at all about clipping or printing it, I stop. If I’m just clipping it because it sounds like a good deal–but it isn’t something we use or need–then it’s NOT a good deal for me OR for my budget.

    As long as you don’t use it, a coupon is only a piece of paper. Only use it if it’s for something you need. Otherwise, pass.

    1. Great advice. But if you watch those couponing shows, they buy whatever they can get, and trade goods with friends at couponing parties.

      heath

      1. Those shows are “extreme” situations, and they show them just to get other people riled up and to think all couponers are crazy. A tiny fraction of them might be like that, but in general, they’re regular folks just trying to save a little money. As my mom always says, just because it’s on TV doesn’t mean it’s true…🙂

      2. I’ve done extensive film and video production over the years (but now I’m a full-time writer), and I sum up reality TV like this… they play it up for the cameras. The drama and “stakes” are heightened, and nothing is quite nearly as “real” as you may think.

  7. I look through the coupons in the paper every Sunday and pick out one or two that I know for sure I will use. The rest I throw away. Its that simple.

  8. I think that couponing can be a good thing. It just depends on how it works for you. For us, I’m glad that I haven’t paid any money out of pocket for toothpaste, dental floss or toothbrushes in two years. (But I don’t have a room full of it either, probably a six month supply of those things, that I add to as we use up — for now, there’s always another deal!) Toiletries and paper products are where I often can see the most savings. (For instance, this is the time of year to buy razors… why? because every woman is shaving her legs, so the coupons and deals to get you to buy THIS razor are fabulous! So, I take advantage of the deals, and buy enough to get us to next summer!)

    Anyway, I’m glad that I can use coupons and stock enough junk food for a ten teenaged girls having chick flick and spend the night at my house for about $5. Yes, I buy junk food. I admit it. Because let’s be honest…. Movie night just isn’t the same with a veggie tray!🙂

    But junk food isn’t all I buy. Often there aren’t coupons for produce or meat, but those aren’t the only things we buy either. And my pups SURE don’t live on people food! I think there can be a balance between it all.

    I spend about 20 minutes a week clipping, another 10 organizing, and another 20 planning out the matchups. 50 minutes usually cuts $40-$50 off the bill. And nothing goes to waste.

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