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6 coupon myths debunked

Not worth your time? Just for junk food? Coupon bloggers rebut these and other commonly held beliefs.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 4, 2012 12:52PM

Image: Coupon (© Photodisc Green/Getty Images)September is National Coupon Month, which means that coupon bloggers are preaching the mantra of money-saving. Their experiences (and mine) are quite different from the ones cited by Kentin Waits in "5 reasons I don't clip coupons," over on MSN Money's Smart Spending blog.

Some coupon bloggers and I are giving five rebuttals, plus another myth-and-debunking thrown in for good measure.

Waits, a staff writer at Wise Bread, says he won't clip because: 

  • You usually have to buy something to get a coupon.
  • Coupons attempt to modify behavior.
  • Coupons encourage overbuying.
  • The savings versus time investment is low with coupons.
  • Coupons typically push prepackaged, processed foods.

Let's do this methodically. His first quibble is that while some coupons are mailed out free or are accessible online for free, most are found in the Sunday newspaper.

Not only does he not read the paper, he doesn't want "to have to buy something in order to be offered the chance to save money. It seems contradictory and is a bit too complicated for my taste," Waits writes.

I've talked to a lot of people who use coupons to stretch super-tight budgets, not to get a shot at TV's "Extreme Couponing." They obtain their Qs in creative ways: 

  • Buying the Sunday paper at the dollar store.
  • Asking friends/family to save unwanted coupon inserts.
  • Visiting coffeehouses, fast-food joints and anywhere else Sunday papers are read and tossed aside.
  • Pulling coupon sections from recycle bins. (Here in Seattle coupon sections are mailed with the Wednesday food ads. I've gotten extras from the lobby recycle bin.)
  • Trading coupons with other users.
  • Keeping an eye out for "blinkies," coupons that pop out of little machines attached to store shelves, and "peelies," Qs that are attached to products.

Working the system

"Coupons attempt to modify behavior."
Well, of course they do. It’s called "marketing." But consumers can turn this to their own advantage by combining coupons and sale prices. Stephanie Nelson refers to this as "strategic shopping," and it's a lot easier than it sounds.

"This is not your grandma's coupon clipping. This is an online, savvy way of doing it," says Nelson, author of "The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Food Bill in Half."

Sites like her and The Krazy Coupon Lady do the matchups for you. So do lots of other sites, many of them regional. Do an Internet search for "deals" plus the name of the store, and "you'll find (a local blogger) has done the work for you," Nelson says.

"Coupons encourage overbuying."
Waits says that "often" multiple items are required, and he doesn't want to do that, especially if it turns out he doesn't like the product. (Post continues after video.)

"Often" is one of those annoyingly squishy words. How often? Half the time, three-quarters of the time? Lately I've noticed cereal coupons have been requiring three-box purchases, but my experience is that multiple items aren't required "often."

Here's an antidote: Don't buy in, so to speak, to multiple-item offers if they don't work for you. Stick to the deals you know will benefit your budget.

And if you don't like a product? Chalk it up to "well, it was worth a try." If you did buy more than one, donate it to a food bank or return it for a refund.

Beyond Froot Loops

"The savings versus time investment is low with coupons."
When a coupon is worth only 50 cents, is it worth it? Depends on how you use the discount. Strategic shopping, again, is the way to go.

"You need to take advantage of sales by stocking up when prices hit rock bottom, while combining coupons and other store promotions. This will avoid the need to buy at full price until the next sale comes along," says Laura Harders, who blogs at Beltway Bargain Mom.

"Coupons typically push prepackaged, processed foods."

Granted. But "typically" doesn’t mean "always."

"I eat gluten-free and organic and still save 50% off my groceries weekly," says Lauren Greutman, who blogs at

When people complain "there aren't any coupons for the items I buy," blogger Karen Rodriguez replies, "I hope people are buying toilet paper and toothpaste."

Adds Rodriguez, whose site is called Saving the Family Money, "There are organic coupons, toiletries coupons and even produce coupons, if you know where to look." 


She also notes that the money you save on toiletries and household items can go toward the products for which you can't find coupons.

Finally, here's a myth Waits didn't mention but that I've heard from time to time: "Coupons are only for families/people with kids." Personally, my heaviest use of coupons took place when I was a midlife college student working part time and paying down divorce-related debt. Strategic shopping meant getting a lot of items free or nearly free both for myself and my daughter. What we couldn't use we donated to a social services agency and my church's emergency pantry.

Not an all-or-nothing
Waits questions whether the effort of couponing can really pay off. "Wouldn't buying generic save me just as much without all the hassle?" he asks.

Not unless they're giving away generic products for free. I'd also suggest he try one of the "5 ways to get cheaper generics."

Couponing doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing practice. Some weeks I use zero (in part because my cupboards are fairly full already), and some weeks I use lots. It's been years since I paid full price for certain items, especially toiletries; I routinely get them for free and never pay more than 25% of the retail price.

Here's what I suggest: Read sites like CouponMom, Krazy Coupon Lady or a localized shopping blog. It takes only a few minutes to see if any of the deals suit your needs. Download or clip the necessary coupons, and you're on your way.

No matches? No worries. Couponing is completely optional. But don't dismiss it out of hand. You might be surprised how much fun it is to walk out of a store with free or nearly free items. What could the extra $10 to $50 a week do for your bottom line?

Learn more at "Couponing 101," a live Facebook chat presented by some of's "DealPro" shopping experts at 6 p.m. PDT Sept. 5. In addition, five DealPros will present a live webinar (with Q&A) on coupon and savings tactics at 2:30 p.m. EDT Monday, Sept. 10. It's free; RSVP here. 


More on MSN Money:

Sep 14, 2012 9:21PM
I live in WA.  A local mark chain offers coupons and sales that go right on your "Safeway Card".  There is no cutting and the sight gets to know what you buy.  I've tracked my saving and it is running between 45% to 50%.  It takes some time on the cumputer but is worth it.  I've tried different sights for cutting coupons and most want you to go to another sight that is in the first sight.  I've found that it is not worth it.  I do clip newspaper coupons and when the store has a sale on the card from the store.  The c/o and sale is well worth it.  I have not paid over 50 cents for hair products.  Using the store web sight makes it affordable to go to a smaller store.  This avoids the large stores ex. Walmart.  The meat and  produce department doesn't compare to the large bulk stores.  I live alone and on a fixed income.  It my time is once or twice a seek looking at the suppermark  web sight while checking my email is nice.  Mary Anne
Sep 14, 2012 8:18PM

Where can i get a coupon for scissors? I can't afford the equipment to clip the coupons. The last coupon I used was for buy one get one free Marlboro red.

Now I have emphysema and am too weak to tear out coupons. Yes, the sales guys are really looking out for us.

Sep 14, 2012 5:57PM
I'd like to see these companies STOP wasting paper on coupons and rebates (ANOTHER waste of time IMHO) and just knock whatever amount off the price of their products!!
Sep 14, 2012 5:09PM
to put it quite are a pain in the ****..!!  coupon clippers always seem to be in the express lines in walmart or the supermarket..they figit and fiddle with the damn things until you get really disgusted and walk away...just like people who still use checks...they write the entire check right there in line instead of writing the check at home and just filling in the amount at the never ceases to amaze me how inconsiderate and stupid some people can should be redeemed at the courtesy counter and the customer should be given a voucher to cash in at the register...there really is no savings with coupons..most times you have to buy two in order to get .50 cents off...its all a gimmick and a scam to get you to buy something you really don't need or want just to save 50 cents...
Sep 6, 2012 11:32AM

Mr. Waits objections to the use of coupons are patently absurd. I suspect his column was a "debater's position," taken for the purpose of creating notice and discussion, such as today's, on this thread.


The only issue I take with grocery coupons is that the Kroger and Albertson chain coupons are becoming more scarce and less valuable. The effect of this is to make buying at essentially-no-copuons Costco look better for certain items such as milk and hamburger.

Sep 5, 2012 11:10AM
Where I live, it is hard to find the good deals that a lot of bloggers post about. There are no grocery stores that double coupons. There aren't that many that do store coupons, so you have to be very creative...and very patient. For most everything I buy, I only buy when its on sale, so even if I don't have coupons, I am saving a little bit. Almost everything goes on sale at some point. The key is to learn the sale cycles and stock up a bit (You don't have to go overboard like on tv) when something is on sale. What you save with sales and coupons can go toward the fresh items that don't always have coupons to go with them.

When I do find a good deal it's totally worth it. The other day, I was able to get 4 packages of johnsonville brats, two packages of j-ville sausage, 4 bottles of glade carpet freshener (I rent a house with old smelly carpet...this comes in very handy!) and 2 packages of cascade detergent pacs for $15.  Two packages of the brats alone at regular price would have cost me almost that much.

But it's probably been a good 6 months since I hit a deal that good. The big deals like that are few and far between for me, but when it happens it is totally wroth it. The above, actually was almost all unexpected. I planned on getting 2 packages of brats, 2 carpet fresheners and the cascade, which would have cost me around $18. However the brats had coupons on them making the sausage free, and the carpet freshener had coupons on them that (I think it was a glitch... but it worked to my advantage) worked with the coupons I had to make them only .25 cents each. They're normally around $3 each.

Stocking up on essentials and cleaning supplies is a lot easier. Since it doesn't expire, you can buy more.

I stumbled on some last chance clearance items at Dollar General last year that were also marked Buy one get one free. After coupons, I got a ton of dish soap, aluminum foil, and cleaning supplies... stuff that doesn't go bad and in the end will last me a couple of years or more, for around $20.

Last Christmas, a friend posted on facebook a link to some really great $2, $3, and $4 off coupons for board games on the manufacture's website. I printed them "just in case." And I'll be darned if that Sunday's Big lots ad wasn't advertising a sale on board games. $5 each. Since Big lots doesn't take manufacturers coupons, I price matched at walmart and got 30-35 games for $1-$3 each. I was able to keep 1 of each game for my game closet, give 1 of each to my niece and nephew for Christmas and donate the rest (I think I donated 8-10 games) to my church for Christmas gifts for low income families. Big lots also had ALL (the brand) laundry detergent on sale for $2 each. By using my $1 off coupons, I paid $1 each (they're usually $4-$5 each) and still have enough detergent to do laundry for 4 people for at least another whole year.

The point is to keep your eyes pealed. It's a rush to find a good deal, and definitely helps when you're on a tight budget. You don't have to be a hard core, full time couponer who sits at the computer for hours every day or gets carpal tunnel from cutting them from the paper, but even the small scores add up!!

Sep 4, 2012 11:44PM
Sorry, I don't buy it.

Paid off child's student loans
Gifted a used car
3 trips to Europe
New car purchase

All due to coupon savings. Conservatively, that has to be at least $40,000 in 4 years. How can you save $800/mo with coupons? I don't even spend that much on groceries and toiletries for a family of 5.

Coupons are junk. They do encourage over consumption. They are a hassle and require a lot of time and effort, and newspaper subscriptions or a lot of driving (which is not exactly free).

Stop looking to gimmicks as financial solutions. Why don't manufacturers and retailers just lower prices instead of offering coupons? It is a waste of time. Productivity is what makes our economy go, and coupons do not increase productivity in any way.
Sep 4, 2012 1:56PM
I started to clip coupons in preparation for a potential job loss December 2008. When my job situation stabilized I continued to clip coupons since I found I was saving a lot of money. I was probably spending $100 or more on toiletries and sundries at the best discount store in town and dollar stores and was now spending less than $10 per month on those items!

Fast forward to 2012: the savings have been noticeable. We paid kiddo's student loans for him as a graduation present and gave him our "old" paid off car (car is only 6 years old). 3 trips to Europe happened. Another new car was purchased and paid off.

Happily, a group of folks in my area get together several times a month to pool our coupon resources and we save even more money than we had as individuals. We also barter items we may have over-bought for free or cheap which also saves us a lot of money.

I can sum up my coupon experience this way - if you wouldn't pass up a $1 bill on the sidewalk, you shouldn't pass up a $1 off coupon on toothpaste.

Now that I have a taste for it, I would much rather spend a manufacturer's money than my family's money to buy products for myself, my extended family, my co-workers or a needy stranger at the food bank.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.