Coupons: Gift or Gimmick?

The inventor of Coca-Cola began a new chapter in marketing 130 years ago, when he offered the first known coupons: hand-written slips for drink samples. The popularity for the fountain drink took off. Since then, businesses have been offering money-saving coupons and discounts to get us to buy their products.

Businesses hope that when you buy their products or shop in their stores, you will enjoy the experience enough to come back and make the same purchases. However, as available brands started to multiply (how many kinds of cereal are there now?) and competition for shelf space intensified, couponing exploded. Retailers then began offering to double, and sometimes triple, the value of manufacturer’s coupons, hoping that consumers could be lured into their store and make additional purchases. Eventually, extreme couponing became a trend, with TV shows and internet sites dedicated to sharing ideas for saving the most money.

If you’re looking to save some money, effectively using coupons can be a helpful technique. Before embarking on couponing, ask yourself the following questions.

How much time will I dedicate to couponing?
You can spend a lot of time finding coupons and matching them to the right store and product. The time you invest in saving money should be worth the money you actually save. Make a “time budget” for activities such as couponing and other chores. This process helps your prioritize your time and stay more productive in the time set aside for each task.

Couponing can be a great tool in your toolset of saving money to meet your financial goal, but you should make sure that the time you spend is worth the money you save.

How will I track cost savings to make sure my time is worth the effort?
Comparable items can sometimes be purchased for less than the cost of the product with the coupon. Try this: for at least 30 days, record the original price of items purchased with coupons, the amount saved with the coupon, and price for a comparable generic brand if available. Are you saving money with coupons?

How will I use the items purchased?
Nobody needs 87 bottles of ketchup, even if they only cost $1 with a coupon. Buying discounted products that you never use will cost more in the long run. Check your pantry before a shopping trip, and always shop with a list to avoid over-buying, over-spending, and wasting good food.

Where will I find and record my coupons?
There are paper sources, websites, and phone apps. Trying to manage too many coupon sites at once can be stressful and confusing, so start by getting comfortable with one or two sources, and then investigating others as you see fit.

What are my goals for saving this money?
Having a specific goal can make your couponing efforts more fun! Money saved by using coupons can go toward paying off debt, a fun activity, or even a car down-payment. Having a SMART goal and tracking progress is a great motivator!

How have you used coupon savings to meet a money goal? Share in the comments!

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