As food and gas prices rise, store packaging contains lesser product than before, and television shows like “Extreme Couponing” on TLC pop up, many families have jumped on the coupon-clipping bandwagon. My own wife became interested in clipping coupons and following associated blogs/deal websites several months ago. We were thrilled with the savings (and still are as she continues to hunt for free or extremely low prices). However, there are several downsides to the hype that you should realize before choosing to take on “couponing.”
Your Budget vs. The Deal
I’ve shared before that our family has two bank accounts: billing and spending. The billing account is our automatic deposit account used to pay all bills. I then place the amount we’ve budgeted for gas, groceries, clothing, gifts, etc. into the spending account at the beginning of the month. We work very hard not to spend beyond the budgeted amount; regardless of gas or food prices. Even though we have a firm system in place for our spending money, my wife started emailing me “great” deals in which we had to “act on now” that clearly did not fit in our monthly budget wherein we would purchase a large amount of something at an extremely low price in order to avoid purchasing in the months ahead. The first couple deals I received, I said, “I trust you,” and went along with it. After that, however, I realized that she was bitten by the couponing bug and – a sort of “addiction” that can ruin your monthly budget and keep you from truly saving for the future and spending within your means. After all, saving and investing money regularly is the key to meeting your financial goals. You can’t wait until you’ve built a massive garage stockpile of toiletries and groceries to start. Are you curious to know our solution? We set a spending limit of $20 a week on “deals” or things we already have on hand and don’t need immediately. She has been able to find free toothpaste, make-up, and diapers all within that spending limit while still building a nice stockpile. That stockpile has already helped to reduce the total amount we spend on groceries each month.
Time vs. Money
All things in life will either cost you time, money, or both (as per my wife) and as such, you need to weigh the cost/benefit of each new activity your family takes on. Does the time you spend on clipping coupons justify the amount of money you’re saving? For my wife, I would say yes – because she spends very little time and money by only acting on the best deals. However, it is difficult to save the large figures (90% of your total grocery bill) you hear about on television without spending a sizeable portion of your time following the coupon blogs, matching deals with coupons, and finally clipping/organizing the coupons. The sweet spot of clipping coupons, at least for our family, was to figure out how much we thought we could consistently save while still maintaining the other important facets of our lives. While the amount she saves is still sizeable at the end of the month ($160 – $200 total), the small amount of time spent doesn’t interfere with our lifestyle. For each person the solution to this time vs. money issue is different, but should be considered on the couponing journey.
Deal or No Deal?
The issue of “Is it a deal?” is a dilemma you really have to look at carefully. For our family, this raises another question: Can we purchase the same item in the generic/store brand for less when we absolutely have to have it? If the answer is yes, it’s “no deal” because we can buy the generic item cheaper at its regular price whenever we need it. I’ll use diaper prices to illustrate my point: Before our first daughter was born, we went to several different stores around town and priced every diaper brand to see how the prices compare. We worked it all out to the “PPD” or price per diaper (using prices/quantities on the largest size boxes) and found that the two largest shopping clubs in town were actually middle of the road in diaper prices. The winner of our hunt was the Wal-Mart store brand, Parent’s Choice. We’ve also recently found fantastic B1G1 (buy one, get one) deals at Walgreens on diapers that are comparable to Huggies. Before my wife started using coupons, we discussed the “deal or no deal” dilemma; she has yet to find a coupon combination for Huggies or Pampers diapers in a local store (However, I’m told Amazon.com has some great deals if you combine coupon codes found in different parenting magazines and on Amazon itself) that justify purchasing them.
I value the work my wife does to save our family money, and appreciate everyone who has forged the couponing path for her. However, I caution you to not lose sight of what’s really important to you in your quest to save tons of money. Like all things in life, moderation is key. Find a happy medium that enables you to place your family priorities above scoring the next deal, and then just enjoy coupon-clipping for the fun, money-saving hobby it can become.
Do you need an assessment of your current cash flow/spending plan, or help reducing the amount you spend each month? Call me to schedule a free consultation – 913.693.7918.
John P. Chladek, MBA, CFP® is the President of Chladek Wealth Management, LLC, a fee-only financial planning and investment management firm specializing in helping families and couples who are not yet retired realize their financial goals. For more information, visit http://www.chladekwealth.com.
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