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Explainer: 8 reasons why you shouldn't use coupons

  • Couponing seems to be a time-tested strategy used by moms everywhere to stretch the household budget. But there are many reasons why coupons won't necessarily help you come out ahead. Here are eight reasons why the savings generated from coupons aren't always worth the costs of collecting and using them.

  • 1. You have to buy a newspaper

    Image: coupons
    BEN STANSALL  /  AFP - Getty Images
    You have to buy the newspaper to get the coupons — but will you get your money back on the paper in the end?

    This doesn't apply to any free coupons you happen to get along with products or in the mail, but once you pay for a newspaper, you've lost money. You then have to make up for that loss by using enough coupons to break even. Then, you have to use even more coupons to come out ahead. That doesn't even account for the value of the time you spend clipping and organizing them.

    Story: 8 reasons why you shouldn't use coupons

  • 2. Clipping coupons takes time

    Image: Stephanie Nelson
    John Bazemore  /  AP file
    Coupon clipper and website owner Stephanie Nelson poses with coupons at her home in Marietta, Ga.

    Yes, you can do it while you watch TV and turn "unproductive" time into "productive" time. But there are a lot of things you can do while you watch TV — mop the floor, prepare a week's worth of meals or actually let yourself relax and not do anything for once. Your time might be better spent on another activity.

  • 3. Getting a newspaper invites lots of additional advertising into your home

    Image: postman delivery
    Justin Sullivan  /  Getty Images
    Are the coupons being delivered to your doorstep actually helping your budget?

    Advertising is powerful stuff — this is part of the reason why companies offer coupons in the first place. You might actually end up buying more stuff by having all those ads around, negating any savings you get from coupons. The same is true if a coupon compels you to venture into a store you wouldn't otherwise visit.

    Story: 5 money-saving shopping tips

  • 4. Many of the coupons will be for things you neither need nor want

    Image: supermarket checkout
    Paul Sakuma  /  AP
    Are you making purchases with coupons that are truly necessary?

    Unfortunately, coupon circulars aren't customized to your shopping habits. If you are a die-hard bargain hunter, if may be hard for you to turn down a good deal, even if it means buying something you weren't planning on getting anyway. However, from a financial perspective, buying more than you need or want just doesn't make sense.

  • 5. Coupons can tempt you to spend your grocery dollars on things you shouldn't

    Image: boxes of breakfast cereal
    M. Spencer Green  /  AP
    Have you noticed that many coupons are for unhealthy foods?

    Coupons don't always market the healthiest foods. This might mean that they'll lead you to buy things that aren't very good for you like sugary cereals and fatty or salty snacks. If your idea of a healthy snack is more "I'll have an apple" and less "I'll just have one serving of potato chips," you're unlikely to find much in the coupon circulars that will interest you. The "fruits and veggies" section of your coupon organizer is going to be a lonely place. Plus, if you have a monthly grocery budget that you stick to no matter what, coupons will only get you more food or different food - they won't truly save you any money.

    Story: 8 steps to an organized financial life

  • 6. The same coupons tend to be offered over and over again

    Image: coupons
    Nati Harnik  /  AP
    It's not just you: Many coupon clippers notice the same products have pennies off.

    After a few months of coupon clipping, you'll realize that you're repeatedly clipping the same coupons. This might work for you if you use the same products repeatedly, but it's not so great if you prefer variety and experimentation. You often won't use all the coupons you clip by their expiration date, so you'll have to toss that yogurt coupon that expired on June 30 only to clip another identical one that doesn't expire until July 31. This is time consuming - not to mention aggravating. The redundancy of coupons is especially annoying if the coupons are for items you don't even want to buy.

  • 7. You might become a slave to coupons

    Image: milk display at market
    Paul Sakuma  /  AP
    Do you buy items that sit on your shelves or in the freezer?

    It can be very difficult to buy something without a coupon once you get used to using coupons. Knowing that you can get ice cream for $2.50 might make it difficult for you to spend $4 on it even though many times, it would be worth it to spend the extra $1.50 rather than pine for ice cream and cast longing glances at your freezer every night for three weeks until your next coupon arrives. You might also find yourself making more trips to the grocery store in order to purchase things only when you have coupons for them.

    Story: What's eating away your money?

  • 8. Shopping takes longer

    Image: mom and daughter shopping in market
    Matt Rourke  /  AP
    Think of the time saved when searching high and low in your supermarket for that coupon-related item.

    If you have to hunt up and down the aisles in search of the item you have a coupon for, you'll spend more time at the store. This could also lead you to spend more money, potentially negating the savings you're working so hard to accrue.


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