Monday, July 18, 2011

Dumb Couponing

Now that couponing has entered the zeitgeist, avid hordes descend on beleaguered cashiers, hoping not only to save big bucks, but best of all, score an appearance on cable TV. A little help for your budget is nice. A chance for celebrity, however ersatz, makes couponing irresistible.

Before you join the melee in the checkout lines, however, remember that coupons are a marketing device, meant to make you spend, not save. There are plenty of ways you can go wrong with coupons.

Stuff you don't need. Fifty cans of string beans that have the color and aroma of used Army uniforms from World War II aren't worth buying, even if you get them at 50% or even 75% off. While you might be able to defend having 100 rolls of toilet paper, on the proposition that too much tp is far better than not enough, there are very few things in a grocery store that are worth buying by the case. Stockpiling stuff you know you'll use is fine and even smart. But don't buy something just because it's cheap.

Stuff you wouldn't otherwise buy. The purpose of a manufacturer's coupon is to lure you in to buying something you'd normally ignore. It's meant to take money from your pocket, not save you money. You only save if you have a coupon for something you'd buy anyway. Focus coupon use on things that usually appear on your shopping list.

Impulse buying. Store coupons (as opposed to manufacturer's coupons) are aimed at getting you in the store, with the hope you'll spend your coupon savings on impulse purchases of full-priced items. You only get a bargain if you buy the coupon items and other stuff that's already on your shopping list. Don't think that coupons liberate your budget.

Shelving costs. Extreme couponers featured in the media all seem to have basements cluttered with rows of shelving that probably was bought at the local big box home improvement store. That shelving can get expensive when you buy enough to turn your basement into a warehouse. Remember, you can't put a rec room or man cave in space that's filled with jugs of laundry detergent and cases of pasta.

No quality time. If you're spending all your free time gathering coupons, and shopping at myriad stores in order to nab every bargain in sight, you may miss out on the finer things in life, like the next fad on cable TV after extreme couponing. When you're waltzing with your walker in the nursing home, you'll want more to remember than the time you got 50 gallons of mustard for $11.89.

The easiest way to save money is to not spend it. Save it for something that really matters, like a low financial stress retirement. Coupons are intended to lighten your wallet, so couponer beware.

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