Coupons – Money maker or time waster

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One of our readers Mandi wrote an excellent article on Suite101 about her inner battle to coupon or not. She wanted to share it with us:

Coupons are a trend that is picking up speed in our society, with today’s economy. With National Coupon Month at a close, I find it an opportune time to discuss the dollars and sense of coupon clipping. There is a lot of hype on whether or not it is cost effective to clip coupons; so, what better way than to put coupon clipping to the test.

I found myself sitting in a coupon clipping seminar this month and thought, “why not?” So, I put my scissors to work during the last half of September. I have often clipped a coupon here and there for items that I thought I might use, only to find that by the time I remembered they were in my purse, they were expired. I sat in awe as I listened to a stay-at-home mother explain how she purchases around $1000.00 worth of groceries a month for no more than $200.00.

I tapped myself into a couple of local coupon blogs that did most of the work for me and I found it a little easier than I had anticipated. There are a plethora of websites and blogs out there that will give you a list of all the weekly ads and the best deals for the week, for just about every grocery store out there. Not only do they tell you about all the deals, they even direct you straight to the coupons you will need. Talk about taking the work out of it for someone on a time crunch.

I pretty much stuck to one store, simply because it is close to my house and I like to shop there. I was already subscribed to the local Sunday paper, so that part was easy; and, many newspapers will have specials for subscribing to multiple Sunday papers. I didn’t find myself organizing my coupons as well as I would have liked, but I did use a little plastic envelope with dividers that worked pretty well. All-in-all, with clipping, printing, sorting, and a little extra time in the store, I spent around three to four extra hours a week preparing for the deals.

So, how does three to four extra hours a week compute to spectacular savings? Well, I have been carrying around a little notebook with me, keeping track of grocery lists, the best deals, the coupons, and the receipts. I took a little time to add it up today and found that I purchased $924.33 worth of groceries for $376.43. Fifty-nine percent is pretty spectacular savings, especially considering I shopped fairly conservatively and was feeding a family of five for about $700.00 to $800.00 a month for the last several years. The extra money spent went to stocking up. That is right, I actually stocked up! I am not talking about a little stocking up either. My freezer is full, my pantry is full, and my cellar shelves are on their way.

Now I have to get to the good stuff. ‘Coupons are just for foods and products you would otherwise never buy,’ you say? Well, I like to feed my family healthy food. I buy organic milk, eggs, yogurt, bread, cereal, fruit, vegetables, and more. Yea, I know, ‘organic isn’t necessarily organic.’ Here’s the thing, there are a number of ingredients that I like to avoid, including growth hormones, antibiotics, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, and partially hydrogenated oils. When I buy organic, I know those are not in the ingredients (I don’t like to spend a lot of time reading ingredients). Well, for some of the organic items that I purchase on a regular basis, I ‘paid someone for their time,’ and purchased them online for pennies on the dollar. The coupons arrived fast, too.

Doing the math on my savings, I calculate that even with me being completely new at this and figuring things out as I went, I spent right around seven hours over a two week period and saved $547.90. That is $78.27 per hour for clipping coupons. That seems like a pretty good income (or savings) for doing a job with kids in tow the entire time. I did figure out that it does save on time to go to the store when it is less crowded and the cashiers are a bit more patient. I am also cutting down on my time as I get the hang of bargain hunting and develop methods for my clipping and organizing.

Let’s admit it, the coupon industry is a big one. According to the Promotion Marketing Association, consumers redeemed nearly 3.2 billion coupons in 2009, saving nearly 3.5 billion dollars. That is over a dollar per coupon. In addition, coupon redemption increased by 7.9% in the first half of 2010, and consumers saved almost 2 billion dollars in that time. The coupon industry is a growing trend and manufacturers are catching on. Coupon distribution increased by 11.4% in the first half of 2010, as well. Internet coupon usage has grown by a whopping 79% from last year, but only represents 1.2% of coupon distribution. Finally, the projected redemption value of online coupons in the United States in 2010 is 12.7 billion dollars.(Coupon Facts 2010)

Who says clipping coupons doesn’t pay? My $78.27 per hour says it does. I definitely say, “Money Maker!” What could you do with an extra $547.90 in a time of decreased budgets and tightened belts?

Read more at Suite101: Coupons: Money Maker or Time Waster?

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