Why I quit clipping coupons--and spend even less on groceries!

Yes, you read that headline right. I don’t coupon, and typically I pay $30-50 a week for groceries for a family of six—three meals a day (including lunches for my kids). I know that a lot of bloggers will tell you how wonderful couponing is, and it’s true that you can save a lot of money. I've done couponing in the past—I tried the Grocery Game for 12 weeks and did save money . . . when it worked. But here are the reasons why couponing just didn’t work for us.

Local grocery store sales schedules don’t cooperate

First of all, when I tried the Grocery Game years ago, they included some of the larger (more expensive) grocery stores. Now they only list deals for chains like Walgreens, RiteAid, and Walmart. When they did list actual grocery stores, the deal list came out on Sundays, and the deals ended on Tuesday. To get deals, that means I absolutely hdd to go shopping on Monday or Tuesday. If I’m busy or sick, too bad. Plus . . .

By the time I could shop, the shelves were picked clean

That wouldn’t be quite as bad except for the fact that, when I finally did get to go out armed with the best coupon/deal/sale combinations, there was nothing left. No, I don’t mean “Oh, my favorite flavor of this is gone, so I’ll have to settle for my second favorite” gone.

I mean the shelves with the sale items were completely empty. The end-of-aisle displays and island displays were gone. There was no more stock in the back. And the next shipment wouldn’t be in for days—till after the sale ended. “Gone” gone. No rainchecks.

Granted, this only happened with the absolute best sales, but it usually happened by Friday night (sometimes as early as 9 PM on day one of the sale, though!). The premise behind the Grocery Game is that sales run in 12 week cycles. If they’re so predictable, why not time the new lists so I can go at the beginning of the sales, before everything is picked over? And, really, are there that many good coupons in the coming week that waiting until the next Sunday’s paper justifies missing most of the good sales?

Frankly, I don’t need this stuff

To paraphrase Jurassic Park, couponing keeps you so preoccupied with whether or not you can, you didn’t stop to think if you should. You can get 50,000 razors for pennies apiece, but what are you going to do with them?

If you really want to save money, don't buy stuff you don't need. At all. Ever.

It’s just food

I know, I know, food is a little bit important in sustaining life. Right. But the things that coupons come for most of the time will not form part of a complete meal. For example, in this week’s paper, I found coupons for:
  • Fruit snacks
  • Cinnamon rolls, biscuits
  • Cereal
  • Desserts
  • Snack cakes
  • Chips
  • Candy
  • Frozen pizza and pizza-type things
  • Spaghetti-Os
Actual meals in there? Breakfast, biscuits as a side with dinner, freezer pizza and canned spaghetti (which I don’t even like). Healthy.

It’s mostly just food—food I probably didn’t need anyway. Again, even if I can get $50 worth of snack food for $0.50, once again, it doesn’t mean I should. It’s $0.50 I don’t really need to spend (and it’s never just $0.50) and it’s probably 50 pounds I don’t need to gain.

Granted, many couponing programs do note when there’s a good sale on fruit and meat, but I can figure that out myself.

I’m just not convinced

I know that it’s so easy to come home from couponing with a huge amount listed on the receipt as your “Amount Saved.” The rewards seem very tangible. But when I buy the store brand on sale instead of the name brand, my receipt doesn’t list that as part of my amount saved. While I could be saving just as much, the rewards are less tangible.

For example, I took a look at my grocery receipt for last week and compared prices on a few things that you just can’t use coupons on: store-brand milk, store-brand juice, meat (London broil), cucumbers, tomatoes and nectarines. I chose these because they happened to be on sale at both the discount store and the larger store I used the Grocery Game with store that week.

What did I discover? I was overcharged for my nectarines! I want my $1.47 back!

Erm, um. . . . In the amounts that I bought of these six things, the discount store was cheaper by more than $5 for one week’s worth of groceries. But if I really wanted to compare prices, one thing I’d have to take into account: I bought 2.23 lbs of meat, and the sale price at the other store (already $1/lb more) only applied to “Super Value Packs,” which would probably be at least twice as much meat. (And then I’d have to figure out a place to store it…)

Taking into account what I’d really have to spend to get that price, assuming I could find a small Super Value Pack (5 lbs, or two London broils), the difference grew to $13.63. On six things. That’s a lot of coupons.

What Works for Me

When I was on top of couponing, I review my stock of coupons before looking at the cheaper grocery store’s fliers. Then I look at the fliers and plan the week’s meals around what’s on sale. Then I write down anything else that’s a good deal that we normally eat and check my shelves to see if we’re low. Finally, I see if I have a coupon for anything in the flier and decide whether I really want it. (More ways I save money on groceries.)

We do still stock up on many things and rotate through our stock, but the #1 thing that helps save money is getting a sense of good prices for products. It takes observation and time, but eventually you'll be able to tell whether that's a good deal on meat or milk or mangoes.

My favorite shopping trick: Local stores periodically offer “case lot sales,” where canned goods (usually store brand) are marked down considerably—usually 50¢ a can or less. We stockpile canned goods during these sales. We use several FIFO organizers (first in, first out) and I’ve never run out of canned goods since we started really stockpiling during these sales.

I prefer shopping when and where I want, bringing less junk food into my house, and bringing home meals and food we’ll actually eat. To me, that’s the most cost effective way to get our grocery shopping done.

Need more help grocery shopping? Check out 11 ways to stay sane while grocery shopping with kids and 25 unconventional ways to save money on groceries.

Photo credit: coupons by OOingle.com 

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