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Blog: Simplify Your Life
Are Coupons Really The Simplest Way To Save Money?

I just read an article about a woman who saved $400 in a month on her groceries by clipping coupons. Pretty impressive! I read through her grocery list, curious to see if she had come across some grand money-saving secret I had not yet discovered. Not surprisingly, nearly all of her savings came from purchasing prepackaged convenience foods -- and I'm not 100% convinced that this was actually a bargain!

The Problem With Coupons

Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a natural-born cheapskate -- I am always looking for the best possible deal on everything. And I love discount coupons when they actually save you money on something that you would have bought anyway. But most of them are for things that Matt and I don't eat in the first place -- Lunchables and microwave pancakes, pudding cups and frozen dinners, canned soups and cake mix. When your grocery list is filled with "convenience" foods, you're paying way more than you would buying fresh ingredients and cooking yourself. Sure, it takes more time, but most things that save money do -- there is always a trade-off. And it's highly unlikely that you will achieve financial independence if you pay more for convenience.

It's easy to get caught in the convenience shopping trap -- buying microwave popcorn (loaded with fat) instead of plain dried corn, getting canned or frozen vegetables (loaded with salt) instead of just hitting the produce department, grabbing a box of Uncle Ben's (loaded with fat and salt) rather than bulk rice. Even if you have a coupon saving you 35 cents on a $2.99 box of quick-fix flavored rice mix, you're still spending 2-3 times more than if you simply bought a bag of rice, threw in some seasonings from your spice cabinet, and cooked it yourself. The coupon is a trick, designed to distract you from an option that is less expensive even without the discount. Now, if you can find a coupon on the bag of regular rice, then you're in business!

The other risk with coupons is over-shopping. Have you ever found yourself buying something you would not have otherwise gotten JUST because you found a discount coupon? My dad was terrible about this -- he brought home all kinds of bizarre foods for no other reason than they were on sale (and most of those cans are still sitting in my mother's pantry to this day, because no one has had a taste for sardines or potted meat in the last 20 years!) It's only a bargain if you actually need it. So don't just clip every coupon that comes your way -- make your shopping list FIRST and then only take advantage of those discounts that match an item you actually need.

Time Versus Savings

Some people (my mother included) spend literally hours each week perusing the paper, searching for bargains. If you're 78 years old and retired (and have little else to do with your time), coupon-clipping might be considered an acceptable entertainment activity. But I've got too many other priorities to give up my days trying to save 15 cents on a dozen eggs! It's one thing when the coupon is sitting right on the store shelf  or printed on my receipt or emailed to my in-box -- but I'm only going out of my way for high-value discounts. There's a cost/benefit issue here. My time is more valuable than the savings I might get from most coupons. The fact of the matter is that not all discounts are created equal. A buy-one-get-one admission to a museum is definitely worth the effort, a free meal on my birthday is a good investment of my time, and I will certainly go out of my way for 75% off of a haircut -- but 20 cents on a bottle of Windex doesn't excite me quite so much.

I do occasionally find a sizable discount on cat litter or dish soap or shampoo that I can use, but even then I still have to be careful to make sure that I'm actually saving money. I can't tell you how many times I've found a coupon for a specific brand, headed to the store, and discovered that a comparable product was even cheaper. For some reason, this always happens with toothpaste! WinkI get a coupon for Colgate, then find that Aquafresh is already half the discounted price -- and the coupon gets tossed in the trash. Brand flexibility will save you more money in the long run than a Sunday paper and a pair of scissors. An even more reliable strategy with non-perishable household items is to wait for those semi-annual "buy-one-get-one" sales and stock up. I personally only shop for grooming and cleaning products 2 or 3 times a year, and I save a lot more than I would if I waited until we were running low to hit the store. And I save the coupons for things like kitty litter for which I am monogamously committed to Fresh Step!

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posted on: 3/1/2011 11:30:00 AM by Ramona Creel
category: General Organizing Tips

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Simplify Your Life

by Ramona Creel

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About Ramona:

I have been a Professional Organizer for more than 10 years, I am a NAPO Golden Circle member, and I was the original founder of OnlineOrganizing. I have worked one-on-one with scores of clients and have trained dozens of newbie organizers as they got started in the industry. I provide both hands-on and virtual coaching to help clients improve their organizing skills and simplify their lives. I invite you to visit my website at http://www.RamonaCreel.com, and I challenge you to find one new idea that you can put into practice in your life, to help you become better organized, starting TODAY! I am passionate about coaching folks toward a more balanced, productive, and enjoyable life -- and I firmly believe that if I can do it, so can you!

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