How Coupons Can COST You Money

It sounds ridiculous. How can coupons cost you more? Here’s my story from the grocery store.

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The following post comes from Rich Finzer at partner site The Dollar Stretcher.

We’ve all heard the urban legends about coupon fanatics claiming to have bought $300 worth of groceries for $19. And maybe it’s true. But personally, I view those tales with the same skepticism I reserve for reports of alien abductions.

I use coupons whenever it makes economic sense, but I’d rather do simple math than be blinded by coupon-inspired madness. Here’s a stark example.

My local grocery recently ran two specials on multi-packs of paper towels. Both were well-known national brands, and both were advertised at $6.99. I was placing an eight-pack of mega-rolls into my shopping cart when this happened…

A generous but math-impaired, coupon-obsessed shopper offered me a $1 off coupon on the other brand, a six-roll package, selling at the same price. I just looked at her. “I’m buying two packages,” she exclaimed, and then politely asked why I was so averse to saving money.

Just as politely I replied, “I love saving money. In fact, I just saved $5.40 cents more than you did.” At this point, my fellow shopper was confused. So I did the math for her:

  • My package of eight mega-rolls has a total area of 454 square feet and cost $7.
  • Her two six-roll packages have a total area of 418 square feet and cost $14.
  • With her two $1-off coupons, her cost was lowered to $12.

So the difference in what we paid was $5. The sales tax on the difference was 40 cents. The per-package price difference was $2.70. So my cost per square foot was 15 cents. Hers was 29 cents.

Strange as it may seem, and despite the use of her dollar-off coupons, my fellow shopper was about to pay twice as much for essentially the same product. Therefore, just because you have a coupon, it doesn’t mean you’re actually saving any money.

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