7 Ways Coupons Waste Your Money and Time

Woman with a basket of groceries giving thumbs down
Photo by Krakenimages.com / Shutterstock.com

Clipping coupons is synonymous with saving money. Just mentioning frugal living brings to mind long hours hunched over the dining room table shredding the Sunday newspaper into a mound of money-saving coupons.

But why? What’s so great about coupons?

It may sound blasphemous to some budgeters, but I gave up coupons years ago. Spoiler alert: I still save a respectable amount on groceries, I’m eating healthier, and shopping is a breeze.

Here are the reasons why I hung up my scissors and quit clipping coupons.

1. The cost/reward ratio is low

In exchange for the modest savings it offers, traditional coupon clipping is a demanding taskmaster.

By the time I buy a newspaper, clip the coupons I want, organize them, monitor the expiration dates and find stores that allow coupon stacking, it seems like I should just get the item for free.

2. Coupons are manipulative

It’s no secret manufacturers and retailers want us to use coupons for one reason only: to expose us to products we wouldn’t normally buy, encouraging habitual purchases. Once the savings go away, they expect that demand will stay and the price can gradually increase.

For me, staying on budget means minimizing my wants and needs and shopping with greater intention. Most coupons are distractions that wrap new wants in a package of “savings.”

If I really want to check out coupon options, your time might be better spent accessing manufacturer coupons online.

3. Coupons distract us from better deals

Saving money shouldn’t be an obstacle course. It’s easier and more rewarding to simply stick to store brands, learn which generic products to buy or wait for in-store sales.

Store brands often offer better deals than coupons — without the hassle. Without the overhead of sexy ad campaigns, package designers and product innovators, generics are typically a much better value.

Compare unit prices, instead. You just might never clip another coupon again.

4. Coupons push pre-packaged and processed food

When it comes to groceries, coupons often market convenience foods that are more expensive and less healthy.

Seriously, though, where are the coupons for fresh foods like broccoli or apples? If they exist, they are as rare as a coupon with no expiration date.

5. Coupons encourage over-buying

To take advantage of the savings, coupons often require the purchase of more than one item — “$1 off any three,” for instance. This may be fine for products you know and love, but it’s risky otherwise.

What if you don’t like the taste of the coffee, the flavor of the chips or the scent of the moisturizer? Instead of being out the cost of a single item, you’re out in multiples. Am I really saving if I have to buy more than I need, want or will use?

6. Coupons build brand loyalty

Part of the purpose of coupons is to establish a pattern of buying behavior and build brand loyalty. In matters of love, loyalty is a virtue. But when it comes to shopping, a little cheating can be a very good thing.

Blindly sticking to one brand of yogurt, pasta sauce or toothpaste means you’re likely missing out on better deals or products you’ll like more.

Brand loyalty may make shopping faster, but the benefits end there.

7. Coupons aren’t free

Don’t think those “free” coupons you get with your grocery receipt come without a cost.

Most are generated as part of elaborate loyalty programs that track dozens of data points like what time of day you shop, how much you spend on average, which in-store services you use and whether you have kids.

In addition to using it themselves, stores may sell your information. In exchange for those discounts, you could be handing over a big slice of your privacy.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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