Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Punny Money’s Grand Coupon Experiment, Part 3

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

behold the instrument of my cutting wit

I’m sure everyone’s eager for an update on the Grand Coupon Experiment since the last one was almost two weeks ago. I’ll skip the product-by-product breakdown and jump right to the big statistics.

Grand Coupon Experiment Net Savings: +$5.29, -50 minutes

That savings total reflects the use of coupons from three weeks of Sunday newspaper inserts as well as some from our local Safeway’s weekly circular. It also takes into account the cost of the newspapers themselves. The time total went mostly toward the act of clipping, though some of it reflects the additional time it takes to find and compare product prices with and without coupons.

So over three weeks and after nearly an hour of time, I’ve saved a little over five bucks clipping coupons. Am I happy about my progress so far? Not particularly. At the current rate, I’ll only end up saving $90 over the course of a year. Some may think that’s a pretty decent chunk of change, but when you factor in the estimated 14 hours it will take me to clip and use those coupons, that $90 doesn’t look like much. In fact, I recently calculated that $90 is the going rate for just one hour of my personal time. Using that figure, and assuming I spend 14 hours on couponing each year, that means I’ll actually lose the time equivalent of $1,260 a year!

Of course, that’s just my take on it, and perhaps I’m overcomplicating things with calculations of money and time. And again, maybe there’s more I can do to maximize my coupon savings while minimizing the amount of time spent chasing those savings.

So why is it that I’m not one of the many people saving thousands of dollars a year by using coupons? The simple answer is that my highly frugal nature has transcended the need for coupons, but allow me to elaborate.

Why Coupons Don’t Work For Some People (Like Us)

  • Time vs. money; winner is time. As someone who highly values his free time, the amount of money I save using coupons is small compared to the amount of time it takes to find and clip those coupons in the first place. I might be able to cut down on the time requirement by using a deal website like The Coupon Mom to let me know when I should cut the coupons, but even that doesn’t look like it would translate into enough time savings to justify the meager money savings.
  • Store brands. We are almost always happy with the quality of a store brand of product compared to the more expensive name brand version. Sure, coupons might make it worth buying a box of Kellogg’s Froot Loops over a bag of Store’s Fruit Circles… but what if the Fruit Circles go on sale? Ninety-nine percent of the time, a store brand’s sale price beats even an on-sale, couponed name brand item. And for non-food items like toothpaste and shampoo, the savings between store and name brand can be even more pronounced.
  • Food habits. We love our fruits and veggies, and they can easily account for a third of our total grocery bill. You probably won’t find coupons for fresh produce in your coupon booklets. The same goes for things like meat, milk, eggs, and other staples. Coupons don’t apply to about half our grocery purchases simply because they’re not items for which coupons are made.
  • It’s just the two of us. One day, when my wife gives me the nine children I’d like to have, coupons may play a bigger role in our lives. But for now, there’s only so much we need to eat and use, and that helps keep our grocery bills down even without coupons.

Now if you’ve been following the responses to the Punny Money article that started this experiment, you’d know that coupons work wonders for plenty of people. Does that mean they’re doing something right that I’m completely missing? Not really. It just means we’re in different situations.

Why Coupons Work Great For Some People

  • Discipline. It takes a certain mindset to become a hardcore coupon saver. This could involve buying stacks of newspapers for a particularly attractive offer, ordering coupons online, and designating entire rooms at home for cataloging and storing coupons. I could never be more than a casual coupon clipper, but plenty of folks take a pair of scissors to their Sunday paper inserts like a surgeon removing an appendix made of gold.
  • Big families. When you have a family of four, five, or twenty-three to feed, clothe, and bathe, coupons can help you stock up on supplies at great prices. Whereas it may not be practical for a two-person household to load a pantry full of 50-cent toothpaste, it’s a logical decision for Mommy, Daddy, Timmy, Katie, Billy, Amanda, Big Joe, Grandma Patty, and Spot to buy just about everything in bulk and use coupons to maximize savings.
  • Food habits and brand names. Coupons are also great for filling the pantries and fridge with processed foods and name brand items. While we rarely see a coupon of use to us, some people may go through a Sunday coupon circular and use 80% of the contents.
  • Time vs. money; winner is money. After years of experience tearing through thousands of pages of coupons, a few people may get that time-to-money ratio down to something much more worthwhile. If you can walk away with $20 in coupon savings with just ten minutes of work, then you’ve reached a level of coupon mastery that will probably elude me forever.

I’d like to welcome all the readers coming here from a Yahoo! Group which seems to have linked to the original Punny Money coupon article. The group is moderated, so I’m not sure what was said to bring everyone here, but it seems to have worked! I’ve been asked to respond to a few of your comments, so that’s just what I’ll do.

Angie says…

…when things (I use) are on sale, I buy as many as I can. In the past 2 days, I bought $524.54 worth of groceries for only $51.78. I buy meat in bulk for 1/4 of retail from a local farmer, and won’t have to step in a store for 2-3 months unless I want to. I do not own [Faye] Prosser’s book, I did my own research and figured it out.

Wow! I don’t think $500 worth of groceries would even fit in my tiny car. I’m a huge fan of farmers’ markets myself, though our local farmers lean toward produce rather than meat.

I’m also glad that you mentioned you figured out the path to coupon savings yourself. While Faye Prosser’s book sounds like a great read, you can probably find just about all the information you need to duplicate her results for free on the internet or in a public library. But at the same time…

Muriel says…

I would like to let you know that I have taken Faye Prosser’s class and absolutely loved it. She taught us how to save at least 50% or more off of our grocery bill. For that, I am very grateful to her. She is a great inspiration to those of us who know her!!!!

A good deal of the comments received in the last 48 hours have been less a defense of coupons and more a defense of Faye Prosser. It was not my intention to offend Ms. Prosser or her many fans who have benefitted from her teachings. I merely intended to pose an alternative point of view and to suggest that coupons may not be right for everyone. It sounds like she’s helped a lot of folks with their shopping finances, though I hope you’ll also consider my own arguments to see if coupons are the best option available to save you money on groceries.

Oh, and I’d like to ask a couple of you to take another look at the title of the site. It’s Punny Money. Punny means “funny,” so some of my remarks in the original article may have been satirical. I’m a little saddened that I need to point that out, but I guess there was no coupon in last Sunday’s paper for a sense of humor. (That’s another joke, by the way. Humor is free!)

Laura says…

I only shop at stores that double my coupon and then really stock up when the stores have “triple coupon days.”

After moving from Baltimore to a suburb of Washington a few months ago, we noticed that the price of food was just about the same in the two areas. We also noticed that double- and triple-coupon stores were few and far between. So while the shelf prices may be similar in both areas, coupons might make a bigger difference in one place than in another.

Heather says…

By all means, feel free to spend $100 a week on groceries. I’ll keep my coupons, thank you, and feed my family of 5 for less than $20 a week.

I’ve done all this talking about how much I saved using coupons and I never once mentioned how much I spend without them. A quick look through Quicken indicates that we average about $15 a week on all grocery items (food and non-food) for the two of us. That’s not quite up to par with 5 people for $20, but I should probably mention that I’ve been told I eat like three people.

jo says…

If the coupon is for a item you do not use and by using it, it will make the item free, why not get the item and donate it to the food bank. Just because you personally do not use it dont mean that NO ONE uses it. I feel sure that someone enjoyed the 24 cans of bush baked beans and the 48 boxes of kraft mac and cheese I donated to the food bank even though we dont eat either of them. I paid a total of 1.39TOTAL for BOTH THESE CASES food.

Very good point, jo. Coupons can do more than help you and your own family. I am curious, however, as to how long it took to clip all those coupons. Maybe I just don’t have the technique down yet, but it would take me a good long time to accumulate such a big pile. Still, that’s quite an accomplishment! (And now I’m hungry for baked beans. Wish I had a coupon…)

Angela Henley says…

I would be CURIOUS to see your shopping list for 1 week, maybe you could challenge a SEASONED couponer to get the same items you do at a lower cost USING COUPONS? that would be more fair than just taking a hand full of coupons on a one time shopping trip and then making a judgement call………

I guess it would be a little more fair if I extended this experiment a little longer. As for the challenge, I’m sure a seasoned couponer could easily match or surpass my system for grocery savings… at least before taking into consideration the cost of our time. For now, I’ll just have to be satisfied with being my own challenger. Can I find a balance between coupon savings and the time investment needed to acheive that savings? We shall see…

Brian says…

I enjoyed your turbulent comments and I think you’d like a short article I wrote called Following Punny Money’s Grand Coupon Experiment.

Thanks again, Brian, for pointing me to The Coupon Mom. Once I have a few weeks of Sunday circulars saved up, I’ll be sure to put that site to the test. I especially love one of your article’s comments: “Perhaps, if time is money, and if coupons are too, the experiment will prove that that the Sunday circulars are one commodity that college students, home makers, and non-profit organizations can trade for necessities.” Trading piece of paper for things of real value? What a crazy idea, but it just might work!

Pamela says…

You have provided an excellent place for all the people who have had very POSITIVE results from clipping their coupons to tell our stories.

I’m glad to be of service! When I first started seeing all these comments pour into the coupon post, I almost made a move for the “lock post” button. But I quickly remembered that comments are there for a reason, so I encourage everyone to continue to share their thoughts (whether for or against) on coupons in either this article or the original.

I wish I could reply to all of your comments, but there are so many and they keep on coming! But that’s great because I love reading them, and I’m sure Punny Money’s readers will appreciate the additional insights you have provided into the world of couponing.

Stay tuned to Punny Money in the coming weeks and months as I continue the Grand Coupon Experiment. Feel free to send me your couponing tips or comment here with them so I can be an awesome couponer, too!

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