Monday, March 3, 2008

Search and Ye Shall Receive: I’m Embarrassed to Use Coupons

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

apparently all groceries are red and all coupons are green in this world

This month’s edition of Search and Ye Shall Receive comes to us via an emotional cry for help from a desperate internet denizen who asks this heart-wrenching question:

What do I do if I am too embarrassed to use coupons?

Unfortunately given the nature of how these queries show up in Punny Money’s search referral logs, we can only imagine the full story behind this sad tale. Or we can just make up something crazy like this:

Dear Nick,

I am a 27-year-old physicist from Little Rock, mother of two, loving wife, but with a terrible secret: I am embarrassed to use coupons. Maybe it’s because I feel bad cheating the grocery suppliers out of their hard-earned money. Maybe it’s because I look silly whipping out a coupon at a restaurant when all of my friends usually pay full price. Or maybe it’s because I make six million dollars a year and everyone in town knows it. Still, I really want to be able to save 60 cents on my next purchase of two (2) cans of tuna fish. Is there anything you can do to help?

Ashamed in Arkansas

I won’t argue the merits of whether coupons are a smart investment today. Instead, for everyone out there who so desperately desires to use coupons but, for whatever reason, is humiliated by the very idea of trading a piece of paper for a discount, here is a short list of reasons why nobody should ever be embarrassed to use coupons:

  1. You’re probably not saving money. Okay, so this goes against the basic idea of what coupons are meant to do: keep more cash in your pockets. Unfortunately, unless your use of coupons nets you items for free, then you are shelling out some of your money—albeit not as much as the next couponless person—to buy those cans of tuna fish. You may think using coupons is embarrassing, but what’s likely more embarrassing is the crap you’re using those coupons to buy in the first place. (Feeling better yet?)
  2. Everything is overpriced. The last time I checked, virtually every grocery store, restaurant, and anywhere else that accepts coupons operates as a for profit entity. That means that a small chunk—or possibly a large chunk, depending on what you’re buying—of an item’s price tag is going to a big pot of profit for some company. Most everything is priced above what it cost to make, ship, and sell those items in order to add to that pot of profit. So if the reason you’re too embarrassed to use coupons is because you think you’re depriving some poor farmer in Iowa of his livelihood, rest assured that that farmer in Iowa, if he had a chance, would absolutely screw you out of your money if he could too.
  3. Coupons are meant to be used. If businesses didn’t want you using their coupons, they wouldn’t make them to begin with. And there’s probably a very good reason for businesses to issue those coupons in the first place. Perhaps they’re trying to tempt you into trying a new product, hoping they’ll get you hooked so that you pay full price in the future. Maybe it’s a restaurant looking to draw in new customers, so they’re willing to give away a free meal to do it. Or it could just be one of those “fake deal” coupons that gives you 30 cents off an item that is overpriced by $1.50 to start. Whatever the reason, coupons are there to be used, so you shouldn’t feel embarrassed using them.
  4. Coupons aren’t just for poor people. Yes, it’s generally the case that people with lower incomes will use more coupons than folks with six-figure salaries. But I don’t think it has anything to do with income differences as it does monetary motivations. People making less money are more motivated to find discounts on everyday products than those who are raking in the dollars. Thus lower-income consumers will invest more time clipping coupons and hunting bargains. As I’ve said in the past, the main reason I don’t use coupons in grocery stores is because of the time investment involved. I will, however, gladly use them at restaurants for deals like buy-one-get-one or save 50% off a meal because the savings is much more significant and the time investment is minimal. And if someone were willing to clip me grocery coupons every Sunday and give them to me for free, I’d gladly use those too.
  5. Coupons are a great way to uncover a person’s true intentions. One of the most common instances when people may feel too embarrassed to use coupons is on a date at a restaurant, especially if it’s a first date. If you’re paying for the meal and your use of a coupon somehow turns off your date, then I think that says a lot about your date. Perhaps he or she isn’t as fiscally intelligent as you. If nothing else, it’s a great way to sort out who likes you for you and who’s in it for your wallet. So if you’re loaded and want to find somebody who isn’t looking to raid your bank account, purposely use a coupon on your first date and see how he or she reacts.
  6. Who cares what others think? 99 percent of the people who will see you use coupons are business employees and random people in checkout lines—people you’ll never have to interact with on a personal level. But what if your gossipy neighbor hops in line behind you at the supermarket? Do you hide your $50 worth of coupons out of embarrassment? Sure, if you care what the other housewives think of you. Who cares if they think you’re “thrifty” or “cheap” or whatever! That just means they’re wasteful, selfish, and dumb with money.

If, after considering the facts above, you are still too embarrassed to use coupons, then that’s just a personal choice you’re going to have to live with. Hopefully one day the world will right itself and people who don’t use coupons will be the ones who have to live with the embarrassment.

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