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.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Did You Know That CVS Stands for Crazy Values and Sales?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

plus buy one, get everything else in the whole store forever free

If you’re familiar with one of my favorite personal finance writers, My Good Cents, then you know the author is in love with a little drugstore chain called CVS. At least once a week, you’ll see her shopping in her local CVS, loading her shopping basket full of mouthwash, razors, and cough syrup. Does she have some sort of over-the-counter drug addiction? No no, not at all. She’s simply taking advantage of some crazy CVS deals that allow her to purchase a variety of products for super-cheap or even free!

Take a look at one of My Good Cents’ recent CVS deals. For a net total of $3.11, she walked out of CVS with the following booty:

  • 3 Glucerna cereal
  • 5 CVS cough drops
  • 1 Gillette Fusion razor
  • 1 Cover Girl lipstick
  • 3 Febreeze products
  • Some Pringles
  • 1 box of South Beach Diet cereal bars
  • Assorted cookies and Band-aids

Obviously she won’t be feeding a family of four on this stuff; but considering the razor alone retails for approximately $8,000 (stupid rip-off razors that leave my face feeling sooo good), I’d say she got quite a bargain.

Inspired by My Good Cents and in desperate need of 72 AA batteries (but not wanting to pay money for them), I decided to set off on my own journey of savings to CVS. As I was first alerted to by this discussion on FatWallet, CVS is currently offering a $5 coupon on an 8-pack of Energizer AA batteries which are also on sale for $5.29. You might be thinking, “Ooh, 29 cents for batteries. That’s a good deal.” No it isn’t! It’s a sucky deal. As you’ll soon discover, if you don’t walk out of CVS with at least $15 of free merchandise and discounts towards your next purchase, you’re getting ripped off.

My adventure started at the CVS a few blocks from my workplace. I arrived armed with the following coupons that I easily printed from the CVS website:

  • $5 off a pack of Energizer batteries
  • Get one free box of CVS-brand facial tissue (my wife is sick and has been using about 900 tissues a day)
  • $5 off a $15 purchase
  • $2 off a $10 purchase

I pulled into the CVS parking lot and parked near the exit, in case I needed to make a quick escape. A few minutes later, I was in the store, carefully loading batteries and tissue into my hand basket. I was tempted by the cheap candy in a nearby aisle, but it would have cost me money, and I was not about to spend any.

I made my way to the checkout lane and was greeted with a pleasant “next in line please” from the lady behind the photo counter. She cheerfully scanned my Extra Bucks card (the Holy Grail of CVS savings) and my items—three packs of batteries and a box of tissues—and accepted my coupons. My initial total started at about $16. She scanned the first coupon—down to $11. She scanned the next—under $10. She scanned the third—knocking me below $5. She scanned the last one—leaving me at $3 total.

Then I realized I was out of coupons. The horror. The horror!

Oh but I was far from out of coupons. Indeed, the cashier noticed what I hadn’t: $1 off coupons affixed to the front of each battery pack. $3 turned to $2. $2 turned to $1.

I was overjoyed—24 batteries and a box of tissues, absolutely free. But she wasn’t done yet.

“You also get $5 worth of Extra Bucks back that you can use on a future purchase,” said the cashier, handing me a receipt printout proudly proclaiming “$5 off!”

“Thank you very much!” I replied, grabbing my CVS bag filled with goodies.

“Not so fast.”

I looked up at the cashier. My heart dropped into my wallet. That’s it, I thought. I’m going to deal jail.

“And you get these coupons for $4 off a future purchase of $20 or more.” More paper receipts were flung my way. “And this one for $3 off $10.”

“Thank you! Thank you!” I bowed, clutching my bag and slowly making my way to the door.

“Oh, and what’s your favorite number?” asked the cashier.

“Uh, two?”

“Then you also get this free jar of jelly beans. Plus it’s Monday, so you get 12 free Hershey bars and four tubes of toothpaste.”

“Uh, thank you–”

“I’m not finished yet, biotcha! And because you have brown hair, here’s a 1:16 scale replica of the U.S.S. Saratoga, three copies of the DVD Shrek, and 18 dozen eggs.”

“Uhhh. I just want to go home now.”

“You have a home! That means you get this free jug of Vaseline and two tickets to the Ice Capades. Plus this innertube that looks like Hillary Clinton. And since you’ve reached 10 free items, you also get 5,000 homemade chocolate chip cookies, a map to buried treasure, and the deed to this building!”

At this point, I ran to the car with my batteries and tissues, but the cashier was close behind.

“How dare you run before I can give you this free gift certificate for a two-hour Swedish massage.” The cashier leapt onto my car hood and transformed into a vicious monster with fangs for teeth and snakes for ears. “I just want to save you money,” came her blood-curdling voice.

As I put the key in the ignition, she punched through the car windshield. I reached into my CVS bag for something to fight her off. The batteries were ineffective. My only hope was the box of store-brand tissue. As I suspected, they were more than harsh enough to dry out her nose long enough for me to escape. In the end, I got away with my three packs of batteries, box of tissues, and $5 in CVS Extra Bucks for the low low price of zero dollars and one shattered, blood-stained windshield. Fortunately CVS has windshields on sale for $3 and a coupon for $6 off of that.

I repeated the same steps at two other CVS stores in my area and netted the 72 batteries I needed along with two more tissue boxes. All for more than free.

Does this mean I like coupons now? No, I still think they’re usually a waste of time, but I wouldn’t call what CVS offers “coupons.” They’re more like “free gift paper things.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

How to Contribute to Your Family Financially Without Earning a Dime: 7 Tips For Stay-at-Home Moms (and Dads)

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , , , , ,

saving money is all in the family

By Robin Shreeves

Before I was a mom, I had a job. You know, the kind of job most people actually consider a job. One that contributes financially. Then I became a mom and my financial contributions stopped while our expenses increased because of diapers, formula, baby food, etc. Our family income went down; our family expenses went up. Sound familiar?

I saw my husband working so hard to bring in money, and I decided that I could show him how much I appreciated his hard work by spending the money he brought in as wisely as possible. I made it a project to figure out how I could contribute to my family financially.

I knew that buying things on sale, using coupons, eating most of our meals in, shopping around for the best long distance plan, and trading babysitting services with a friend would save my family some money. They were all no-brainers. But I looked for ways I could further save some money. Here are a few things I did–and you can do, too.

  1. Donate to charity (and keep track of it!). It’s easy to keep track of donations to organizations that send you an end-of-the-year statement, but there are other donations that you need to keep track of yourself. Sure, it’s a pain in the neck to tally up donations of clothing, keep receipts where you can find them at the end of the year, and be on top of it all. Go ahead and whine about it and then get over it. If you are diligent, when tax time comes, you will have helped your family earn a nice tax deduction. You won’t be whining then.

    Donations of clothing and items to non-profit organizations are deductible if you have a receipt. Make a list of all the items donated (clothing can just be a tallied list of number of pants, shirts, coats, etc.). Estimate the value of the donation, and staple the list onto the receipt.

    Other things that I personally keep track of are food items bought to donate to my church pantry, the items bought for our town’s Christmas Wish Tree, Thanksgiving basket donations, etc. I simply keep my register receipts and circle the items that were donated on them.

    Oh, and this is important–put all your receipts in a designated spot immediately.

  2. Use coupon codes when shopping online. I hate, hate, hate paying shipping and handling charges. I know it’s the price I’m supposed to have to pay for the convenience of shopping in my PJs, but I still hate it. I’ve found a way of getting around those charges at some online retailers. Here’s my secret.

    Online stores including J.C. Penney, Chadwicks, One Hanes Place, LL Bean and many, many others often send their preferred customers coupon codes for percent-off discounts or free shipping. There are websites that keep track of these coupon codes and anyone can use them when checking out.

    Sometimes the coupons are for free shipping (yippee!) and sometimes they are for a percentage off one item or your entire order. Now, if I can get a percentage off that equals or exceeds the shipping and handling charges, I’m a happy camper.

    Two good sites are and If neither of these websites have what you are looking for, Google the name of the store and the words “coupon code” and you may come up with something.

  3. Join Upromise ( Upromise works with hundreds of merchants and when you spend money at those merchants a small percentage of what you spend gets donated back to you to use for college savings. You can even earn money back on your weekly groceries by registering your supermarket savings cards with the site.

    The savings add up slowly, but let me tell you, when you’re forking out the money for baby food week after week, it takes the sting out of it just a little to know that 3% off all you spend will go into a college savings account for the kid.

  4. Take your couponing up a notch. Hate clipping coupons? Let someone else do it for you!

    Use a clipping service such as Coupon Clippers. The Coupon Clippers has thousands of coupons from the weekly circulars and other sources that you can get for a small handling fee. Instead of just getting one coupon in your Sunday circular for those granola bars that your kids go through like crazy, you can order five or more coupons for them, taking real advantage when they go on sale.

  5. Sign up for your local Freecycle. You’ve got lots of stuff lying around that is no longer useful to you. So do lots of other people. Freecycle allows people to post items they want to give away to other people who live in the same county. It’s a great way to find things you need for free and find new homes for things you don’t need. And it keeps those things out of landfills which is a really great thing for the future of those kids you’re staying home for in the first place.
  6. Make your own birthday cards for kids, recycle gift bags, and use the Sunday comics to wrap presents. Once your kids get past the age of, say, two months, they will suddenly be invited to at least one birthday party a month. Once they get in preschool that number goes up exponentially.

    I have set a general limit for $10 a gift for friend’s birthdays. But when you add in a card (about $3.00), and gift wrap or bag (another $1.50-$2.00) you’re suddenly increasing the price by 50% and that 50% will end up in the trash within a day or two of the party. It’s ridiculous and wasteful.

    Think about it. A minimum of 12 birthday gifts a year–that’s $60 you’ll save. If you’ve got two kids–that $120. When I see a savings of $120, I see a potential massage.

    There are several places online to print out birthday cards that your kids can color. They don’t even need an envelope. Just tape the card right onto the package. And that package–use the Sunday comics to wrap it or a gift bag that you saved from your kid’s birthday.

  7. Give older kids an allowance. “How can giving money to your kids save me money?” you ask. By giving them their own spending money, you have the perfect retort when they want to have something they see in the store–“Sure, you can have it if you can pay for it.” They may not like it, and you may get accused of being the meanest parent in the universe in front of the Target check-out line, but it will save you money.
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (6 votes, average: 3.50 out of 5)

Robin Shreeves is a work-at-home mom who has been published extensively online. Visit her website at

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Punny Money’s Grand Coupon Experiment, Finale

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

time to retire the scissors

It’s been a while since I’ve reported on our progress using coupons to save us money on groceries, and there’s a good reason for that. Okay, maybe not a good reason as much as a really bad one: we gave up on coupons.

The reasons I gave earlier for why I suspected coupons would not work for us are still valid. Clipping coupons took too much time and just isn’t suited to our two-person, generic-loving, produce-munching shopping lifestyle.

I tried my best. I really did. I bought newspapers every week, sometimes even if it meant a trip to the store on a day we didn’t need groceries. I poured over them, desperately trying to find coupons for items we use. At some points I was tempted to clip coupons for chips or TV dinners or other things we don’t typically eat, but this would’ve translated to spending more money than normal to save a little.

Several weeks went by where I clipped fewer than two coupons from the Sunday paper–not even enough to cover the cost of the paper, let alone the time I spent doing the clipping. That’s when I decided to call it quits and throw in the scissors.

I hesitate to call this experiment a failure because it simply proved the hypothesis I had going into it that coupons aren’t for everyone. And while I respect those for whom coupons are a saving grace on shopping days, I also encourage everybody to closely examine their grocery spending and make sure they aren’t just buying products because they have coupons for them. If you are, then you’re simply spending in order to “save.”

Friday, June 23, 2006

Punny Money’s Grand Coupon Experiment, Part 4

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,


As promised, here’s another update (albeit a short one) on my Grand Coupon Experiment. I’ve started to use The Coupon Mom‘s technique for coupon clipping which requires collecting each Sunday newspaper’s coupon books and storing them until the optimal sale price comes along. Only then does any actual cutting of coupons take place, and that’s managed to cut the time requirements for the experiment quite drastically. Since the last update, I’ve only spent 5 minutes on coupon-cutting activities, but we’ve saved another $4.29 after newspaper expenses.

Grand Coupon Experiment Net Savings: +$9.58, -55 minutes

So the savings are starting to build up, and once I have a good supply of coupon books, it should become much easier to take advantage of some of the great coupon-sale combinations at my local stores.

And in case you missed it, be sure to check out the recent Punny Poll which surveyed readers’ coupon usage. Also note that now has a full line of grocery items, but you’ll want to read my price comparison and mini-review of Amazon Grocery first before trying it out.