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Why coupons could cost you more money

If you are trying to lead a frugal life, then you probably cut coupons. I know that my wife and I are always on the lookout for good coupons ourselves. In fact, each year we are mailed a calendar that has coupons bordering each calendar month. The coupons are for places like Nicolitalia (our favorite pizza place), Sensuous Sandwiches (our favorite sub place), Coldstone Creamery, massage parlors, etc. We look forward to it arriving each Fall.

There is a problem though with coupons that easily leads to spending more money – coupons are a marketing tool or sales gimmick! Meaning, stores don’t send out coupons because they love us. They send coupons because they know that we are more likely to spend money. For example, I love Kohl’s. We receive a 20% off coupon about once a month. As soon as it arrives, I start thinking, “Oh, we could go buy some new towels for the kitchen. Or I want some new socks or let’s just browse and see what we come across.” That response is exactly what the marketing department at Kohl’s wants. I know people in Kohl’s marketing department and I really like them. But don’t be fooled – they want your money.

Marketers not only are aware of this phenomenon but spend time researching how coupons affect your buying habits and then share that information with each other. Don’t believe me? Here’s a research report just published on MediaPost, which is a news portal for marketing and media professionals.

OverspendingReceiving a discount is NOT saving money. You save money by putting money in the bank. However, corporations have spent millions and millions of dollars over decades teaching us that buying something on sale is the same thing as “saving money.” Spent money is never money saved. So let’s be clear that coupons help you spend less but don’t cause you to save money. Each time that my grandmother told my grandfather that she had just saved him “tons of money” by purchasing $100s in clothes on sale, he always responded, “I’d like to see that savings account one day.”

Now, you might completely disagree with me right now. But here’s the point that I’m driving at – coupons are great when you intend to make the purchase anyways. If you cut and collect coupons to use on purchases that you would not have otherwise made, then the marketing departments have won and you have spent money, not saved money.

Let me give you an example. Within 48 hours of receiving our coupon calendar, we decided to use a coupon for a 12″ one topping pizza at Nicolitalia for only $3.99. My wife grabbed a table while I ordered. I know how much she loves the cookies ‘n cream cannolis. So I of course ordered two. The total came to about $10. Now $10 isn’t exactly breaking the bank, but we are on a budget and we had food at home that would have cost less. Had we not received that coupon in the mail, then we wouldn’t have made the purchase.

All I’m saying is, beware when cutting coupons. Don’t forget that the reason you received it in the mail or your inbox is because some marketer knows that you now feel enticed to spend money in order to “save money.” So don’t stop collecting coupons, just judiciously cut the ones for your regularly scheduled purchases that you were going to make anyways.

Do you agree/disagree? Let me know in the comments.


Tags: , , , | Filed under Saving Money, Featured


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  • I have felt this way for several years. I worked as a cashier in the grocery business for a total of 4 years. During that time, I saw many customer habits–one of which was buying things just because they had a coupon for it. I worked on discount type local grocery stores, and I witnessed many extremes in saving money.

    I recall back in 1994, a woman was thinking of buying a 25-lb bag of sugar. She asked if I could check the price, which I did. Much to my you’ve-got-to-kidding-me thoughts, she said, “It’s a cent cheaper than the price at Food 4 Less [which has since ceased to exist]. I’ll get it.” I got the impression that she was from the Provo area–the store I worked at was in the Orem area–and had probably spent 50 cents in gasoline just traveling up from Food 4 Less.

    One particular thing I observed not in my line of cashiering, but just as I have looked at coupons myself is that coupons are often for name brand items. If I have been buying the store or off- brand of a similar product and the quality is there, then what is the advantage to using a coupon for a name brand if the net result is that the store of off- brand is still less than the brand name with the coupon.

    My mother always found a nearby grocery store and shopped at it consistently. She didn’t drive around looking for the best deals. She didn’t have the time. People who do that seem to forget that their time and gasoline are worth a lot more than “saving” a few cents. Just like a business, households have overhead costs, too.

    On a bit different topic, when pricing in the stores, check to make sure that the store of off- brand is less expensive than the name brand sitting next to it. Sometimes because of sales, the name brand is a better buy. But I would recommend not wasting too much time with that either.

    I agree completely that “saving” money is more of a natural high than anything else. I think I would be save to say that 90% or more of advertising is psychology.
    .-= Brent´s last blog ..Review of “*batteries not included” VHS =-.

  • I have felt this way for several years. I worked as a cashier in the grocery business for a total of 4 years. During that time, I saw many customer habits–one of which was buying things just because they had a coupon for it. I worked on discount type local grocery stores, and I witnessed many extremes in saving money.

    I recall back in 1994, a woman was thinking of buying a 25-lb bag of sugar. She asked if I could check the price, which I did. Much to my you’ve-got-to-kidding-me thoughts, she said, “It’s a cent cheaper than the price at Food 4 Less [which has since ceased to exist]. I’ll get it.” I got the impression that she was from the Provo area–the store I worked at was in the Orem area–and had probably spent 50 cents in gasoline just traveling up from Food 4 Less.

    One particular thing I observed not in my line of cashiering, but just as I have looked at coupons myself is that coupons are often for name brand items. If I have been buying the store or off- brand of a similar product and the quality is there, then what is the advantage to using a coupon for a name brand if the net result is that the store of off- brand is still less than the brand name with the coupon.

    My mother always found a nearby grocery store and shopped at it consistently. She didn’t drive around looking for the best deals. She didn’t have the time. People who do that seem to forget that their time and gasoline are worth a lot more than “saving” a few cents. Just like a business, households have overhead costs, too.

    On a bit different topic, when pricing in the stores, check to make sure that the store of off- brand is less expensive than the name brand sitting next to it. Sometimes because of sales, the name brand is a better buy. But I would recommend not wasting too much time with that either.

    I agree completely that “saving” money is more of a natural high than anything else. I think I would be save to say that 90% or more of advertising is psychology.
    .-= Brent´s last blog ..Review of “*batteries not included” VHS =-.

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