Updated on 02.05.11

Is The Sunday Paper Still a Value?

Trent Hamm

At the start of 2011, I started an interesting experiment.

I grabbed the first five Sunday papers of the year, clipped the coupons that I found in those issues, and saved them in a separate coupon envelope. Most of the coupons were for toiletries and household supplies. A few were for food items – mustard, bread, and cheese among them (remember, I’m the only person in my home that’s actually eating a non-dairy diet). One was for a trade-in discount at a local used video game store.

Once I had the coupons, I kept track of my actual use of those coupons, comparing the prices on the items to generics and figuring out how much I really saved by using them.

Over that five week period, using just the coupons clipped in 2011, I saved $13.11 over generics by using coupons (not including any sales tax that might have additionally been saved).

Each copy of the Sunday paper cost $1.50 at the newsstand, giving me a total cost of $7.50. The cost would have been lower had we been current paper subscribers, of course.

So, our total savings in this period was about $5.61. We do, of course, still have several coupons left in the envelope that will likely raise this total at least a little.

The time invested in clipping the coupons was negligible – it was usually a process done at the Sunday lunch table. I’d flip through the coupons and discuss them with Sarah while eating.

For curiosity’s sake, I took the most recent coupons from my envelope and attempted to find them online. I did locate them, but some required me to install additional software (not happening – it’s not a security risk I’m willing to take) and they were spread over several websites. While there are websites that do list some of the coupons together for you, you’re still clicking a lot and using unnecessary printer paper and ink. I find this method, on the whole, to be a wash compared to the Sunday paper, as the paper is much more convenient and doesn’t use resources, but it does cost $1.50.

So, is this all still worth it?

I think it comes down to a very simple question: is the act of spending part of your Sunday lunch clipping coupons worth a few dollars to you?

For some people, the answer will be no. The value of spending time focused on their family is more than the savings from clipping coupons to them. That’s a valid argument.

For others, the answer will be yes. The savings from a pattern of coupon clipping adds up in their lives and they’re able to do it at times when they’re not sacrificing anything else of value. That’s also a valid argument.

In the end, coupon clipping, like every other time and spending decision we make, comes down to what we personally value. There are financial savings to be had in the Sunday paper, but are those savings worth the time invested and the other activities left in their wake?

For me, it is worth it on the whole. Our children look at coupon clipping as a normal activity. They see frugal choices as being the norm, not the exception. I save a few bucks during the process. Plus, I still get to sit at the dinner table and exchange thoughts with my wife and children, which is what I’d be doing anyway during that coupon clipping session.

Is it worth it? Sure is, even if it doesn’t magically put a mint in my pocket. In fact, I think I’ll go re-subscribe to the Sunday paper now.

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  1. JC says:

    The biggest problem I have with coupons is I clip ones that I don’t need and then I buy things I wouldn’t normally buy. You have to be careful about falling into this trap.

  2. KC says:

    I clip coupons, too, but I’ve never thought of that as what gives the paper value. I enjoy reading the paper, particularly the Sunday paper. There is a wealth of information in most regional papers. I grew up reading the Sunday paper with my family. That was how we spent time in the morning. I’m amazed at how many people don’t read the paper (or watch some of the news) – it explains a lot about our country. I can certainly understand with the online world why one would not subscribe the entire week. But clipping coupons isn’t the only habit I’m passing on to my children – sharing of knowledge, opinions and information is probably more valuable than $1.50/week.

  3. lurker carl says:

    Once upon a time it was worth our while to clip coupons from the Sunday paper. Not any more. The paper is now virtually worthless to us, both as a source of news and savings. The internet supplies the sales circulars and the few coupons available for items we purchase.

    I do miss having a stack of old news papers as fire starters, junk mail just doesn’t work as well as newspaper.

  4. Leah says:

    You’re not maximizing your coupon, that’s for sure.

    Drug stores are where it’s at right now, along with serious coupon match-ups. If you’re only clipping to use at the grocery store for the occasional match-up on something you use regularly, I’d venture couponing is NOT worth the time. But if you do drug store match-ups and serious grocer match-ups, it is worth many many many times more than the price of the paper. All on things you can use, or in some cases donate to places/people than need them. (I don’t need glucose monitors, but I get them for free at drugstores all the time. You know who needs them? Crises pregnancy centers. Win-win.)

    I think it’s misleading to your readers to imply this is an average Sunday paper value. A blog like moneysavingmom.com or southernsavers.com will quickly and clearly show the other side of that coin.

  5. Sara says:

    It is very rare for me to find a coupon that I would value in the Sunday paper. I eat a mostly whole foods diet. I don’t really use over the counter health products or mainstream beauty supplies. My cleaning supplies are generally homemade or natural. But my sunday paper is the NY Times, may not be indicative of coupon availability. I enjoy reading the paper, though, so I keep my subscription.

  6. Kacie says:

    The Sunday paper is worth a whole lot more than the coupons!

  7. Marsha says:

    Leah (#4)–

    The glucose monitors are frequently given away by the manufacturers so you have to buy their expensive test strips–frequently $1 or more per strip. The crisis pregnancy centers usually need test strips a lot more than they need monitors, since monitors last for years but test strips are only good for a single use. The whole scheme reminds me of cheap inkjet printer/expensive ink refills. I’ve get to see a good coupon for test strips.

  8. Michelle says:

    Wow, I save at least $40 every two weeks by using coupons. I just match coupons to flyers, and built my menu around the coupons that I have in my binder. And I don’t even use the drug store (where I could save even more).

    And the grocery store I shop at doubles coupons up to $1, AND for every $100 I spend in groceries, I get 10 cents off per gallon at their gas station.

    My savings from the Sunday paper are significant.

  9. Diffus says:

    We haven’t done a cost-benefit analysis, but my wife swears by thegrocerygame.com, a site that matches coupons (usually from previous weeks — you save the insert, mark it with the date, and don’t clip until you need the coupon) with store sales and matches. She only buys at grocery stores items for which she has a coupon; the other stuff (milk, bread, meat, etc.) she usually gets at Sam’s. Using the site’s matching, she routinely saves 40-60% on the stuff she buys at the grocery stores.

  10. Lisa says:

    I think it’s also important to consider that the per paper cost of a subscription should be less than the newsstand cost. That has been the case with every newspaper subscription I’ve ever had.

    That said, I love reading the paper so for me it has value far beyond the coupons.

    And my coupon savings (almost exclusively household items, as I don’t purchase processed foods either) average about $10/week. Stores that double coupons are key.

  11. valleycat1 says:

    #3 lurker carl – I agree, except that the new kind of paper & ink newspapers use aren’t that great as fire starters either. We gave up hard copy newspapers years ago, even before the internet, as daily ones just piled up unread & we got busier on weekends.

    Any coupons I use are directly from the stores (they print them at checkout) and usually the only ones we can use are the ones for a couple of dollars off an overall purchase of X. We buy very little prepared food, & simply watch for sales on those items & on paper products, shampoo, etc.

  12. valleycat1 says:

    Also, Trent, using the newspaper may not use your ‘resources’ (i.e., printer ink & paper) but printing a newspaper does use resources.

  13. maggie says:

    I agree with KC (#2)- our family finds value in the paper beyond the coupons. We pick one up only on Sundays, and then I read it and share interesting topics with my husband. Somehow it is a totally different experience than when we share info from the internet.

  14. Kate says:

    I’m a touch confused- the CONTENT of the paper isn’t considered a value?

  15. Anna says:

    You would have saved a lot more and made your coupon clipping worth it if you watched for sales on those items (as you already claim you do) and than shopped using your coupons in addition. The real benefit to coupon clipping is that you can combine them with grocery store sales & get name brand products for almost free. I haven’t bought a tube of toothpaste for more than $0.25 (CREST no less) in over 2 years but I have 12 tubes sitting in my bathroom drawer. Thats where coupons are worth the time!

  16. kristine says:

    We are extremely lucky- where I live, you get all the coupon flyers delivered, without any newspaper subscription at all. The bundle is as big as a Sunday paper, and it is all coupons. Long Island promotes consumerism like nowhere else.

    Still, I find that here, generics beat the coupons for brand names 9 times out of ten- as I look at both in the store and make my decision, coupons in hand. I’m sure that varies by locale.

    I read all my newspapers online, except for my freebie Wall street journal subscription.

  17. Interested Reader says:

    I’ve gotten into clipping coupons and also printing online coupons. I know a bunch of people who downloaded the software to print the coupons and nothing bad happened.

    I’m not sure exactly what the security risk is, I’d be more leery of adding a facebook game or something like that.

    Drugstores are great ways to save money, especially if you can combine sales, coupons, and register rewards (when they give you coupons worth dollar amounts for spending). For example I stocked up on batteries, toilet paper, and paper towels and got $10 worth of register rewards, combined that with previous rewards and the next time I went to CVS I bought $20 worth of merchandise for $3 AND got another $6 is register rewards.

    Also you want to check your grocery store’s coupon policy. My local grocery store takes competitor’s coupons and lets you combine store and manufacturer’s coupons AND competitor’s coupons. They define “competitor” as – Target, Walgreens, CVS, as well as competing grocery stores.

    I have a coworker who swears by coupon clipping services.

    Oh and Walgreens discounts the paper normally it’s $.75 a day and $1.50 on Sundays but at Walgreens you can get it for $.50 daily and $.99 Sundays.

    The best i’ve been able to save is over $30 at Walgreens when I combined multiple buy 1 get 1 free coupons with on sale and in store buy 1 get 1 free sales. Plus register rewards.

  18. Interested Reader says:

    Also to make sure any money I save at the store really becomes savings, when I get home if the amount is $20 or more I move it over to my online savings account. If it’s less than $20 I wait until I have $20 ore more and transfer it to savings.

  19. Patty says:

    I stopped getting the newspaper delivered to my house for environmental reasons. The coupons were of value but with the amount of information and entertainment online or in library books I didn’t want to ‘waste’ the one time use paper resources. I do get coupons from other peoples papers passed off to me sometimes and our newspaper company delivers a free weekly circular that has coupons in it. I’m not pleased about this environmentally but I do flip through the coupons. I used to do a lot of couponing but as we’ve simplified our lives and gone to more fresh/local foods (without MSG) I don’t get as much bang as I used to from coupons. I still like the thrill of the hunt with matchups though I never worked at the level of the drug store pros.

  20. Laurie says:

    I’m glad you went out and paid for the Sunday papers for this little experiment but you should know that here in central Iowa, at all Kum and Go gas stations, you can get a free paper when you fill up with gas. This is the only way I get the Sunday paper and it saves a lot more money than getting 3 cents off per gallon at Hyvee.

  21. Elizabeth says:

    I really thought this was going to be an article about whether it still makes sense to, you know, buy and READ the Sunday paper. But no, apparently the only value of a Sunday paper is the coupons. Sigh.

  22. Diane says:

    Reading the Sunday papers, I still enjoy it.
    It was a family tradition back when I was a kid and stores weren’t open on Sunday :0 (I know, it seems unbelievable!) In the early 60’s people didn’t work on Sunday either, meaning they didn’t cut the lawn or work around the house. It was a true day of rest. Church – papers – early family dinner (or visiting) – more papers, that was the routine.
    My dad would prompt us to talk about what we were reading. He would ask us to read out loud to him and discuss current events. The kids would look up new words in our big (paper!) dictionary. We’d do the puzzles together, and of course, read the funnies.

    Yes, Elizabeth – I still READ the Sunday papers.

  23. Leah says:

    @Marcia #7

    A single use for free is more value than no uses, or many high priced uses.

    I find this to be the case with razors as well.

  24. Courtney20 says:

    My county has a weekly paper that is delivered free to our condo building (we get a stack of them set in the foyer for the taking every Wednesday, and they stay out there until the following Tuesday). I always grab the coupon inserts out of one, and the bonus is that if there is a coupon that I know we’ll use on something regularly, I can usually go grab a couple more later on (I wait until Monday to give others a fair shot). I got six $2-off coupons for our brand of cat food last week!

    I also use coupons.com – not sure what the security risk is of installing the little printer program. It just puts a bar code on your coupon and keeps you from printing out 50 of them. If you’re concerned about the government knowing what brand of peas you buy, well, I’m not going to be able to convince you otherwise. But it is still cost-efficient for me, even though I’m using my own printer and ink.

  25. Sara says:

    I don’t buy the Sunday paper, but my parents do, and they don’t find it worth their while to clip coupons, so they save the coupons for me and I get them for free. As for the online coupons, I resisted installing the software for a long time, but I did some research and couldn’t find any evidence of security issues (at least with the popular ones like coupons.com and smartsource), so I gave in and installed them and haven’t had any problems. The majority of my coupons, however, come from eBay and thecouponclippers.com. If there is a good coupon for a product I buy a lot, it is worth spending a couple of dollars to buy 10 or 20 copies of that coupon.

    It never occurred to me that crisis pregnancy centers would need glucose monitors. I often get them for free or better, and my grandma only needs so many, so I am really glad to know of a worthy place to donate them! Thanks, Leah!

  26. I subscribe seven days a week in order to show my support to print journalism. (I’m a former newspaper reporter.) The coupons are a nice plus because I, like many of the commenters above, combine coupons with sales (and rebates, if possible). This makes it possible for me to donate a lot of toiletries to the food bank, an emergency shelter and a homeless encampment.
    Re “The Grocery Game”: You can get the same service for FREE at CouponMom.com vs. paying an annual membership fee.

  27. deRuiter says:

    The title should have been, “Is the Sunday Paper Still a Good Value?” “Value” alone does not necessarily mean good or bad. You have to the nature of the value. When you spend any money, it may result in a good value for your cash, it may result in a poor value. A vague title is not as good as a precise title. Trent was going on pure economic terms and he did a great job on the details and the thought process, one of his strengths as a writer when he’s interested and has dreamed up a good topic. The peple who are talking about the value of content are right too, but they are looking at an educational value instead of financial, both sides are correct.

  28. deRuiter says:

    Most coupons ARE for highly processed food instead of whole, unadulterated food, that’s why there are coupons. You can buy unadulterated real ingredients and make your own recipes. The manufacturer of the products on the store shelves, the middleman, makes the bulk of the profit on the processed food, not the farmer. That’s why farms don’t issue coupons for pure food they produce, but grocery stores issue coupons for their highly processed products. This is why American food costs have gone up, but not to the extent that the cost of food in poor countries has risen. We aren’t paying for a high percentage of real food in our processed stuff, while a poor family in a third world county is paying for raw ingredients like rice, beans, oil, so their percentage of income spent for food (already roughly 33% or so in some countries compared to 10% in America) is skyrocketing faster than ours.

  29. Jessica says:

    I get the weekend papers delivered and pay $8.02 per month for my subscription. It’s worth it for me. For example, we have two cats that eat Purina One cat food. A recent edition had a $2 off one bag coupon in it (plus lots of other coupons). That just paid for the whole paper.

    Yes, many coupons are for “junk”. But there are also qs for canned tomatoes, clementines, rice, eggs, mustard, oats, etc. I also use the personal product/toiletries coupons. Children’s Advil, sinus medication, etc.

  30. danielle says:

    It should also be taken into consideration the time required to hunt down the coupon items and he time to compare the sale price to generics. I couponed yesterday and it took me about 30 mins longer to complete my shopping to save a few dollars. For my time value of $, it was not worth it.

  31. Donna says:

    My young second cousin, age 10, hones his reading and critical thinking skills by reading the daily newspaper. His parents, both well-educated, discuss any item that interests him and explain to him anything he doesn’t understand. They started this at a young age and this boy is far more advanced than his peers as a result. Talk about value! I see merit scholarships in his future because he developed these skills early in life. If so, would be an outstanding return on investment.

  32. Brandon says:

    I think the big value comes with sites like southernsavers.com that will do all the match ups for you and also have links to the printables. You can even print a grocery list of just the products you want from the sale items. It is pretty awesome.

    We have had plenty of shopping trips where our total saved surpasses the total spent. Of course, if you compare to the generic item, it is not as significant, but often times, it is still a large chunk as the generics do not as often go on sale.

  33. Brandon says:

    Two things I should mention that save us a lot:
    1. I invested in a $25 laser printer from the state government surplus. This reduces the cost of ink to negligible levels (we have had the printer with the cartridge that came in it when I bought it for about 2 years now)
    2. We signed up for a program at the paper that allows us to get the inserts for free.

  34. Andrew says:

    #19 Patty–If you seriously think that there is no environmental impact to the equipment you use to go online then you are sadly mistaken. The excavations of “rare earth” materials (mostly found in China) that go into the computers, TV’s and assorted peripherals that we all love have created environmental catastrophes. Not to mention the poisons leaching out all over the place from electronics sitting in landfills. Makes the “dead tree” newspaper seem like a paragon of environmental responsibility.

  35. Thanks for a vote of support for a Sunday paper. I do work as a newspaper reporter and my blog is sponsored by my paper.

    That being said, I also have home-delivery subscription to one of our competitors’ newspapers. The savings value for me is not just with an array of coupons, but with comparing them to the sales fliers.

    Not all grocery store ads can be found on line. Some are too small / local to have their own web sites – much less get the attention of the regional shopping sites and blogs.

    I can also scan through a stack of paper grocery ads to find the specials I want much faster than by going to each store’s web sites and searching through the online ads.

  36. Georgia says:

    Our local grocery store has about 12-13 stores in NE MO. It will not accept coupons printed off the computer. There have been too many fakes printed and they not only accept regular printed coupons.

    I live alone and do not use a lot of stuff, so couponing does not work well for me. And, I don’t buy a lot at Walgreen’s or other drugstores, as they are usually much higher to begin with.

  37. PK says:

    Absolutely Not! Of course that’s only because our local paper is starting to deliver JUST the ads for free around here.

  38. Jeanette says:

    We don’t read the newspapers to get the coupons, which we may or may not use.

    We tried just reading newspapers online, but it did not work for us. (Took much, much longer; missed a lot of stories and generally wasted paper too as we were printing out stories for reference, which we do a lot. We also didn’t see the ads, which we need to see for business reasons.)

    I don’t mind spending the money on our main newspaper, as it is among the best in the world in terms of coverage and content.

    Aside from relevant local news, it provides international and national coverage. We don’t rely just on what we hear on TV or the bits you see online.

  39. elderly librarian says:

    good discussion of all aspects of this subject. That’s why I enjoy Trent’s blog! An alternative for those who don’t subscribe to local papers is to watch tv with your kids to explain the news of the day.

  40. Dash says:

    The sunday paper coupons are VERY much worth it IF you:

    1) Do not cut them out when you buy the newspaper
    2) Use a site like coupon mom (I swear by this site)
    3) Glance at the list on a weekly basis where you are told on a per store basis what you can get for FREE that week.

    I like the others who commented here agree that drugstores are definitely where it’s at. I pretty much have shopped exclusively at CVS as I much prefer the extra bucks which print on the spot vs having to wait for rebates, but thats another matter. What can you get for free by matching sunday paper (and online) coupons and sales, here are some examples (based on what is in our closet):

    Razors, Toothpaste, Deoderant, Shampoo, Body Wash, Floss, Toothbrushes… and probably others but those I know we have a ton of thanks to this whole scheme.

    Did I mention these are brand names only (i.e. Right Guard, Crest, Gillette, Schick etc) , generics only win out if you don’t know of sales and coupons.

  41. Interested Reader says:

    I read the newspaper only for local news and even then sometimes I can go a few days without reading the paper and still keep up.

    There’s no point in reading our paper for national and international news because none of the reporters cover national or international news, it’s all taken from the news wire. So what ends up in our local paper is the exact same article I read the day before (or several days before) online.

  42. Suz says:

    I track my grocery savings and coupon savings as part of my budget spreadsheet. Couponing takes me a solid hour per weekend, and I do wonder if it is worthwhile.
    In the past year (2010), I saved $325 on coupons and saved $950 on grocery sales (looking at the receipt, it usually shows you what you saved on an item.) I believe that my average was a 30% savings for the year. My goal for this year is to get closer to 40%. It’s always exciting to see a grocery bill savings line show that you saved more than you spent!
    Over 52 weeks, that is $6.25 per week saved on coupons and $18 per week saved on sales. It’s just me and my husband, so I am not buying anything for kids. It’s disappointing that fresh foods have very few coupons, but more organic foods are starting to put them out online.

    I believe that the Sunday paper is a good value in terms of coupons, and I find it relaxing and nice to read a paper in my hands instead of on a computer.

  43. AnnJo says:

    I combine coupons with deep-discount sales to buy things that are too overpriced otherwise to buy at all.

    So, while I’ll usually cook dry beans from scratch, if I find them on sale for .50 a can and have an additional $1 off coupon on 4 cans, bringing my net cost to 25 cents a can, I’ll stock up. While I’ll usually cook a pasta dinner from scratch, when I can get Hamburger Helper for 63 cents a box between coupons and sales, I’ll buy some for the convenience.

    I do wonder whether the time spent is worth it, but since I find it relaxing and challenging, much like playing a game, I just count it as entertainment.

  44. Lilly says:

    I used to clip coupons religiously, but lately I have been cooking more “from scratch” and when I flip through the coupons there are only one or two each week that I would use (mostly stuff like cereal or toilet paper). I will print coupons off the internet if there is a good “matchup” but I barely use them otherwise. We don’t use household cleaning products, cosmetics, disposable diapers/tissues/etc., air fresheners, or “convenience” foods and it seems like most of the coupons are for those categories of products

  45. Gail says:

    Cost of Sunday paper–$1.50
    Weekly delivery of our Sunday paper-free
    Reading and discussing news as family time–priceless
    Savings by clipping coupons results in lots of free products for minimal time.
    I think it is worth it for us…

  46. Gail says:

    oh, and recycling the newspaper as a weed suppressor for the garden after we are done reading it should be added to my list of why the $1.50 is worth the cost of buying one.

  47. JuliB says:

    I use my coupons, and also clip all of them for use by military families overseas. The companies take coupons from them up to 6 months expired. So it’s very worth it to me!

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