The Challenge of Couponing

Inside the coupon binderI’ve long been an advocate of using coupons at the grocery store. I often clip coupons for toiletries and household products and, when there are opportunities, for some food items like organic milk (I had a great coupon for this a while back). I’ve also used coupons for bigger purchases as well in the past.

Because of this, I hear almost every day from people who have great coupons or great coupon-offering websites. “You should try this!” they’ll say, or they’ll suggest that I feature the site on The Simple Dollar. A very recent example of this is Groupon; other examples include Coupon Sherpa and Woot – and I won’t even touch on the plethora of “coupon blogs” out there.

I don’t link to these things. In fact, I usually don’t visit them beyond simply adding them as a bookmark to a “coupon” folder in my browser.

Some of you are probably surprised by that (others might already know why). After all, on a site interested in saving money, why wouldn’t I hunt down coupons?

Here’s the truth: visiting coupon sites for the sole purpose of “saving money” will cost you money.

Let’s walk through the reasons for this. Almost every coupon you see requires you to spend some money in order to bring home the “savings.” Any time you spend money on something you don’t need, you’re taking money away from something that’s actually important to you.

If you go to a site that lists nothing but a bunch of coupons (or look at a coupon flyer), you’re not looking at coupons – you’re looking at lists of stuff to buy.

For me, successful coupon use takes a very different approach. Rather than simply looking through lists of coupons and identifying ways to “save” on items I don’t really need, I start with lists of the things I do need or truly want independent of the coupons.

In other words, I do use coupon flyers and coupon sites, but I don’t bother to look through them unless I’m looking for something specific.

So, for example, I’ll look through coupon flyers once I have my grocery list together. I’ll look at coupon sites once I’ve come up with a gift idea or two for a friend or family member or when I’m considering a specific purchase.

Another example: I have a special email address that I use to sign up for coupons from retailers I regularly visit. When I’m considering a purchase, I visit that email account and search through the emails (Gmail makes this kind of searching very easy) for ones that match the item I’m thinking of or the retailer I’m thinking of visiting. Almost always, I’ve got a coupon right there.

Aside from that, the coupon flyers remain unopened and the coupon sites remain untouched. Looking at lists of stuff to buy – even with a nice discount on it – is just spending time thinking of spending my money on stuff I don’t really need and don’t really want.

Let what you actually need lead the way. That way, you’ll never find yourself spending your hard-earned money on stuff that you really don’t want – and you can conserve that money for stuff that you really do need or want.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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