Updated on 08.28.07

Should A Frugal Person Bother With The Coupon Section In The Sunday Paper?

Trent Hamm

Each Sunday, my wife and I receive the Des Moines Register on our doorstep. It provides us material to read over while we eat breakfast on Sunday, and we usually peruse the flyers inside the paper as well to see what’s on sale at various Iowa grocery stores in the next week (most of these flyers cover most of the state of Iowa).

We also usually take the time to leaf through the coupon flyers in the paper. There are usually one to four flyers that contain coupons from large food and consumer goods companies, usually touting various name brand products. We usually find about two to three coupons per paper worth clipping, and the savings is usually enough to pay for the paper and a bit more.

The question that most frugal people ask about this situation is how is this worthwhile? Most of the coupons in such sections don’t offer enough of a discount over the generic product to make it purely cost-effective. The ones that are cost-effective are often for products that we don’t buy anyway. So why look?

The real reason is there are about two coupons per issue that are really worthwhile, and finding them while eating breakfast is definitely worthwhile – for me. For example, a while back I found a $3 off coupon for Luvs diapers which, when used during the next grocery store visit on the least expensive package, got us 40 diapers for about two cents each – an incredible deal.

Is the time invested cost-effective? Probably not. If it doesn’t happen as a leisurely activity over breakfast, we usually don’t bother with the coupon section at all. It is simply not cost effective to browse the Sunday flyers for coupons as a separate activity. That’s not to say it’s a worthless activity – you can often save a buck or two from the browse if you know what to look for.

The best approach I’ve found? Browse through them very quickly, just looking for items that are very similar to things you regularly purchase. If you know the price and the coupon is worthwhile, clip it; if you don’t know, the coupon should be a dollar off at least before bothering. If you find one that’s really stellar for your use, you might find it worthwhile to find an online coupon broker and get a bunch of them. Using this quick rule of thumb might cause you to miss a coupon or two that’s worthwhile, but it will very quickly lead you to good coupons that are worth your while. Of course, if you don’t have that casual time with the Sunday newspaper anyway, the coupons aren’t worth the effort.

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  1. Sharon says:

    Use http://couponmom.com to select the coupons you need and you don’t have to even do the “breakfast browse”.

  2. Shayla says:

    Trent, have you ever heard of The Grocery Game (www.thegrocerygame.com)? It’s a subscription-based website that helps you leverage your coupons by matching them with sales at your local grocery store. I’ve been a subscriber for about 6 months now and have cut our grocery bill in half using this technique. Basically, the Grocery Game database tracks manufacturers’ coupons along with weekly sales and specials and publishes a list on the internet each week telling you which items you should buy at your local grocery store. The key is to stock up on items when they’re at their rock-bottom sale price, even if you don’t need that item right now. Just wondering if you or any of your readers have ever tried the Grocery Game. It’s been a really great thing for our family.

  3. Coupons become especially worthwhile if your area stores double them (or triple them), which makes most coupons worth a dollar. They’re also worthwhile if you combine them with a price book approach.

    I have gotten terrific deals by using a doubled coupon with a great store sale. For instance, many shampoos and things like shaving cream can be free; I usually (like yesterday) pay about 80 cents for a big tub of Smart Balance spread (compared to a usual price of $2.79).

    Coupons also are great when you can get multiples and then hit a great sale and stock up.

    Often, with coupons, brand names are cheaper than store brands. Again yesterday, I bought two-pound bags of brown sugar for $1.26 each (sale + coupon); the store brand is $1.69.

    The caveat, of course, is not to get sucked in by coupons to buy things you don’t need. Your tip to clip only what you use is right on — and quicker, too.

  4. Donna says:

    I purchase coupons online in bulk and then stock up on the items when they are on sale or at their lowest price. By doing this you can easily save $50+ for $5 or less in coupons. And, since you choose the ones you will use, you can maximize your savings by only buying those which are for items you either already use or can get for free.

    The other thing I have done is e-mail manufacturers and tell them I like their products. For about 2 hours of my time we got over $100 in coupons in the mail! Not bad…

  5. p.s. I used the Grocery Game for a couple of years. It’s a great way to train yourself to find the best deals.

  6. Lauren says:

    I think it’s also worth noting that many of the items that are listed in the coupon sections will be on sale as well, making them, with the use of the coupon, VERY cost effective. Especially if you can find a grocery store that still doubles/triples coupons (there are a few out there, just ask).

    I worked as a grocery store cashier in high school at a store that doubled/tripled coupons in addition to ad matching. With some of the lovely frugal nuts, I think I actually PAID them money sometimes to get groceries by not realizing (even though I was the one computing it) JUST how much they were saving.

  7. SJ says:

    coupons + sales = often better price than generic store brands

    However, I have been buying more organic and local foods – no coupons for those but definitely other benefits.

    I think personality has a lot to do with it – I hate to go shopping without my coupons, since I treat it like a “game” to pay the lowest amount for my purchases.

  8. Lynnae says:

    I’ve tried the Grocery Game before. I can see where a person might save a lot of money going that route, but I don’t live in an area with stores that double coupons. Add that to the fact that I don’t buy a lot of the items that show up on the Grocery Game list, and it wasn’t worth it for me. It’s a great idea if it works for you, though.

    I pretty much use Trent’s approach. I quickly browse the coupon section of the paper to see if there’s anything I regularly buy. It doesn’t take much effort, and the amount you save by using the good coupons can add up over time.

  9. David says:

    Just remember that if you weren’t going to buy the item in the first place, your not actually saving anything.

  10. Brent says:

    If you check the manufacturer website you can get decent coupons as well. For example my wife uses the coffeemate stuff and you can find a $1.00 or so off coupon to use each time by going to that website. Just one example.

  11. Jennifer says:

    I’ve just signed up for the Grocery Game too and even in my first week, without many coupons, it’s saving me money.

    Trying to find the best bargains is much easier when someone else does the legwork!

  12. Elizabeth says:

    I have a coupon file box (4 x 6 cards taped to 4 x 6 dividers to make folders) and each week I cut out the week’s coupons and file them. These are the same categories my mom used when I was a kid, modified slightly, so that I can easily find what I want, and quickly. I use the ads to decide what to buy where, in conjunction with the coupons–I’m willing to eat what is on sale. Also, Walgreen’s lets you “stack” coupons–use both a Walgreen’s ad coupon and a manufacturer coupon for the same item–so often I get items for free.

  13. Lazy Man says:

    Ebay can be a good source of coupons. Considering it’s quick and easy, it may be “time invested cost-effective” for items like diapers where you can save multiple dollars with one or two coupons.

  14. rstlne says:

    I usually pick out coupons for items I use regularly and save those. I also keep restaurant coupons handy because I’m sure that I’ll use them when traveling.

  15. Rich says:

    Gotta say that yes, you should bother. Our food bill is way less than 50% of what it was. Match up sales and double coupons, like above posters mention. Still have to know what a good price is. Stock up on things that don’t go on sale often.

    Our best haul was two *stuffed* carts of groceries for under $10. It was amazing, the stuff legends are made of. During a triple coupon promotion, for what it’s worth.

  16. Rich, that’s incredible! I, too, think that the coupons are worth it.

  17. sara says:

    yes, i’m a grocery gamer as well, and after regularly getting free toothbrushes, toothpaste and pain killers through coupons (as well as a standard 50%+ savings on the bill), i have to say that it does very much pay to clip coupons and then pay attention to the lists and sales. I’m not sure how much it pays per hour for my time, but at this stage in my life (young married, no kids) its very much worth it because the time that i spend clipping is time that would be spent in leisure anyways(ie: activities that would not be spent making any money)This also really helps me stick to my list while i shop, and also avoid expensive impulse buys, since i’ve worked so hard and so really want the low grocery bill as a reward

  18. Kat says:

    For us personally, it isn’t worth it to clip coupons. We mostly purchase natural foods, hardly anthing boxed or canned. Meat comes from the German store around the corner which always cheaper and fresher than the store.
    Also not a single store in my area doubles coupons.

  19. Adam says:

    I usually only find a couple of coupons i use each sunday in the paper. usually there is a coupon for a chain restraunt each sunday that my gf and I will use. we almost always buy generic food/household items which don’t have coupons. Sams club doesn’t take coupons. Also an added bonus is I sometimes apply for jobs in the sunday career section.

  20. Kreblog says:

    Funny, we bought the Sunday paper the other week for the coupons, flipped through them, and then realized that we mostly buy generics.

    If only there were coupons for generics ;)

  21. eROCK says:

    I joined Costco … it’s going to save me $200 a year despite the $50 membership fee.

    It’s not worth it looking for coupons.

  22. Hazygrey says:

    I read these comments and blogs, and want to use coupons, so I started subscribing to the weekend newspaper. I found the coupons were mostly worthless, but now I’m addicted to getting the newspaper (as opposed to the free online version). Story of my life.

    The reason the coupons aren’t very useful is I don’t buy many packaged food items, and also get most of my food through an online grocery store (fresher and cheaper than my local options).

  23. Mary says:

    I’m one of those goofballs that gets a thrill out of beating “the man” at it’s own free-enterprise game. In the end, its a recreational activity for me, and it just happens to save me cash. Plus, I can do it while watching TV or listening to the radio.

    One other thing– I’ve heard of stores doubling/tripling coupons– where exactly are these magical places?

  24. Since I try to buy mostly fresh, non-processed, or organic foods, coupons don’t help me too much anymore, though they have done wonders for me in the past, and I still use them during weeks when the budget doesn’t allow for me to pay the premuim prices on organics. Keep in mind that places like Wal-Mart, Target, and CVS take coupons too.

    coupons + CVS extra bucks, when worked to the max, can be amazing. For example, during a 2 month period I once bought about %70 worth of merchandise and only spent about $.75. that’s right. seventy five cents.

  25. Pat says:

    Most supermarkets in SE Pa double coupons. One near me triples coupons up to 60 cent value (use 60 cent coupon, get 1.80 off) and doubles higher ones Have to read the small print on store policies. Most around here double up to a dollar. So if have 75 cent coupon will only get a dollar off. But the one that triples truly doubles, i.e 75 cent coupon gets 1.50 off. I go thru coupons while watching tv. Haven’t paid a cent for toothpaste, deoderant, shampoo for ages, currenlty have 6 boxes of Kellogs cereals that cost less than 50 cents each thru getting on sale and use of coupon. Recent heavy competition in stores here, each have mailed out $10 off $40 dollar purchases, so with use of that plus manufacturer coupons have been getting $40 worth of stuff for about $15. I generally only use coupons for items would get anyway but often get other things if free. Until recently could make money on some things but they figured that out and eliminated that. For example a toothpast might be on sale for 1.25 and if had a 60 cent coupon would make 55 cents on it.

  26. Becky says:

    Our Meijer’s doubles coupons every day. Shop their specials, especially the buy 1 get 2 free, and you’ve got some great deals!

  27. Deb Coyle says:

    I live in Western Massachusetts where the competition for shoppers is fierce. As a result, our local Price Chopper offers double coupons nearly every week. The two other stores (Price Chopper and Big Y) occasionally offer double and sometimes even triple coupons. I have to admit, however, that I rarely find coupons for the items I use, but I will buy the item(s) if I get it for free or nearly free if I can donate it to a local food bank. I did check out thegrocerygame.com, but they listed stores that I only rarely use (CVS, RiteAid and Stop & Shop. Sad. I was looking forward to trying it.

  28. Mike Panic says:

    I wrote two articles a few months ago:

    Get the most from clipping coupons at the grocery store will walk you through how to maximize the coupon discounts you have and…

    Clip coupons for more many than you thought will show you how you can actually make money selling coupons.

    Yes, I think it’s very much worth clipping coupons.

  29. mapgirl says:

    Reading through comments I gather this:
    1) If you eat packaged/processed foods, coupons are great.
    2) If you live near a supermarket that has double/triple coupons or stacking, then coupons are great.

    From my own observations:
    3) If you use a lot of chemical cleaning supplies or air freshner, coupons are plentiful.
    4) If you like sweet or salty foods, you can usually find coupons.
    5) If you have kids, coupons are great because there’s always stuff targeted for children, i.e. diapers and lunch box snacks.

    Coupons aren’t that great for me since no one doubles coupons where I live. And I don’t eat at home. But my boyfriend and I have bought a Sunday paper the last two weeks, and I pulled out the coupons I know he and I both use. I plan to give away the ones we don’t need at the office, i.e. diapers. Just using one or two of the coupons from each newspaper pretty much will pay for it. Timewise, it didn’t take that long while we were watching TV and interestingly enough, I learned a lot more about my boyfriend’s habits and preferences. It’s almost like a relationship quiz.

  30. ccof says:

    The grocery stores in my area (Texas) no longer accept any coupons printed from online subscriptions because of abuse of the system i.e. legitimate subscriber prints off coupon and mass produces it on copier, then distributes it to all mankind, making the system virtually useless for legitimate subscribers. Anyone else having this problem or know how to address the issue? Phone calls & inquiries to originating coupon websites have so far been unanswered.

  31. Debbie says:

    Where I live, we have one store that doubles coupons and sometimes triples them. This is the most expensive grocery store. So doubling the coupon doesn’t really give you a better price.

    A different store tends to have the lowest prices and yet another store tends to have the best sales.


    For those who buy natural, organic, etc. foods, check for coupon books in the store. Both Whole Foods and my local coop have coupon books (the coupons are good only in that one store, though).

    Both of these stores are getting to where you can sometimes have good sales (i.e., more than 2% off) as well, and Whole Foods’ 360 brand is making quite a few things much more affordable than they used to be.

    If you buy at farmer’s markets, you can probably bargain quite effectively at the end of the day.


    One idea I like is to get on the mailing list or preferred customer list, etc. of your favorite stores (check their websites). I periodically get coupons for Half Price Books, Thrift Town, and La Madeleine this way. You can also find out about sales. I think you get similar benefits for having a store credit card in some places.

  32. daydreamr says:

    I agree with Mary, it’s about getting one over on the man and saving money while your at it. I look thru the coupons and use the ones for items I would normally purchase. Sometimes they have a coupon for buy 1 get 1 free or a free item. I look to see what the better value is. In the end it saves me at least $14 a month and pays for my monthly newspaper subscription. I’m sure coupons don’t work in some areas and it might not seem to add up. But even pennies add up over time. 30 cents a week over a year would be more than $15.

  33. michelle says:

    I also live in Iowa, and I’ve found the coupon sections more or less worthless. I’ve been meaning to write to manufacturers, and get some coupons that way, but I havent gotten around to it yet.

  34. Coupons, when combined with good sales, have helped me save a lot of money on staples and pantry items. I spend the time to clip coupons – all of them – from the flyers. I keep the ones I’m going to use then give the rest to my neighbors. It feels good to be able to help others potentially save some money instead of just throwing them in the trash.

    My goal is to have a coupon for every pantry item I’m going to get. If my coupon and sale can’t beat the generic, I buy the generic. I minimize brand loyalty unless my experiences tell me there is truly a superior product in the mix. If I have developed a preference for a specific name brand I always make an effort to find coupons and deals for it. Right or wrong, it helps me feel like I’m getting some sort of deal on that product, and that feeling is important to me.

    Sometimes, the sales and coupons line up and something magical happens that allows me to get phenomenal deals. I walk out with a big smile and a cartful and it reaffirms my couponing ways.

    If you enjoy the challenge of matching up deals with coupons AND accept that it is unrealistic to expect your grocery bill to dwindle down to nothing (unless you eat processed foods exclusively – bleh), coupons can be a very rewarding “hobby”.

  35. marcia says:

    If I save with coupons at all, it’s on non food items such as household goods and OTC meds. Most of the food coupons are basically useless since I cook mostly from scratch. I do buy a few cold cereals when I can get coupons and have good deals…to me, $1.50 or less on a box of cold cereal is a good deal. Hubby likes to snack on cold cereal and it’s better than chips, at least you get some nutrition. No doubling on coupons here, and no one will take computer coupons at all. Coupons don’t pay off for me like they used to years ago.

  36. I saw this today and thought of this post. It’s a family of 7 that lives debt free on 35k a year. Seriously! She loves her coupons… watch how they grocery shop, it’s amazing.


  37. JHall says:

    Since I am trying to buy better as well (organic and non processed) when I can I use a clipping service and occasionally Ebay. That way I can search for brands that I want a coupon for and skip all the junk food. The small fee I pay thecouponclippers.com is easily cleared by how much I save at the store in a month.
    Also in stores like Kroger (in TX) they always have organic lettuce and fruit marked down for quick sale since the stuff doesn’t last as long. I grab this stuff when I can.

  38. reb says:

    I still do not understand where exactly people are getting all these great coupons,, and for what? What exactly are they buying…? The ONLY things that I see coupons for nowadays are crappy junk food like baloney, hot dogs, chips, hamburger helper, hi-fat overprocessed food,,, etc.. etc.. stuff I never buy anyway. You might save a few cents now but are te long-term health risks (and future doctor’s bills) really worth it..?
    And I have yet to find an online site that doesn’t just lead you down a long trail of empty promises with endless “one more click, you’re almost there!” messages and then there’s nothing worthwhile at the end except ads for restaurants and lies about earning ‘free gas’.. and then they take your e-mail address and spam you to death. Besides… if you print out coupons you’re still spending $$ on paper and ink. If you swap by mail, you’re still paying for the stamp. If you buy the newspaper, then you are still paying for the paper. In my state I know of no store that doubles or triples coupons– and certainly not for any food or other products worth buying! But if there is something that I don’t know about (in Austin TX),, please enlighten me!

  39. Caitlan says:

    I have never used a coupon but what I do like are the inserts with loss leaders in local stores- you can buy things you need or will certainly need shortly for very cheap prices, and unless grocery stores and office supply stores seem exciting to you, you will not be remotely tempted to pick up the full price items. (“Oooh! Post its!” “Boxes of cereal and yogurt cups! Wow!”)

  40. divadee says:

    For me, couponing is a 2nd job. I save more money than I would be paid working the same number of hours per week at Wal-mart, for example. Just this past weekend, I was doing some fall cleaning, and realized we have a full two-year supply of toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, body wash/soap, razors, shaving cream, pain relievers, lotion and vitamins. All for free, due to combining sales, rebates and such things as the CVS Extra Care Bucks program. We are actually going through a very tough financial time right now, and would probably qualify for food stamps. We haven’t applied, though, because freeing up the money we’re spending on food wouldn’t really add much more to our bank account. We live in an area with no double or triple coupons, and lousy ones in the newspaper. I cancelled our subscription because the coupons didn’t pay for it anymore. I get my coupons from friends who don’t want them, my local library (who throws them away), etc. When coupons are really good, I’ll spring for a paper at the dollar store. Couponing can be very worth it, but it does take time. If I can get 10 free boxes of cereal (like I did yesterday, using coupons and sale prices), then I have cash to buy things like fruit and veggies. Also, one of the best investments you can make is a good freezer – you can really take advantage of sales on meat and seasonal fruits and veggies and freeze them yourself.

  41. Tristyn says:

    I’m a converted coupon nut! I never saw much use for coupons, and when my husband suggested trying them I scoffed and swore I would never waste my time with them. I changed my tune, however, a few months ago when my mother-in-law turned me on to a local website that matches coupons with the local store ads (like the grocery game, but free and local). I was amazed! There are no stores that double coupons around here, but even so I’ve been able to save TONS of money, and I’ve gotten so much free toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, makeup, body wash, toothbrushes, deodorants, etc I’m going to have to start giving it away. I also have a pantry brimming with canned soups and boxes of cereal. I have a 2″ zippered binder chock full of coupons in baseball card pockets, organized by category for easy access. It does take time, but to me it’s well worth it. I have more time than money, after all. The price I will tolerate paying for items has steadily decreased as I’ve used this program. I used to be comfortable paying $3.00 for a box of cereal, but now I won’t buy it unless I can get it under $.50. I won’t get toiletries unless they’re free, or nearly free (depending on how much I’ve already got of it, sometimes I won’t take unless I’m paid to). One of my favorite coupon/sale combinations is the buy one get one free coupon, with the buy one get one free sale. At most stores that makes it free. I got $300 in Covergirl makeup free using that combination. I was so pleased with my experiencing couponing, I added a whole page devoted to it on my website http://www.letsgetset.net. I think coupons are a great way to cut your grocery bill and build a reserve of food and other essentials. Yay for coupons!

  42. Jenna says:

    I have been clipping coupons for over 30 years. I have an account that is for my retirement and two for my children one for each child for college. I have funded all of this with coupons each child has over $5,000 for college and I have over $100K clipping coupons does pay even if it is just .05 it does add up , it takes time and effort lots of it but it does add up. Plus you have to be very wise with a dollar ! KNOW THE SYSTEM !!!

  43. Nate says:

    Gosh I clip out every coupon!!! I love a site called http://www.weusecoupons.com. It’s a great site all about coupons…even has a coupon database!!

  44. saleshout says:

    Paper I thought people just printed coupons from online nowdays? :)

  45. Jodie R. says:

    Around here, the grocery stores double manufacturer coupons up to 99c, so I really don’t like the dollar off coupons! I would much rather clip a coupon for 75c which of course then turns into a buck fifty off!

  46. Liz says:

    I’ve had mixed results using coupons – *very* occasionally, I’ll find a dollar off coupon for a product we actually use.

    Other than that, I have to echo some of the other people here in saying that 85% of the time, the coupons in our Sunday paper are for items we never buy in the first place, or they are for overprocessed packaged foods that we aren’t likely to eat.

    I’ve had much better luck buying rice, pasta, etc., and fresh produce because I know I’ll use it.

  47. Kim Naff says:

    I think I’ve spent maybe $100 in the last 3 months on groceries and household/personal care items. I routinely walk out of the grocery store with $75 worth of stuff for less than $5. Then again, I also know how to combine sales and coupons and then apply the appropriate rebates. It seriously saves quite a bit of money and I went from having practically no food in the house to a completedly stocked pantry, cupboards, freezer and fridge.

    Also, don’t go thinking that coupons are solely for pre-packaged items, air-freshener, toothpaste, etc. Coupons do exist for fresh meat, produce, seafood, etc. My freezer is full of shrimp and crab legs that I got for free with coupons. This week, I’ll get plenty of steaks for free with coupons. The companies who make organic products often put out coupons for their products, too. Check out http://www.mambosprouts.com for printable coupons for organic and natural items. Organic Valley does organic dairy coupons online.

    The point is, in the coupon debate, is that if you’re going to be buying an item anyway… use a coupon if you can. You’ll save money. If you have the time to invest and really need to save the money, though, you can go above and beyond and really learn the value of what a grocery store dollar is really worth. Today, I got 21 of the 28 items I purchased for free. The other 7 were under $.75 each for things like a pair of nail clippers, a box of Kashi cereal. etc.

  48. Steve says:

    Is the Sunday paper (or any print newspaper) a cost-effective purchase? There are lots of sources for free news.

  49. KED says:

    I generally save my coupons up in their magazine state until our local Harris Teeter has triple coupon day. It happens tends to be a quarterly happening in our area.

    Last trip I spent $ 32.00 on $ 160.00 dollars worth of groceries. That included standard fare like chicken, milk, eggs, fruit and what not with the bulk of the remaining items being pantry staples.

    Enough food to easily feed my family for several weeks. I enjoy this and share the wealth with my mother too!

  50. Greg says:

    Well what can I say our family does use an save coupons. While we have never been able to match those people who say they use coupons and get everything almost for free it does save us lots of money. How:
    1) We buy only things we need and try to combine those with a sale.
    2) We might try a new product once again for something we need, if it has a coupon.
    The argument from people who use the how much is your time worth argument is amusing at best. Wow if you stop watching Tv your gonna be even wealthier, NOT!
    The bottom line is people who have lots of money and are lazy don’t need to use coupons because they don’t care how much an item costs! So if they overspend a bit who cares, their kids are not going to go without….

  51. Dash says:

    To add to Sharon’s (#1) comment of using couponmom, I have dedicated a detailed post on my site of how I have found it to be effective (in saving a ton of money) and more importantly without spending almost any time (less than 10 mins a week).

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