Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Are Coupons Worth It?

The recession and the Internet have combined to make coupons trendy again. According to a Wall Street Journal article, manufacturers have issued twice as many coupons and redemption has risen 27% since 2008—the first annual increase in nearly two decades. In all, 3.3 billion coupons were cashed last year.

But here’s the unbelievable part: 99% of the available coupons weren’t redeemed. This means there’s either money lying in the streets or the vast majority of shoppers can’t be bothered.

Is that dollar-off coupon worthwhile or worthless? Answering these questions will help you find out.

Is it something I normally buy (or want to try)? Never buy anything just because it’s a great deal. That’s not saving; it’s spending more. If a coupon is for an item that normally isn’t on your list (or a better alternative), leave it. Amazing how many women forget that.

Will I use it before it expires (or ever)? If the coupon is for a larger size than you normally buy, consider whether you’ll ever use it all. This is particularly true at the big warehouse stores. Some people also purchase multiple coupons for individual items on websites such as eBay. But could anyone ever realistically use 20 containers of nondairy creamer? Getting greedy usually costs you in the long run.

Is there a store in my area that doubles coupons? If so, then shop there. Even coupons for 20- or 30-cent discounts can add up, especially when combined with in-store sales and rebates. Likewise, check with the store manager to see if online coupons are accepted. (A few great coupon sources: Coupons.com, CoolSavings.com, and—of course—Vocalpoint.) The more coupon-friendly the store is, the greater your incentive to clip them. Hint: Some BJ’s will accept multiple coupons for items grouped together in a “club pack”—each item inside must have its own bar code.

Am I an efficient clipper? To find out, divide the total coupon savings on your next grocery bill by the estimated number of hours you spent clipping or surfing/printing. The result is your hourly “wage” for the effort. Decide if it’s worth it or not, or increase your efficiency by:

* Clipping while riding an exercise bike.
* Registering with an online clipping service where you choose from thousands of coupons, pay a small handling fee, and receive them by mail in a few days. Some examples include Collectible Coupons, The Coupon Clippers, and Coupon Clipping Crew.
* Combining clipping with socializing. Organize a monthly coupon night with friends or a coupon lunch with coworkers.

Oh, and if you have any extra coupons you don’t need, leave ’em on the product at the store for others to use. In case you didn’t know, that’s part of the coupon code.