A reader wants to know if her couponing is really a good idea.
Question: This isn’t the world’s most important question, but my boyfriend and I argue about it every so often, so we want a final answer: Is couponing really worth it?
I ask because my boyfriend says if I clip coupons and save $5 a week but buy one thing I don’t really need, I wiped out all my hard work. He also says it’s not worth all the searching and clipping. (I print out online coupons but also cut them out of the Sunday newspaper.)
I tell him that it’s time well spent because I like doing it, and I’m pretty sure we’re saving a lot. What do you think, Howard?
— Paula in New Mexico
Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…
Your boyfriend is correct about the purpose of coupons. No company offers them as a goodwill gesture. Coupons are a money-making proposition.
In fact, just last month, an industry study discovered “75 percent of all coupon redemptions resulted in incremental sales.” That means three-fourths of all coupons that were redeemed made extra money for the companies that offered them.
You didn’t hear about this because the study was presented at something called the Industry Coupon Conference, held last month in North Carolina. By the way, that 75 percent number is up from 69 percent in 2010. So don’t expect coupons to go away anytime soon.
So with this knowledge, what can you do to actually save with coupons? Simple, don’t be tempted to buy items you don’t really need. However, I do suggest using coupons to buy items you’ve never tried before. That’s a win-win for both you and the manufacturer.
What do I mean? If you’re unhappy with, say, the laundry detergent you’ve been using for years and want to try a new one, look for both a sale and a coupon. If you like the new product, great. if you don’t, the cost of trying it was greatly lessened.
What you don’t want to do is listen to the voice in your head that says, “Hey, it’s a dollar off, and sure, I don’t need a box of scented dryer sheets, since I never use them anyway. But it’s a dollar off! Sold!”
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Email your question to email@example.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.