Clipping coupons saved consumers a whopping $3.1 billion in 2017 with the average face value of coupons increasing to just under $2.
The report from NCH Marketing Services, a subsidiary of Valassis, which is behind many of the coupons that we clip, found that shoppers are increasingly finding their coupons online as they hunt for the best deals at the grocery store.
But, though clipping coupons can money on items consumers buy at the supermarket, their use of coupons may actually be costing them more money in the long run. Studies at New York University found that more than one out of four coupon clippers spend more when they have coupons in hand.
That doesn’t mean you should steer clear of clipping coupons. It just means that you should be smart about the way you use them. And, to use them correctly, you’ll need to avoid common traps that lead to overspending.
Here are 5 ways clipping coupons can actually cost you more money at the store.
You buy things because you have a coupon, not because you actually need it.
Don’t get caught up in the hype for new items and goodies advertised in the Sunday coupon circulars.
Before you buy an item with a coupon, ask yourself questions like these: “Will my kids really eat these apple cinnamon fruit bars or do they really prefer blueberry?” “Do I really want my laundry to smell like watermelon or should I stick to the unscented detergent like always?”
Sure, you may get a deal on that new item. But, if it turns out you don’t really need or want it, you’ve also just spent a couple of dollars on an item that will likely get shoved to the back of your pantry.
You think you’re getting a deal just because you have a coupon.
That 50 cents off coupon is great, but is it really a great deal when you compare it to, for instance, the usually cheaper store brand? If you really want to get the best bang for your buck, pair coupons with sales. Then, not only is the item marked down, but you enjoy further discounts with that coupon you clipped.
You only need one, but the coupon requires that you buy three.
Lots of coupons require you to buy two or more of the same item to get a discount. So, instead of getting $1 off a $3 box of cereal, you’re getting just $1 off three boxes of $3 cereal. Now you’ve spent $8 on three boxes of cereal.
That might be fine if you or your kids really love that cereal. But it’s not a great deal if that means those extra boxes of cereal will simply linger in the back of your cupboards, unopened.
Before you jump on a coupon that requires you to buy multiple items, decide whether you really need or have room for that much stuff.
You haven’t done your math.
When clipping coupons, it’s critical to crunch the numbers to determine exactly how much money you’ll really be spending on a particular item with a coupon. That requires some planning.
Most grocery stores list their prices — and sales — online. As you make your shopping list and sort through your coupons, go online to compare prices on the items on your list. Do the math to determine just how much you’ll save using that coupon. Head to the store with a game plan so you don’t overspend simply because you have a coupon.
You didn’t factor in your own time.
Dedicated couponers can spend hours clipping coupons and traveling from store to store to get the very best deal. Those hours — and miles on their car — can add up. If you’re traveling 10 miles to save 75 cents on a can of soup, it’s probably not a great deal. And you might actually earn more money if you spent that coupon-clipping time on a side job or a money-making hobby.
As always, make sure you’re using your own time wisely. Using coupons can save big money — but only if you’re getting the best deals on the items you really need.
Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit committed to empowering and inspiring consumers nationwide to make wise financial decisions and live debt free. Speak with a certified counselor for a free debt analysis today