If you like to save money, you’ve likely used a coupon at some point in your life. Whether you clip a paper coupon that came in the mail or use a digital coupon from a retailer’s shopping app, they can be super helpful to reduce the cost of all kinds of purchases.
For some, coupons are a nice way to spend less on something they were going to purchase anyway. For others, their shopping process revolves around getting the best deals. Using coupons in this more intentional way is called “couponing” and it can dramatically bring down the cost of groceries and other items.
If you’re a casual coupon user looking to save money on household goods, you may wonder if intentionally couponing is a good strategy to save money. Who wouldn’t want to pay less for that bottle of laundry detergent you need anyway? (It doesn’t go bad on the shelf – you’ll use it eventually!)
But, the digital age has changed the couponing game, and it can take some time to navigate the system to earn those deals. Let’s dive in to see if couponing is a worthwhile strategy for you to save money.
The pros of couponing
The clear point of couponing is to save money – but just how much can you save? It really adds up.
CouponFollow, the company behind Cently (a coupon browser extension), studied over 435,000 online coupon code uses. They found that the average American could save $122 per month, or $1,465 per year, just by using online and mobile coupon codes. They found the top categories for potential savings were food and household items. Personal care items offered the highest percentage of savings, with a discount of 19.4% on average.
That figure doesn’t include paper coupons or rebate apps. By combining digital coupons with those, you can save even more.
Aside from saving money, couponing has a few other benefits:
- You can try new products at a lower cost, so it’s not a big deal if you don’t care for the product.
- If you have to get multiple quantities of an item to use a coupon, it can help you stock your shelves so you don’t worry about running out of a product at an inconvenient time.
- If you get more of an item than you need, you can share or donate to someone in need.
- For some, the thrill of the chase and getting a good deal is rewarding enough!
The cons of couponing
So, what’s the catch with couponing? Why wouldn’t everyone do it every time they shop to save money? Let’s dig into the cons or barriers with couponing:
It takes time and effort
If you want to get the deals, you’ve got to put some skin in the game in the form of time and effort. Even for a casual coupon user, it means thinking ahead and opening up the retailer’s app to see what coupons are available. To get the products for the lowest price possible often means visiting different stores, stacking deals, and using rebate apps.
Whether you have a busy schedule or not, you may find it challenging or inconvenient to dedicate the necessary time to search coupons and plan your shopping trips around them.
Potential mismatch with the products you buy
You may also find that coupons aren’t available for what’s on your grocery list. Coupons often focus on specific brands, products, or sizes. These may not match up with your preferences or dietary needs. At some retailers, coupons are available more for processed foods than staples like fruits, veggies, grains, dairy, and meat. If you don’t eat breakfast cereal, it doesn’t really matter if the manufacturer is offering $1 off a box.
Another consideration is that many times, buying the generic brand of a product is cheaper than using a coupon for the name-brand. So, it may feel like extra work to gather coupons only to find that the generic version was always more affordable all along. If you prefer the brand name rather than go for the least expensive option, then couponing may make more sense for you.
You need to buy specific quantities
It’s great to get that deodorant on sale, but do you really need four of them at a time? If you’ve tried couponing in the past, you’ve likely seen that you must buy multiples of certain products to fulfill the coupon and get the deal.
Getting a bunch of non-perishable items is great – if you can transport and store the items. If you have limited storage space, take public transit to the grocery store, or live on the top floor in a building with no elevator, you may find it’s a big hassle to buy multiple quantities.
When using digital coupons, a common concern is that big retailers collect and use purchasing data. You may have to provide personal information such as your name, email address, or phone number, to redeem the coupon. The platforms may also use tracking technologies like cookies or device identifiers to gather information about users’ browsing behavior, purchase history, or location. This data can be used to create user profiles, which may be used for targeted advertising. Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of being tracked and having their shopping monitored to save a few dollars on each purchase. (Paper coupons, if you can find them, can be a low-tech way to counteract this).
Couponing facts and stats
Still wondering if couponing is useful for you? Let’s dig into some data about the products you can get and who uses this discount shopping strategy.
What do people use coupons to buy?
When you think of “couponing” you may think of getting deals on groceries and household products – and you would be correct! In addition to those, according to Statista, other prominent categories for coupons include clothing, electronics, and pet care items.
There is some stigma around using coupons – as if it’s a bad thing to spend less on something you need. But in reality, couponing is common across all sorts of Americans.
CreditDonkey reports that 87% of low income households, 86% of middle income households, and 85% of high income households coupon. They shared that of people who make $150,000 or more per year, over half used coupons 50 or more times in a year. So even high earners coupon, and frequently!
As far as whether men or women are more likely to use coupons, it’s a fairly even split – though it may have been more gender-specific in the past. A 2005 study from the Promotion Marketing Association (cited in a study from Prairie View A&M University) found that more females than males were likely to use coupons from all sources. But, over 15 years later, it’s more balanced. Statista looked at how frequently people used digital coupon aggregators – websites that list potential coupon codes for online purchases. They found that women were more likely to review these sites more frequently than men, but only slightly more. The largest group, including 33% of women and 34% of men, review these sites “sometimes.” Only 14% of women and 8% of men always look at digital coupon aggregators.
Deal-hunting is also pretty prevalent across the United States, but there are some cities with more couponers than average. A 2014 Retailmenot study found that New York, Boston and Philadelphia had the most active couponers. In 2018, Business Insider reported that coupon clipping was above average in multiple different metros in the South – plus Philadelphia staying consistent, clipping coupons at 1.9x the national average! So overall, couponing may be a bit more regionally prevalent in some places than others.
We also wondered whether certain ethnic or racial groups use coupons more frequently than others. But, the studies we found had small sample sizes of around 250 people each, and were more than ten years old. We’re skipping including them because that’s not particularly useful data now. (And even if there were notable differences, it doesn’t mean your shopping behavior would have to match the study findings!)
Overall, couponing may be less correlated to do with any specific demographic, and instead be related to whether someone considers themself a saver rather than a spender.
Couponing for beginners
If that average savings of $122 per month or $1,465 per year sounds like it would be worth the time to coupon, here’s how you can get started.
Coupon browser extensions
For online purchases, consider installing browser extensions like Cently or Honey that automatically look for and apply coupon codes when you’re checking out. These can be easy ways to save money on things you were already going to buy, and the extension will remind you to check!
If you just want to dip your toes into the pool of couponing, this requires basically no effort once you install the extension, so it’s often well worth the time.
Leverage couponing communities
If you want to amp up your savings game with coupons, the next best step is to get an understanding of the various deals offered from the stores in your area. Fortunately, you don’t have to do this yourself.
What’s awesome is that as couponing has gone digital, so has the community around it. There are Reddit threads and Facebook groups dedicated to couponing in general, but also at specific retailers. Check out r/couponing and r/frugal for tips, tricks, and discussions.
Many of these Facebook groups have over 100,000 members, with a group dedicated to Target deals having over 500,000 people in it! These communities can help serve as a guide for how to get the best deals.
Not on Facebook? Not a problem. There are content creators on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram that specialize in making videos about the ever-changing deals available. Search on your platform of choice and find one that frequents the same chains you do for the most helpful information.
Deals change all the time, so you’ll want to do some research about the coupons available at the stores in your area. These communities can be a wealth of knowledge to help you quickly identify the best deals and provide answers to your questions. That way, you’re not left standing in the aisle doing the mental math on what to put in your cart to make sure you actually get the deals.
Then, you’ll want to download the apps for the stores where you shop. Check out the apps before you make your shopping list and see what items are the best value at which stores. To ensure you’re saving money by couponing, focus on only looking for and using coupons for the products you use and need.
To get the best deals, you’ll need to follow a second step – redeeming rebates. Manufacturers will offer rebates to incentivize you to buy more of whatever specific products they need to sell. If you’re willing to play this game, you just may find it pays off (literally). Reviews online are mixed about if it’s worthwhile, with some people having fantastic luck with getting consistent deals and others never reaching one payout.
You’ll need to pay attention to the terms of the rebate to make sure you qualify and get the specific products listed in the offer. If you’re the type of person that’s cool with whatever type of soap or flavor of oatmeal you get, this could be the move for you.
Here are some sources to get rebates:
- Procter & Gamble has a web page to fill out their rebate forms, and you’ll need to attach photos of your receipt.
- Rakuten has a website you can shop through, a Mozilla Firefox browser extension, and app. Rakuten pays cash back every three months via PayPal or a paper check.
- Ibotta is both an app and browser extension for Google Chrome. You can get cash back once you get $20 in rebates.
- Shopkick is an app that allows you to redeem points (called “kicks”) for gift cards to various stores.
- Shopmium is another rebate app with cash back paid to PayPal with no minimum payout, and says rebates are typically processed within two days.
However, some users of rebate apps share stories of difficulties using the apps, delays in redeeming the rebates, trouble accessing accounts, or changing reward payouts. This may mean it takes more and more time and purchases to actually get some money back. Before deciding to download any of these apps, check out reviews from a variety of sources.
If you do try to redeem rebates, you may want to mentally consider any rebate or cash back as a surprise gift card rather than reducing the amount you paid for your groceries or household items. Another tip is to only use them on things you would have bought anyway so that way if the rebate doesn’t go through, you aren’t stuck with a product you didn’t really want or need.
Is couponing worth it?
Is couponing worth it? That likely comes down to how much effort it takes for you, and how much the savings impact your personal financial situation. Some people are happy to orient their shopping around what’s on sale, or take time to scan bar codes and upload receipts to get money back. Others want to grab what’s on the grocery list as fast as possible and are willing to pay more for convenience. There’s no right or wrong answer!
Maybe after all of this consideration, you’ve decided couponing isn’t for you. The good news is there are still ways to spend less on the things you buy!
You can take advantage of seasonal sales and clearance events. This might look like buying items at the end of the season and hanging onto them for the next year, like winter boots or patio furniture.
And without coupons, you can still get great deals by purchasing generic or store-brand products, or shop in bulk. You may even try to shop at different brands or stores with lower prices or better value. Discount stores have a lot of the same exact products for lower prices – no coupon needed.
Many shoppers have good luck saving a meaningful amount of money with couponing. Much of this depends on location, inventory in your area, and comfort navigating the couponing system.
However, trying to maximize your savings with coupons may be time-intensive or less convenient for you based on what you like to buy and where you like to shop. Saving money is about finding a balance between saving and spending wisely. Maybe you’ll fall into the bucket of people who coupon “sometimes” – it’s all about whatever works for you!
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