Friday, June 4, 2010

Why I Don't Like Couponing

Couponing seems to be the "next new thing" that moms are getting into. I see advertisements regularly for couponing seminars and it seems to always find its way as one of the topics of conversation when moms get together. I often hear "we are saving 50-75% off of our grocery budget...isn't that amazing?!"

Now to all you mamas who looooove your couponing, just know that I am not condemning you or sayin' that you shouldn't or whatever. I am just sharing my own experience and observations here. And yes, I do enjoy a good deal and yes, we do have 7 people in our family, and yes, we do live on one-income! So I know the pressure to provide well for my family and to use my money wisely...but I just don't think couponing fits that bill for us.

I have always been a fan of my grocery store Publix. It is very family-friendly, clean, offers high-quality foods, and is environmentally conscious. Years ago I committed to shopping there and never looked back.

But it's changed.

Shelves are regularly cleared out when items are "buy one get one free". My grocery list usually ends up having about 5 items that I am unable to purchase because they have been completely cleared out by those who want the deal along with stacking their coupons on it. Shoppers who never entered Publix doors because of their higher prices now flock there to use their coupons. The store used to have an atmosphere like their slogan: "where shopping is a pleasure". Now the environment feels like one of competition and greed. The other day I watched five women race down aisles with their grocery store list print-out with stacks of coupons paper-clipped to them. It was exhausting to watch. A feeding frenzy, I tell you.

And I wonder if the preparation that it takes to get all of these deals at different grocery stores and pharmacies depletes gas and time and emotional energy? Does it feel addictive and as if you could never go back to simply buying the product at regular price because that would somehow be wrong? Or irresponsible? Or heaven forbid, a poor steward? Yikes.

Does it take time away from the mental energy we need for creative pursuits? Painting, gardening, sewing, writing, photography, scrap-booking, cooking? Does it tempt us to focus our lives on money or on "winning" or "beating the system"? These are just questions I am asking and pondering.

Another problem that I see with it is that the consumer is allowing the grocery stores/companies that produce the coupons to dictate and control what you are buying. Most coupons are for processed foods that are very unhealthy and addictive. I know that some moms only use the couponing method for items that they would normally buy, but you can't tell me that the temptation is not there to scoop up "the deal" when you are looking at a pack of cookies for mere cents. These companies are pushing you towards their products by offering you coupons and making it hard-to-resist. I want to make my own choices as to what we eat and not be financially manipulated towards sub-par products.

Most foods that are truly healthy don't have all those gimmicks attached...fresh fruits and veggies, clean meats, whole grains, organic dairy products...sometimes, but rarely. It costs money to support local and organic. Good things typically don't come cheaply. There IS a price-tag to ethical and conscious consumption, but isn't it worth it?

I had a talk with the Assistant Manager at Publix about it all. He said that in his 25 years of being in the grocery business this is the biggest challenge he has ever faced. He says in that many ways it is as if they are now a wholesale purchasing club and the couponing/swap-meet phenomenon is only beginning to really pick up steam. Oh how I miss the simplicity of Muzak, slow shopping, and well-stocked shelves!

May we all enjoy a good deal...but not with a price-tag that may appear low, but in the end is actually very high because it robs us of our health, our time, and our mental/emotional energy.

And now I am off to make my farmers' market plan...

44 comments:

http://abebedorespgondufo.blogs.sapo.pt/ said...

Very good.

stitchedincolor said...

Yep. You pretty much summed up why I DON'T like couponing. The time thing is a big one for me. I have better things to do with my time that are also productive and time-saving... and aren't centered aroud buying.

Jennifer King said...

I agree. A few months ago we stopped getting the Sunday papers so I didn't feel the need to go through the ads and clip coupons. I have felt much more relaxed without the stress of having to go to several different stores to get the deal. Do I miss the coupons? Sometimes, when I'm buying something that I know usually has coupons. But it's worth the cost of the coupon for the extra mental energy.

marinemom said...

I love reading your blog. Though I've never posted a comment before, I just wanted you to know how much I enjoy (and gain from) your words of wisdom. You write beautifully and are very insightful. Especially with this coupon issue, I too agree that it can take a huge amount of time and energy, and for me, I don't see the payoff. I'd much rather spend that time with my family or doing something relaxing.
Have a great day!

Sarah said...

Great post! While I do agree, I am a couponer and I do that kind of thing with coupons... to a limited extent. Yes, I have issue with the fact most are processed foods and I do end up purchasing some. :(

However, the part that most stuck out to me was lack of time to pursue "creative things". My mind is much, much more analytical than creative. Thus, sorting through all the coupons, information and match-ups is, for me, much more fun and even easier than sewing or scrapbooking or painting. I prefer to put my mental engry toward something I can figure out, such as good prices, rather than getting frustrated with a sewing pattern. We are all different, and I do dislike the 'rat race' it becomes sometimes, but I'm going to coupon because it's fun. :) Keeping that mind set does help me avoid the pressure, burn out, and temptation to have to 'get the deal' as you mention.

I would love to share this article with friends who feel the pressure to 'need' to use coupons... it is not for everyone.
Again, great post and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Missy K said...

This is a great post. I wrote on a similar topic recently-- I was very "into" couponing for awhile and it really is a mind-set I have had to work to break. I've recently been convicted about pursuing healthier choices in our family's diet and that does not seem to be compatible with using a lot of coupons, since many are for processed foods.

Now it is such a relief to just purchase what is best for our family, what we will eat, and what is not loaded with sodium and HFCS. We grow some food, have a generous neighbor with an organic garden, have two Saturday Farmer's markets nearby, and use Publix, Costco and Whole Foods. Between all of those, we do spend some $$$, but we are eating wonderfully well.

I thought your best point was how extreme couponing gives over control of a family's diet to manufacturers and marketers. Definitely not who I want making my menu.

Really great and thought provoking post!

Aimee said...

Sarah, brilliant response. I never had seen it as creative for the analytical mind before...I *get* that and thanks for sharing that observation. You are right...it should be FUN and moms shouldn't feel guilty when they don't coupon or that they should to "bless" their families...we bless our families in different ways :)

Aimee said...

YES Missy, I think it IS a very difficult mind-set to break if you really get into it and we need to be wise when we get into things like this. that's why I wanted to bring this topic up...to bring grace and freedom to moms in this area.

Andrea said...

I really enjoy your thoughts though I haven't ever posted before. I just had to say that this write up really hit home to me. I have had these same thoughts every time I receive the "free" coupons in the mail. I thought I may be the only person in the world that thought coupons only add to the clutter in my home and mostly offer discounts on processed foods, unnecessary products and/or harsh cleaners that my family does not need. For these similar reasons I rarely go to large chain markets for groceries. I am lucky enough to live next to a Trader Joe's and a Henry's.... and neither offers very many products that would match a coupon I receive in the mail anyway, though I don't find the prices unreasonable. I visit the large markets a few times a year (like holiday time when sales for baking products etc. make the trip worth it). That's enough for me.

Aimee said...

Andrea, you said it so well..."unnecessary products" and "harsh cleaners"...so true. Most of the stuff is NOT needed and the cleaning supplies are terrible for the environment and our home. Best to REALLY save money and buy some vinegar and baking soda! :)

Prairie Chick said...

I hear ya. I don't "do" coupons. One because the fliers don't even leave the post office (we don't "do" fliers either). Two because I have a rotating menu that always uses the same basic ingredients and when I start to run low on something I check it off on my same old same old bi weekly grocery shopping list and THAT is how I choose what I buy, based on what I need.


Totally agree with the premise of this post. I think I save more money by only buying WHAT we need, WHEN we need it, whether it is on sale or not. And this might sound corny, but I have always felt very blessed by finding what I need very often on sale and feeling that was a blessing from the Lord. I do believe I am a good steward. :)

Hilty Sprouts! said...

I couldn't agree more! After trying couponing for 2 months I came to many of the same conclusions, particularly the one about pushing us toward unhealthy foods and cleaning products. Thanks for writing a post that doesn't make me feel guilty for not staying on the coupon bandwagon!

Jana said...

I couponed for about a year and I was able to stock my shelves really well. I started out with drupg store items and then added in grocery stores. It was mentally exhuasting but I was able to help out several families that had fallen on tough times.

We are now eating more whole-unprocessed foods so I don't coupon nearly as much.

My favorite store is Trader Joes-they accept coupons but most of the items they carry are their own brand and so no coupons. I love that they only stock one size of catsup. It makes choosing so much easier!
Jana

gina said...

Thank you, thank you. I have not been able to articulate why I do not enjoy couponing very well, without sounding like a lazy snob. (does this make sense?) But seriously! Time really IS money and I have gone back and forth with feeling guilty for not committing the time to save money and then being stressed about it and snappish with my family. BLEH. SO. Well said. This was encouraging.

amanda said...

amie, i enjoyed the post! i have done the coupon deal, more so in the past, and very much agree with the poster about enjoyment for the analytical mind. that is me to a t. i agree with just about all of the post...all except the part about the store shelves being bare. that is a store management issue...either order plenty when things are on sale or simply limit the # a customer may purchase. as a customer, i feel no obligation to NOT buy what is on the shelves just in case someone else might want to buy one later. the store wants to sell products...they make the same if i pay with cash or coupons, (actually a bit MORE if i pay with coupons), which is why i assume they usually dont' set limits. i give a ton to the local foodbank on a monthly basis...so i am certainly not against giving...i just dont' think it is best done by leaving items on the store shelf.

amanda said...

oopps...one more thought. :) i dont' even get the sunday paper. i spend about 15 mins once or twice a month checking a couple of websites for deals at my local grocery and drug store in the next month or so. when i see something we DO use on sale and with coupons out, i just order a large quantity of coupons. it has allowed me to stock up for at least a year on just about everything we do use on a regular basis, saving both time and money for our family. i do not have the time to clip/organize/shop multiple places every week...but a few mins here and there has really added up.

Linda said...

I admit that I hadn't really thought about all those things Aimee. I can certainly see your point.
We get the sunday paper; my husband clips coupons for the items we would ordinarily buy; and that's it!
I just can't get myself to make "couponing" a big part of my life. I'm delighted to get a dollar off something I always buy, but that's the extent of it.

Andrea said...

most of my friends who coupon buy things with them i would never buy...a waste of money, time, and energy for me, too. i know there are other ways to save money without couponing. great post aimee.

Bethany said...

Great Post!!! I never thought of it that way. hear about couponng all the time and I have never really got into it. I keep planning to check it out and get distracted. I think your blog post was very eye opening. I too notice most coupons are for things I would not normally even buy and most likely because they are highly processed. One way I plan on getting more whole foods into our home at a decent price is by joining a CSA. I found a local CSA on localharvest.com an am planning to pay for a "share" which gives me great local produce...and sometimes you can find CSA's that offer great local meats as well.

Julia Medearis said...

Wow! Great post, Aimee! I use to feel the pressure to use coupons and felt so guilty when I didn't. But, I finally let go of that a while back and grocery shopping has been so much more enjoyable! I do still try to be cost-conscious, and have even allowed myself to "branch out" and try a different brand of something I need if it's on sale. That's been fun too! (I've discovered some new favorites as a result!) And I agree about all the processed foods.... we still buy certain convenience foods, but I really want to move more toward purchasing things from our farmer's market, which helps support local farmers and is so much healthier for us too! Thanks for voicing what so many people have probably been feeling, but haven't allowed themselves the freedom to feel! :)

Jeanne said...

Your questions are valid and are good to ask yourself. Living on one income and with my husband in the ministry I have to do the "deal" to purchase the items we need. I would say that most of my coupon usage is for non-food items that don't need to be 'organic'. I do find coupons for simple foods such as flour, sugar, pasta, cheese, yogurt, milk etc. I have also had a period in my life where coupons weren't used. It was when we lived 30 minutes for town (far for us). Now we live close to all the stores. So, coupons in and of themselves aren't bad. They are very helpful and don't take much time and the girls love getting involved and we only buy the "deals" that we need and in moderation. We don't clear the shelves.

Aimee said...

Oh Ladies who have Trader Joes, I am jealous! :) We have one 1 1/2 hours away that I get to go to once in a while and it is shopping bliss!!

Jeanne, yes, being on one-income AND in the ministry is extremely difficult...we were in full-time ministry for 9 years and I know how hard it is. Coupons in and of themselves are NOT bad at all and can be very helpful at easing a tight budget. I am really talking about websites like Southern Savers (which was started HERE in my town!) who train consumers as to which coupons (from the newspaper and lots of online printable ones) to take to their grocery store on this particular week to match with BOGO sales and the lowest price they can get the product in a 6 week buying period. The whole point is to STOCKPILE. So when you have thousands of people stockpiling diced tomatoes on a Wednesday, they get cleaned out! The Publix manager even has to watch the Southern Savers site himself to forecast how much of an item to have in stock that week!!

Amanda, the manager also said that they probably DO have the items that have been cleared out in the back, but that I just need to find a stocker to go get them for me. I don't have time to stop five different stockers and wait 5 different times for 5 different items in my shopping hour. He has customers come in to a just-stocked tuna section and clear out 5 1/2 cases!! The stocker is now working in the next row and doesn't realize that the tuna is already all gone again! I just believe it's excessive and question the hoarding-mentality.

Emily said...

Aimee,

I read your blog and find it so encouraging and helpful! I've never commented and realize that I should let you know! I love this post and linked to it from my blog. I have many friends who have succombed to the "couponing frenzy" and I start to feel slightly guilty when the conversation comes up because I'm not "doing all I can to save our household lots of money." But you reminded me that I am!! I'm trying to feed us healthy whole foods and that's so much better than the processed stuff you can buy with coupons. Thank you for encouraging me :)

Rachel said...

I've been reading your blog for awhile now, but this is my first time commenting. :)

I couldn't agree with you more about coupons! I've done a few deals here and there, but the fact that most coupons are for highly processed, unhealthy food is why I just can't get into it. I would much rather live on beans and rice :) than chase after a deal for hamburger helper at 20 cents a box!

There's also the time and stress factors of it, even though I'm a stay-at-home mom and technically have time to go to several stores a week. I would much rather spend my time doing fun things with my kids!

Thanks for putting into words what I've thought about obsessive couponing for awhile now. :)

Nina said...

Interesting post, thank you :) I am in Australia, and there are not many opportunities for "couponing" here much at all...it is just not something that has taken off here, or even been done much. That said, Coles has just started putting coupons in their weekly catalogue, this really surprised me as I'd never seen it before...it seems whatever America is doing, we can pretty much guarantee it will end up in Australia sooner or later!

Brantlee said...

totally agree with your post. Now I will use a coupon from time to time but I get one deal and that is it! These people that stockpile 20 bottles of BBQ sauce that they will never use...I don't understand. Oh, and you think publix is bad..stop by CVS on a Saturday night.

Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) said...

I'm in the same place as Sarah - I really do ENJOY couponing. It is a fun, creative game for me. What I've found to be important for our family is to be sure that we are NOT buying things we wouldn't normally buy. I pass up a LOT of coupons because I do not want to feed my family processed junk. But you know, there are also a lot of coupons available for organic foods, even produce and meat. Those are the ones I really love! Also, I use coupons on drug store items. That has been such a blessing for me, because I can use them to bless others! Our church sponsors a local shelter for battered women and their children. They always need things like toilet paper and toothpaste, and I have spent the last year dropping off a big bag of such things at least once a month...without paying more than a few dollars for it.

Some people really do take couponing to an extreme, and I agree that it CAN become addictive for some. It is worrisome when that happens. However, couponing can also be a joy and a blessing to your own family and others, if you use it carefully.

Elizabeth said...

Great post, I agree. I hate shopping after "triple coupons" at Harris Teeter, stuff is wiped out. Honestly, though, only maybe 1-2 items I would buy are gone.

I do spend $$ on food... but to me it is worth it. I really don't spend as much as I would like- we'd love to do all grass-fed/pastured meats, but haven't made that transition. But I'm picky about milk & eggs, and support local farmer's markets and a local seasonal produce delivery service that brings $22 worth of amazing local fruits/veg to my door.

When I see all these totals from how much people save, and how much they bought, I'm just flabbergasted, but I know I couldn't do that b/c I buy so much fresh stuff. I am assuming that they also buy fresh veggies/fruit (I mean what self-respecting mom with kids wouldn't, kwim?) but maybe they don't purchase those items when they are focused on using their coupons or what not? Though I know sometimes you can get good deals on the frozen veg, and we do eat those more certain months of the year.

laurel said...

Aimee,
I thought this was an interesting post. As you know, we feed our families very similarly, focusing on whole, local, sustainable, etc. I do use coupons however, on a limited basis for things like olive oil, feta cheese, toilet paper, batteries, almond milk, etc. I agree with the commenter about the analytical mind...I am not "crafty" per se. Challenging myself to be more frugal (such as my yearly summer $50 a week grocery budget) is fun to me.
On a regular basis, I probably only use 4-5 coupons a week, but I do shop the sales cycle, which saves me the most money, and is useful for most items in a grocery store. Jenny from Southern Savers is a friend of mine, and she does not encourage hoarding, wiping out the stores, or going to a dozen stores for every deal that is out there. She is the first to say that you will go CRAZY if you do that!!
I enjoyed your thoughts (as always) and the comments have been fun to read too. :)

debbie bailey said...

Wow! You opened a can of worms, didn't you? I'm surprised by how many people agree with you (me included). Can I stop feeling guilty now for not using coupons?

kristinwithani said...

Aimee, this post made me smile. You know I AM a couponer and have been my entire life. It was drilled in to me at a young age. And I'm on quite a rampage of annoyance over all the "new" obsessed couponers. It drives me batty to go in to Harris Teeter and have empty shelves. CRAZY! And I don't stock pile things I don't use or need. I only use coupons on things I usually buy and when others decide to stock pile, I can't get essentials.
I'll still use coupons. I'll still look for great deals simply because it is ingrained in me. But I"m really really ready for this "fad" to go away so I can enjoy my little world of deals once again.
And, I'll go to Trader Joes where it is cheap and no coupons required!

ain't for city gals said...

I agree..I used to use lots of coupons..hardly even cut them out anymore and have never downloaded them on line. They are all for processed foods or toxic cleaning products. I have made a commitment to shop at one small store...ALL the fruits and veg are organic,,,they have bins of organic dry food products...beans, flour etc. I don't even think I am spending any more..because I buy less and so much more enjoyable..that counts for alot...

Aimee said...

Kristin: EXACTLY!!!!!

tonia said...

love this!

i don't have the time or mental energy for this kind of thing and as others have said, i don't buy food in boxes or packages much, so until they start selling BOGO pineapples and tomatoes, i'm going to stick with simple, whole foods that don't cost much anyway.

Sarah said...

Sarah with the analytical mind here again. What a fun discussion to read, interesting to hear the different perspectives! It will be interesting to see if the 'fad' lasts long term.

And I agree, Aimee, there are so many ways to bless our families! I do admit sometimes I'm envious of the more creative/crafty pursuits. :)

Charity Singleton said...

Aimee - As soon as I read your post I knew this would spark a lot of discussion. This has been a pleasure to read -- so civil between varying opinions.

I would DEFINITELY use coupons if they accepted them at my CSA, farmers' market, and gardening store. But not if it meant the people making those things available could earn a decent wage. I agree with your point that products of value often really do cost more.

Thanks for this great post, and thanks everyone else for a really great discussion.

Aimee said...

yes, Charity, I have loved this discussion...so many lovely voices all treating each other with respect :) Thanks all you ladies for chiming in...and Emily, I forgot to say that you are the model of decent couponer :) I appreciate your serving the community through your giving of the surplus...that's wonderful!

Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) said...

Aimee, thanks for your kind words. :) Your post and the conversation that followed has had me thinking a lot these past few days. I ended up writing my own post on the topic! If you're interested, it is up here:
http://laundryandlullabies.blogspot.com/2010/06/why-coupon.html

Amie said...

Thanks for your thoughts Aimee I came over from Laundry and lullabies. I am a couponer that purchases no items containing HFCS, only organics, local produce, and whole foods and grains (grinding my own flour baking my own bread, making my own crackers etc...). I agree that couponing works for companies because for the majority it encourages you to buy what you otherwise would not. That being said I love couponing, I spend about 1 hour each week doing it and save an average of 40% on my budget (I kept track this year) and have donated 12 boxes of items to charity. We are able to eat healthier and donate more for just an hour a week so that is why couponing works for me! I think it is a bit of a bad rumor that couponing is only for processed foods....you may save MORE couponing if you eat processed foods but we sure do save and donate like we never have through the blessings of coupons!

Blessings!

Amie

Sarah said...

I really appreciate your post. I started couponing this spring, because our income doesn't meet our expenses (just for a while, we hope), but am taking the summer off from buying newspapers because I need to focus on the children... and we'll just all work in the garden together and be frugal in other ways.

Ashley @ The Creative Place said...

Great post! :) I have only been couponing a couple months - mostly bc my hubby is in seminary and our income is getting smaller and smaller at this season in life. It was great to read your thoughts and read others thoughts too! :) I think a healthy view of couponing is definitely not a bad thing, but you're right, there are certainly people out there who are CRAZY about getting the deals, hoarding, and being absolute meanies to the checkout people if something doesn't ring up right- SO sad!

Some rules for myself about couponing that have helped keep me in check with not obsessing: I only clip and file coupons and check the online sites (1 or 2 times a week for 20-30 min.) during naptime/nighttime when my hubby is working or studying and my son is asleep... I have to promise myself that this will not get in the way of my family or taking care of my home, bc it easily could! I do not purchase any sort of processed food (eww!) or harsh cleaners with coupons, I use them for items I would normally be buying anyways-- bisquick, guacamole, rice, frozen veggies, cereal, fresh chicken, spices, yogurt, sausage as well as personal care items such as body wash, shampoo or razors, etc. I also purchase tons of produce and fresh meat... Have I bought items that I would not normally buy since it was "a great deal"? Sigh. Yes. But I am constantly reminding myself that even if it's only $.40, over time if I kept buying $.40 items, it would add up! So, my goal is to always NOT buy anything I would not normally buy.

Couponing has definitely taken up part of my time, but I also am able to actively pursue creative endeavors and keep a crafty blog up. Couponing has helped our bottom line tremendously at this chapter in our life, but I know that later on, I probably won't always be as diligent in keeping up with coupons.

Really enjoyed this post! Thanks for sharing!! :)

Rachel said...

I just found your blog and this is the first post I have read. Thank you for writing it! So many of my friends have gotten caught up in coupon hysteria, and while I have not wanted to do it myself after seeing the time and energy they put into it, I often felt guilty, like I was not being a good steward. How awful! You articulated so much that I have been unable to say.

Jenni said...

I just found your blog and ran across this post. I am not a couponer. The one store I go to always has the one coupon I use regulary which is specific for that store and is usually between $3 and $5 off is you spend x amount of money (typically $20-$30) and since I usually do spend about $20-$40 depending on the week and how long since the last time, this is a very good coupon to have.

I do look at the coupons, however, just in case. I only use coupons for a product I would be buying anyway. Cleaners, and, on occasion, I have found coupons for things like flour and even meats at times. But, if it's not an item I will typically buy, I don't look twice. It's not worth it just to save 10 cents

Anonymous said...

True...couponing isn't for everyone. I think people who haven't truly mastered the art of couponing to save their family money aren't going to like it. All you do is use a grocery store match up website and gather the coupons, you're good to go. You don't need to clear the shelves(true couponers are not hoarders), buy what you will need for your family size and if it is a great deal, buy a little extra.

As far as pushing people to eat unhealthy. That's like saying McDonald's forces people to eat there with their dollar menu. You make the choices in life. The point of couponing is if you like wheat thins, wait for a sale, have the coupons and buy enough wheat thins to last you until your next sale or sale - coupon match up. It does save a significant amount of money, you do not have to run to different grocery stores unless they are all close to you.

It saves money when you buy anything from clothes to groceries. I have cut my families grocery bill by 50% monthly. Guess where the extra money goes. Better vacations, more family time eating out and more money going into savings. I save an average of $300 a mo. That's big. You don't have to be crazy about it. A true couponer is practical. In my opinion, it is worth the 1 hr a week I spend organizing my coupons and making my grocery list. You don't have to cut anything healthy out of your diet because those things go on sale too.