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Is Couponing Worth Your Time?

You’ve probably seen the clip of a proud, enthusiastic little girl shouting, “My mom’s the coupon queen!”

Now imagine that’s your daughter—and she’s talking about you. How does that label make you feel? Are you beaming with pride or embarrassed to discover you’re one of those people?

When it comes to purchasing basic necessities like food, toiletries and cleaning products, it can seem like you have only two options: Spend most of your waking hours clipping and sorting coupons or spend most of your income avoiding the hassle. It’s the classic debate of time versus money.

So how do you decide which approach works best for you and your family? And is it possible to find balance between the two? Read on for the answers.

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Let’s Do a Little Math

It’s easy to look at your options and form an opinion based on how you feel. But, like budgeting teaches us, we can’t always act on our feelings. Sometimes we have to do a little math.

Start by testing it out for a week. Record all the time you spend collecting newspapers and clipping, sorting, and printing coupons, then track the time you spend driving to multiple grocery stores. Take note of your savings and sit down with the numbers.

Here’s an example of what the math might look like: It took you a total of three hours to gather all the coupons and travel from store to store. You saved $52. That’s equal to earning $17 an hour (minus the cost of gas to travel).

Was it worth your time? Well, that’s for you to decide. What we can tell you is you really don’t have to choose one extreme or the other. Find the sweet spot that works for you and commit to only spending that amount of time couponing each week or month. Look for ways to cut your time, like downloading an app on your smartphone that can be scanned by the cashier at checkout. You don’t have to go crazy to save a couple of bucks.

Are You Sure You Want to Buy That?

In 2012, coupon usage fell by 14.3% compared to the previous year. You might think companies are reluctant to print coupons after shows like Extreme Couponing encouraged countless families to take advantage of the savings. Or maybe Americans are ashamed to be associated with the crazy phenomenon? Surprisingly, neither is the case.

Retailers distributed 310 billion coupons in 2012, and nearly four out of five people say they use coupons on a regular basis to purchase consumer goods.

The problem lies in what coupons now offer. For starters, the average face value of coupons dropped 1.9% while requirements for redeeming those coupons went up. Shoppers now need to spend 4% more money before deals kick in.

But there’s an even bigger factor contributing to the decline. Consumers are increasingly having trouble finding coupons for the items they want to buy. This is the catch of couponing.

Before you celebrate your savings, consider whether the items you bought are things you actually want or need. Just like with any great sale, if the groceries you purchased won’t get eaten, you haven’t really saved any money at all.

It’s important to aim for balance in both the time you spend couponing and the savings you choose to participate in.

What, Exactly, Are We Saying?

If it sounds like we’re waffling between the pro-coupon and no-coupon team, we kind of are. That’s because we don’t think extremes are the answer in this scenario. Balance is.

Of course, as Dave teaches, we learn a lot by looking at the habits of people we’d like to emulate. Check this out: A 2012 study found that families making over $100,000 a year are two times more likely to use coupons than families making less than $35,000 a year.

More money earned and more money saved sounds like a winning combination!

Is couponing worth your time? How do you find balance?

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