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Do Coupons Really Save You Money?

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Paper coupons still rule the cash register.

In fact, 70% of the coupons Americans redeem each year are free-standing inserts, a.k.a. that stuff that falls out of the newspaper when you open it. And we’re using them eight times more than digital coupons. Go figure.

But is all that tedious coupon-cutting really worth it?

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When it comes to couponing, the choices seem to be either spending every waking hour scouring for and sorting 75-cent-off rectangles or spending your entire paycheck at the grocery store.

Neither of those sounds appealing. So how do you determine what’s right for you? For starters, you run the numbers.

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Let’s Do Some Simple Math

If you’re interested in couponing, try it out for a month. Forget the stereotypes and find smart ways to quickly and efficiently find the coupons you’re interested in.

Write down how much time you spend scanning sale papers and websites, sorting and printing coupons, and driving to multiple grocery stores. After you’ve redeemed all your coupons, record your savings from each place.

Here’s an example: Let’s say it took you three hours to gather and organize all the coupons. And let’s say you saved $52 total. That means you “earned” $17 an hour for your couponing efforts.

Was It Worth It?

Before you start celebrating your savings, consider this: Will you actually use every item you purchased? Just like with any great sale, if the groceries you purchased won’t get eaten (or aren’t healthy options), you haven’t really saved any money at all. In fact, you might end up running back to the store to pick up more food to replace it. That’s more time and more money!

Related: Save Time and Money By Growing These 5 Veggies

Find Your Balance

It’s important to balance both the time you spend couponing and the true cost savings for your family. If you’re buying expensive stuff just because it’s “on sale,” you’re not really saving much money. But if you’re able to create great meal plans around the healthy items you purchased, you just scored some extra pocket change!

You 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 down your time, like downloading an app on your smartphone that can be scanned by the cashier at checkout. And focus on only making purchases you’ll actually use.

You don’t have to go crazy to save a couple of bucks. You just have to be savvy.

Related: 5 Simple Ways to Cut Down Your Grocery Bill Without Coupons

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