There is no denying that there is a cost associated with couponing. The cost of time. And this time cost exists on several levels. Clearly, reading circulars and Sunday ads, printing discounts, and planning meals is all time-intensive work. So, too, is travelling and shopping at different stores in order to maximize deals and organizing your “materials” to make the planning process go more smoothly.
If you wanted, you could calculate that time, multiply it by your hourly rate at work, or even the minimum wage and quantify the “cost” of couponing in those terms. However, when most people ask the question “does it cost money to save money?” they are being a lot more literal than what I just described. And, unfortunately, the answer to that question is not so clear cut, because…it depends.
What Kind of Couponer Are You?
The type of couponer you are – as in the reasons behind and ways you approach couponing – largely dictate the monetary costs of your efforts. In a previous post about couponing as a form of delayed gratification I began to address this subject and I was blown away by people’s comments about their personal reasons behind couponing.
“It started out of necessity, but turned into a lifestyle,” said one commenter.
Another added, “I view couponing as more of a way to stretch rather than save.”
For me, personally, I use couponing in the later form. But, recently, have added another reason to the mix – a new baby who will not only cost more, but take me away from work. So, for me, and a lot of people, the reasons behind couponing are fluid, just like life. However, the “cost” of couponing is always felt most significantly in the beginning stages.
When You “Have” to Coupon
When people turn to couponing out of necessity, the answer to the question posed in this title is crucial. Down on luck and desperate, the idea of spending even one more dollar than absolutely necessary can be debilitating. Yet, a lot of the couponing tactics that we present here on LRWC require just that. Catalina deals, rebates, even food preservation all require a certain upfront “cost” that users need to be able to shoulder in order to maximize their returns. In these cases, when you want to get the maximum gain from the couponing experience, the answer is “yes, you do need to spend money to save it” at least initially.
However, when you are not in a position to do that – and we’ve all been there – you can still benefit from couponing. The trick is to see the process differently, to choose deals and options based on your circumstances and budget. You just simply cannot maximize the benefits of this lifestyle – yet.
Couponing Is Like Any Other Type of Money Management Choice
Personally, I think it comes down to seeing couponing in one of two ways: as a strict savings or as an investment. You can approach couponing just like these two finance options.
- Saving a little bit of your paycheck every week (i.e. finding coupons on items you need to buy and paying less for them) means that, when you need it, there is money in the bank to spend.
- Investing that same amount every week (i.e. “spending” the money and waiting to receive a rebate a few weeks later) may not provide you with as much cash-on-hand (since your money is tied up in investment like stocks or going through the rebate process) but, over time, you reap a far greater “reward” in terms of profits and dividends that straight savings just cannot provide.
Just like with business, to do it right there are “startup” costs associated with the life of a couponer. Access to a computer (ideally two or three computers) with a printer and ink is a basic one. I have also found that investing both time and money in an organizational system for my coupons is crucial. If you want to take advantage of bulk buying, having a separate, large freezer is another investment. Also, you need shelf space and/or organizational items to truly maximize the value of your “stock” (I use movable shelves in my basement). These all cost money – even if you buy the items used. But they also save money in the end just like an investment in a storefront gets customers to patronize your new business whereas running a company out of your home reduces the chances of making “impulse” sales.
Do What’s Right for You
We all have different philosophies when it comes to couponing, saving, and money management. For some, “spending money to save money” is an oxymoron. To others, particularly busy professionals and parents, time savings is worth just as much as cost savings. It’s all dependent on the type of couponer you are and the circumstances in your financial life at the time. There is no right and wrong way, but, no matter what, there is savings to be had.
What was your experience as a couponing “beginner”? Did you need to spend money to save money?