Does It Cost Money to Save Money?

Save Vs Spend Two Way Street Signs Point to Fiscal ResponsibilitThere 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?

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  • joe

    be thing I ever did was start couponing

  • MicheleAna

    I had to coupon out of necessity, still do, lol. In the beginning my biggest problem was thinking I had to get every deal there was to be like you guys, LRWC professionals. Once I realized I would do better with just one or two when I focused on the budget and just those two places my stock pile and mind did better. At that point I even spent less time organizing. The longer you coupon you begin to realize there will always be another sale and coupon to match but always know your bottom dollar to spend on something.

    • That is common for most people just starting out. I think it’s the excitement of realizing the deals you can do. Glad you quickly fell into your couponing groove.

    • Deena

      The other thing we old timers know is that there are cycles to everything. Cindy puts them on here too — what’s on sale traditionally in certain months. Allows you to plan your stockpile as sure-as-shooting the coupons will follow the sales. It’s like ice cream treats — they are always on deals just before summer, but hardly every during. But you can stock up a little and save a ton. Just an example… the lesson is there will always be another one coming down the pike. Just gotta have those coupons clipped and ready!

      • Ang In CT

        Or you could luck out and get 40 cent Christmas wrapping paper like I did this past weekend at Toys R Us. I went in for baby food .. you just never know what deals are just still around.

        • Kate

          Yes! I stopped by CVS yesterday and found 90% off Christmas clearance! They had paper, bows, tissue paper, stockings and even chocolate.. for pennies!

          • Ang In CT

            I was getting “Santa Paper” but forgot to put it in the house.. my son goes Mommy what’s this wrapping paper doing in the backseat. I’m like hey, this way you can wrap everyone’s presents in your favorite cartoon. Your sister can do hers the same way.. so much for that idea..

  • mel18

    Another way to look at this is ” A penny saved is a penny earned”, a phrase associated with Benjamin Franklin circa 18th century. Also my onstage line in my 2nd grade class play more years ago than I care to acknowledge.

  • Jessa

    I use my time wisely because I love couponing but I also don’t want it to be a waste of time. I am fortunate enough to have a lot of free time at work so I plan my trips and check the site while I’m already getting paid. I also try to combine errands so if I need to go to the bank I might go to CVS on my way back to the office. Again, I am fortunate in this so I know it’s not the same for everyone but it all comes down to using the time you have to it’s best advantage.

  • Ang In CT

    I am one of those who view couponing as a way to stretch rather than save money. I wait tables part time and husband is in sales. We never know week to week what will have money wise but it’s better than no jobs. So, for us we get the most of what we have. I have learned to track how many of what items my family uses and try to focus on those things when it comes to couponing. I try not to over buy but I don’t stress out to much if I underestimate a product. Example.. we went thru more muffin mix then I thought but it’s on sale this week so I’ll restock. First and foremost my priority it feeding my family as healthy meals I can. A lot of times that means I don’t do “deals” because the products aren’t right for our dietary needs.

  • sherry

    Being on a once a month limited income, coupons have became a need. Once the basics are paid, then its time for grocery shopping. I don’t have money to stockpile, just because something is on sale. I cant live off of shampoo or tp. I prefer to spend my money on food products to last the month. This is very challenging to do. I am sure I could do better, but at least I am trying. Match sales with coupons and rewards cards.

  • Nancy

    We all can relate to what has previously been said. I find I can be generous with family, friends, neighbors and strangers in need with my stockpile. Even though we all have different reasons to coupon I think we can all agree LRWC and Cindy make it a whole lot easier! Thank you!

  • hanna/h

    Few years ago,when I needed to save money, I was just using store sales.
    Then I found LRWC site and started couponing. Now it’s my habit to use coupons.
    If coupon value is $1.00 and I have use of it, that coupon is no longer coupon, it’s a $1.00 money to me. In good time if I saved money by coupons, sometime I donate that
    amount at the casher (time to time they ask if I want to donate certain charities, etc).
    In hard time, I stretch money for foods, so we don’t have to touch much of savings.
    I commute to work but there are few drugstores and super market on the way. If there is some deals pop up, I do this “deal shopping “during the commute rather than waiting my food shopping day or making special trip to use my gas. Friends benefit from my couponing but I am happy to gather things for them or to donate to local charities.
    I am very proud to live this way and very thankful to LRWC people and everyone who
    shares their opinion and deals. Thank you!!

  • David

    This is especially true when starting out at CVS. Gotta spend some money to get your first after-rewards freebie (like this week’s $9.99 gas relief “freebie”). But then you can roll that reward from week to week to week, and suddenly you’re submitting rebates and getting back way more than what you spent, all because you started growing that original reward that you got when you started. Incidentally, this week was also a good week for newbies to get their feet wet at Shoprite. Plenty of e-coupons and Catalina deals to get a savings ball rolling for super cheap.

  • mrsclaire

    we have never faced the threat of being hungry (thank god). I started couponing to help get us out the huge debt we were saddled with–my husband’s law school loans. I was then staying at home with my young son, and wanted to be able to contribute financially to the family. through my big savings on necessities and by putting every spare penny toward those loans, we have been able to be them off completely…yippee!!! our new goal is to pay off our mortgage and save for our son’s college tuition. right now, financially, were are secure, but I don’t think I will ever go back to the old way I used to shop unless I hit it BIG in the lottery. I enjoy couponing and this hobby saves us so much money. and of course, life is very unpredictable. its so nice to have a stockpile in case of job loss or emergency (after hurricane sandy—by the grace of god our house was undamaged and we were able to borrow a generator– my sister and brother-in-law stayed with us and we were able to eat from our stockpile—very important since the local grocery stores were closed/ran out of things). plus, I don’t have to make a trip to the store and pay full price when I run out of something unexpectedly!

  • Chelsey Benson

    Yes ,of course I have to spend money now but I know that in the future I will be glad that I did it..