No Use For Coupons

I hate coupons. I consider myself frugal, and I love saving money, but grocery coupons just don’t do it for me. I’ve tried. About every 10 or 12 months, I forget that I hate coupons and decide that I could shave some money off our grocery bill if I just applied myself to couponing.

So off I go, looking through the various flyers that show up weekly, unbidden, in my mail box. I start scrolling through online couponing websites that are clearly run by women who really, really like scoring 7 boxes of Rice-A-Roni for 49 cents (not each, total). I start off looking for a good basic primer on how to just save a little money on the stuff I do buy, and very quickly I realize – again – that they don’t make coupons for the stuff I buy.

The vast majority of coupons are for food that I just don’t consider to be, um, food. Sorry to be quite obnoxiously elitist about the whole thing, but, Fruit Roll-Ups? Not food. Gatorage? Not food. Fritos? Not food, and they smell like wet dogs. Oreo-cookie flavored breakfast cereal? God help us all, definitely not food.

I’m not trying to be a buzz-kill about this, or suggest that one should never indulge in a big bowl full of Oreo-Os doused with Gatorade (okay, actually, I am saying you should never do that), but I’ve yet to see a manufacturer’s coupon for chard or beef or oranges. Perhaps this is because no one really manufactures chard or beef or oranges?

The YuppieHippie Coupons and the Chinook Book coupons are better, but even these are usually for products that I either don’t buy, make from scratch instead of buying, or buy in large bulk quantities.

Part of the problem is that the way I shop is not conducive to couponing. I buy my meat in bulk from a wholesaler so I “shop” for that from my freezer. I grow pretty much all our veggies, so I shop for that from my backyard. I grow some of our fruit, so that’s a backyard thing too, in season, and now I’m buying more of our “outside” fruit from an Eastern Washington farmer directly.

Couponing for real seems to necessitate that you really enjoy shopping – the going to multiple stores, the comparing of prices, the cross checking of coupons and sales and more coupons to get multiple value from your coupon currency. I totally understand the drive to score a deal, but faced with all that work, I’d just rather not buy whatever it is, even if it’d be practically free with enough coupons.

For me, and for my money and time, it’s just more fun to grow real food than work coupon alchemy to  conjure up a whole cart full of practically free Not Food.

But I’ll never, ever go to the fabric store without a coupon. That’s completely different.

Are coupons an essential part of your money-saving strategy when grocery shopping, or do you also find limited use for them?


  1. says

    I wish there were more coupons here…but you're right in that they're usually just used to entice you into purchasing junk foods or new items that they're trying to create a market for. It sounds like you're doing just fine with your own system!

  2. says

    Yep, there are coupons for junk food, plenty of them. However there are coupons for real food, every week of every month.

    Milk (organic? Yep) along with many other dairy organics, let alone just plain old dairy. I mean sour cream, cottage cheese, cheese, etc. Coupons for bacon,sausage, ground turkey, pork, even beef.

    Coupons for oats, flour, sugar, baking soda, cornstarch, pectin, pickles, ketchup, mustard and on and on.

    I believe you can shave much money off your grocery bill and not fall into buying junk food. Its all about food cycles (now holiday, so lots of baking and cooking coupons) and store ads meeting up with coupons, buying more than one item, so you don't need to purchase again until the next time its on sale. P.s. my grandgirls love that I have fruit roll ups in my pantry. Cheers.

  3. says

    Thank you! I've had my own personal rants about coupons. Every time someone says something about couponing I just roll my eyes. Coupons do not buy you food.

  4. Lady Banksia says

    Agreed. I tried to get in to couponing, but it just didn't fit into our gig here. If I see one for something I use, then I consider it.

    I'm not a brand loyalist, and I don't have an extra house somewhere for my stock to serve as my personal grocery store, so… and I like my house decorated as it is, not stacked to the rafters with t.p. and shampoo, thank you very much. (Sorry, kinda went of in another direction there…)

    Now, you show me a coupon for broccoli starts at my local nursery, and you have my attention. :^) Oh, and the fabric store, too… I have two on my counter, as I type…with a quilt project awaiting. Score!

  5. says

    I'm with you. I tend to buy generic/store brand and that's still cheaper than the others with a coupon, and the items where I do care about the brand are usually not found on coupons. I think the last coupon I used was for yeast. I do sometimes check circulars for what's on special, but I can't plan my life around my trip to the store so it's more about what's there when I show up. Heck, I don't even have the time to look though the coupon section of the paper, much less troll websites for that info!

  6. says

    I hear ya. I grow most of our produce, pick up the rest at farmers markets, and buy from the bulk bins at our local co-op. After that, there aren't many packaged products left to use coupons on. And I agree – the majority of the coupons in the paper are for foods I would never buy. Our co-op does put out a coupon book quarterly so I do try to use those. Mostly to buy special treats that I wouldn't buy full price, like crackers or organic frozen tortellini. But more often than not, I get up to the register and completely forget to hand over my coupons!

    Stocking up on things when they are on sale saves us a lot more money than coupons.

  7. Anonymous says

    We make everything from scratch due to severe food allergies that my daughter has- so I totally agree with and understand not using the food coupons. I do coupon for things like cleaning products, health and beauty aids, and pet foods. I try to keep it simple- once or twice a month, I take a handful of coupons to the stores where I think will have the best prices on the items I have coupons for. It is nice to get free shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and razors though! The majority of the coupons bring the cost of the "better" brands down to the cost of store brands or less. I only buy the Sunday paper- every time I print coupons they end up expiring before I use them. My simple way of doing coupons takes about $120 a month off the cost of my non-food groceries. If it were more complicated than what I do now- I doubt I would do it at all.

  8. says

    I do clip and cut coupons from the Sunday paper inserts. I don't find too many I can use but they pick up around the holidays and you can find coupons for baking needs which is nice. I think extreme coupon is silly (course this is my opinion only from what I have seen) because who needs 300 bars of soap and 150 tubes of deodorant and a storage locker to keep it all in?? I stock up when I find sales of something I use, especially since my grocer puts no limit on the number one can buy. I don't print coupons off internet.

    I do get kind of disgusted when I look in other peoples grocery carts and see the junk they buy…basically garbage wrapped up and sealed tight in packaging that also are garbage. Even worse when I see them with children begging for this, for that, and they buy it. I think that means their children are spending lots of time in front of TV, being sucked in by ads.

  9. says

    Most of the foods that offer coupons I can't eat because of my corn allergy. I've almost totally given up on them, except for my Bed Bath and Beyond coupons.

    While I hate Bed Bath and Beyond because it stinks to high heaven, I can get at least 20% off of all my bakeware, kitchen utensils, bed linens, etc.

  10. says

    I agree in that coupons for actual food is hard to find. But I do get a thrill from combining $4 off coupons for razors that are on sale at Target and include a $5 target giftcard. Now THOSE things make me happy. Oh, and Target has their own coupons and you can stack them with manufacturer coupons!

    Other than things like razors, I only use coupons for So Delicious Coconut milk. You can find the coupons on their website. My son has a dairy allergy and the $1 savings helps!

    Additonally, Fred Meyer occasionally sends out coupons for $X off fresh produce, but sadly, those coupons are rare!

  11. says

    Here is my recent trip to QFC this week: this is a mega sale meaning many items are on a Buy 10, Save $5 instantly.

    SW canned beans (kidney, black etc.) .24/can
    Swanson broth .24/can
    Campbells cream of chicken/mushroom. .29/can
    Imagine Organic broth. .99/carton
    C&H sugar. 1.99/4#bag (not great, but ok price)
    Challenge butter, $1.74
    These prices are after sale and coupons.
    There are a few really great Seattle area blogs out there that do all the work for you in telling the deals to be had and where to find the coupons. I am not a extreme couponer, but I have a awesome pantry and rarely have to go buy something for meals made by scratch. I can food, I dehydrate food, I have bought cows and pigs, but with our kids grown, it just does not make too much sense for us now. I have had hens until just recently. There are even gluten free coupons out there. I DO have some "junk" food, but that is ok by me. Packaged cookie & cake mix and instant potatoes and other items for camping are just fine in my world. My 2 cents, off my box now!

  12. says

    Here in Canada, I do not think it is possible to "score" as big as I have seen someone do it on a TLC show (I believe it was called Extreme Couponing"). The stores don't double the coupons. People here are a lot less into couponing, I believe… I admit to using coupons. For toilet paper, batteries, tampons, garbage bags. For the food coupons, I have to agree with Erica : most coupons are for "foods" that we do not eat. But, if I come across a coupon for whole wheat pasta or Nutella, I use it. I don't spend time looking for them, though but if they find their way into my mailbox, I'll use them…

  13. lisa says

    My sister-in-law coupons. This is what I've learned from her:
    #1: It takes time, like a JOB, first and foremost. Time to scan your sources, time to call all your friends and neighbors that don't coupon so you can grab that circular before it gets recycled because there's a coupon with no purchase quantity limits, time to keep it all organized. Time to go from store to store to get the products served by the coupons but also just for the plain research to develop a basic knowledge base of how much different sizes of Cheerios cost at various stores to even know if the coupon you clipped is actually useful ($1 at Store A means squat if you already know that the cost, all the time, at Store B is $1.50 less).
    #2. Brand loyalty? What's that?
    #3. Willingness to choke down icky cheap tinny-tasting canned corn (or whatever) because you bought 50 cans on sale.
    #4. What do you mean, "GMO"? Can't worry about sciencey stuff like that when it comes to the grocery bill.
    None of these points are anything I’m willing to do.
    Don’t even get me started on Groupon, because I’ve had coffee and nothing good to say.

  14. Lisa says

    I'm with ya. My primary grocery store doesn't accept computer printed coupons. And they don't run their own. But it's the cheapest store in town, and generally their regular prices beat what I can get at a mainstream store *with* coupons. And I don't have to run all over the world to get it.

    I do occasionally see coupons for milk, eggs, meat, and butter. Don't think I've ever seen one for produce. I don't need eggs, I do sometimes go for butter coupons, and since we only buy local milk that only helps us if it's on that brand…which it never is. :)

    My mother in law always gives us coupons. She *does* stock up on stuff just because it's cheap. No thanks.

    Fruit Rollups = not food. That's what I tell my kid. She eats them occasionally anyway. But we're clear that they're something else entirely, and not food.

  15. says

    I have the exact same problem, as I said on the Food Stamp Challenge. I don't have time to spend hours searching for and printing coupons. In that amount of time each day, I could make the money I would save. Couponing is great for people who eat crap (no offense to anyone), but that's not me. If I can find coupons for frozen fruits and veggies, I will use those sometimes, but I hardly ever find coupons for organics or fresh foods. I have found that shopping sales and stockpiling save me just as much money. I admire the "coupon queens" who can buy $200 dollars worth of food and get $10 back, but that's like a full-time job. I know, because I was waaaaay into couponing and refunding when my kids were small, and if I hadn't had to do it to survive, I never would have. It was like a second job! Shopping took HOURS longer than it normally would have. If you have a large family, fine, but if not, just not worth it.

  16. says

    My coupon use is very limited. Like you, I feel they don't make coupons for the kind of food I buy. Sure, I occasionally see a coupon for "bigger" brands of flour, sugar, milk, etc., but even with a coupon they are almost always cheaper if I buy the store brands instead.

    We grow a lot of our veg., buy our pork from a farmer, hunt for venison, don't buy boxed cereal, ready-made cookies or frozen meals. We make our own soap and household cleaners, I don't wear make-up, I use a diva cup and the cheapest disposable razors I can find. So, most HBA and household coupons aren't for me, either.

    If a see a coupon and can/will use it, then sure, I'll clip it, but I find I am clipping fewer and fewer of them. So few that I won't be renewing our Sunday newspaper prescription next time around.

    But like you, I wouldn't go into a craft or fabric store without a coupon. We frequently use coupons when we go out to eat, go bowling, get haircuts, go to amusements such as a pumpkin patch, etc. I think we save more money using those coupons than we do on grocery items.

  17. says

    I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one that extreme couponing just doesn't work for! I will apply a few coupons if they happen to match products I'm already going to buy. But when was the last time you saw coupons for organic apples, dried fruit, or nuts?

    We only get a few "snacky" items. I do have an oreo addiction that will occasionally need to be met but not enough that I need to purchase 20 things of them.

    It comes down to choosing quality versus quantity. Do I want 50 things of chips or a few bags of produce? Personally, I go for the quality… and the occasional oreo.

  18. says


    "Couponing for real seems to necessitate that you really enjoy shopping – the going to multiple stores, the comparing of prices, the cross checking of coupons and sales and more coupons to get multiple value from your coupon currency. I totally understand the drive to score a deal, but faced with all that work, I'd just rather not buy whatever it is, even if it'd be practically free with enough coupons."

    … is exactly why I don't really bother. Granted I do find some printables online for stuff that I use, but I absolutely dislike shopping so multiple trips through the checkout line and going to 300 stores in one weekend just does NOT appeal to me, especially if it's just going to net me a bunch of free boxes of junk cereal that we don't eat.

    I will say that I do use some coupons, but I just usually look online when I'm about to shop to see if there's coupons for stuff I want. Zoi brand greek yogurt for instance… I love the stuff and they always have a printable on their website. But when 90% of your shopping consists of meat, veggies, fruit and dairy, it's kinda not worth it to spend hours looking for coupons.

  19. says

    We get a book of co-op coupons every month, and I usually pick a handful out of there for things like rice cakes or tea or organic frozen meals (it helps that our local co-op is 5 blocks away). QFC sends us coupons that include a "$6 off your purchase of $50 or more" as well coupons for milk, eggs, and sometimes even "$2 of $10 on anything from the produce department." Usually I forget to use them before they expire, but when I remember, they're useful.

  20. says

    With you 100% of the way. I get asked by friends about food budgeting all the time. They always ask about coupons. I never use them. But when I talk of buying meat in bulk or veggies from CSAs I get told how those things are too expensive. But there are times of the year that all I'm buying is grains and dairy at the store – so I buy the good stuff. Feeding 5 people on one $35 dollar trip to the grocery store per week, because I bought my CSA share in January and ordered a hog in November. Works out to be WAY better than any couponing could be and it's all whole, real foods.

  21. Lee R says

    I used to really,really,be into couponing,I used to live for coupons and bargain deals,especially free stuff.

    That was a few years ago…

    Now,I grow most of our vegetables,I buy meat in bulk,and we are going to be raising meat rabbits to bring down that cost even more.We planted 12 fruit trees this spring.Our garden produced over 500 pounds of food this year,and all it cost us was some labor,a small cash investment(less than $100.00 mostly for fencing)and time…

    The more we grow here at home,the less I need the grocery stores.The more I learn to cook and bake from scratch,the less appealing anything in a grocery store looks.

    I never really thought about what I was buying much,I mean come on rice-a-roni for free,right?

    Then I started gardening.I started to really look at ingredient labels,and I started to really pay attention to WHERE said food like items came from…

    I used to frequent fast food places,until I started looking at ingredients,and where they get their "beef"….hmmm….

    I started paying close attention to food recalls,and how those affect me.

    Yes,we live in town,not on a farm or even in the country.BUT we have a sense of comfort that you can only get when you truly know where your food came from,what went into it,and most importantly,what did not.

    I still find coupons useful for things like bath tissue,foil,and a few other things,but I don't live for coupons,and I don't wait anxiously for the Sunday paper to come out so I can buy 4 just to get the coupon inserts.

  22. says

    Have you ever seen the show "Extreme Couponing?" At first I was intrigued by what these people were doing and then as I watched the show, my husband and I just shook our heads saying "That's just glorified hoarding." And it was. Who the heck needs 50 bottles of barbeque sauce, 1000 tic tacs, microwave meals and who knows what else they need to buy to make the deal. Yes, while they will only spend $25.00 on $800.00 worth the groceries, what is it that they are getting? I'd rather spend my TIME growing a garden or with my animals instead of what they do… which involves working 30 hours per WEEK in order to look for deals, cutting and calculating everything, and also taking away a whole room in their house or basement for storage just for bulk items they bring in. Yes they are set for life with 20 years worth the toilet paper, tooth brushes and tooth paste that does in fact expire. I don't get it, but for those who don't grow their own food or raise their own animals, this is a way of life and survival. I can't judge them, because if I were in their position, I would do it too. But I'm not. I prefer real food to that in a can or frozen…unless, that is, I can or freeze it myself! LOL

  23. says

    wow, this post got quite the action..right on!
    I think this is a timely topic with many families concerned about rising food and heating prices, and some resorting to coupon clipping to save $.
    My best advice is to stay out of the stores. Infrequent trips to buy whole ingredients has saved my family money. That and learning to grow more and more of our own veggies. Anyway, I had some similar thoughts back in September on my blog. Cheers, Jenni

  24. says

    I love the Chinook Book. Of course, my job co-sponsors it, so I got two for really cheap. But it pays for itself quite quickly and then some between Ballard Market and Swanson's. But otherwise, I don't use coupons because I don't buy the crap that most coupons are hawking.

  25. Anonymous says

    One of my local grocery stores FINALLY caught on that the coupons they sent out to their loyalty card holders never got used because they were all for crap like fruit roll-ups and cheetos. This month, they sent out coupons with no brands on them. Things like $1 off a purchase of fresh fruit of $4 or more. No doubling, but they sent me somewhere around 20 coupons like this, one for fresh veggies, one for canned, one for "$1 off any cheese $2 or more" (I snagged 2 lbs of muenster and extra sharp cheddar for $5 because they had a BOGO sale plus my coupon), and stuff like that. You could pick anything including organic in the specified category. Now THAT's a coupon. I've never seen one like them before, so I KNOW they're rare! I don't shop at Ralph's much, but with the $8 gift certificate they gave me from "points accumulated" and the coupons and sales combined, I paid about $88 for $170 worth in organic food. Now let's hope all stores will catch on to this, I loved using coupons for things like organic romaine hearts and organic grapes. We just don't eat junk… real food is so much better, and it felt great to get it so cheap. N.E.L, I totally get your coupon pain. This is the first time I've used a coupon in ages, much less a handful of them, specifically because getting a flat of soggy green beans isn't worth it, even if it is only $1 after cutting out 5 coupons for it.

  26. says

    i also agree – coupons = crappy, unnatural and scary foods. Besides, if food is THAT cheap, i can't help but question where it's come from and what's gone into it.

    i think you're saving yourself tons of money and increasing your self-sufficiency with your approach to growing food, etc… THAT'S what we should be striving for – not a dollar per pound of meat, etc…

    PS. gatorade is great when you're hungover. Just sayin' ;)

  27. says

    I have watched "Extreme Couponing" a couple times. While I do have a bit of a morbid fascination with it, mostly I spend the show with the words "Nasty, FAKE food!" screaming through my head.
    I don't do much in the way of coupons because we eat very few items for which coupons are even offered; plus most of the places I shop either do not honor or offer any coupons (Trader Joe's, Azure Standard) or only accept their own (Costco). I do keep an eye out for the occasional coupons that would be useful, which are mostly for household items, but I don't dedicate time to searching them out. Costco did offered a super fantastic coupon last month – buy one, get one free on cases of organic canned tomatoes, so since we didn't grow enough this year I bought the offer limit. Other than those types of infrequent offers, I mostly just keep an eye out for when our bulk items are offered on sale or at low in-season prices and stock up. And then there's the garden and chickens and ducks.
    Buying in bulk and raising our own has been the best strategy I've found to keep our costs reasonable while consuming a whole, nutrient-rich diet.

  28. Lady Banksia says

    As well, by growing/raising your own stuff, besides all the immediate benefits of nutrition, etc., there are the long-term rewards that come when you hopefully won't have the medical expenses from eating healthy, natural foods as opposed to the not-so-healthy processed, inexpensive fake foods out there, and from the exercise/physical work and movement that is involved. I think of it as an insurance policy that is worth the investment at today's prices.

  29. says

    I agree with so much of what was said already. I also get insane over the waste that is shown on "Extreme Couponing". One of the couponing tricks is to buy the smallest possible size that will work with the coupon. One of the shows had a woman getting hundreds of trial sized shampoos, toothpastes, etc. That's alot of excess trash we don't need.

  30. says

    I HATE couponing, too! The REAL FOOD that I buy for my family is never a coupon item—-don't think I've ever seen a coupon for bulk old-fashioned oats or almond flour or quinoa. I will say, though, that my local organic co-op offers occassional "in-store" coupons for things like tahini or pure maple syrup or tomato paste, etc. (things that I buy to MAKE other things) and sometimes even dairy products like yogurt or butter. I always use those coupons without reservation!

  31. says

    I occasionally coupon. Not very often because we don't get the paper and I don't search out coupons online, since there are so few I'd use. Sometimes I get picked over coupon books from the neighbor or in-laws though, which is great, because they'll weed out all the crap and leave the good stuff, like yeast or oranges (yes, I have seen quite a few coupons for oranges!), that I might actually buy. I recently got several of those strips of yeast for PENNIES after my coupons, the doubling of the coupons by the store, and the sale it was on. I was so pleased with myself! I just keep my eyes open and grab coupons for real food, like dairy or spinach (yes, I've seen those too), and pass the rest on to someone else that doesn't care what they eat as long as they get a good "deal".

  32. ANNE says

    It’s rare, but you CAN get real food with coupons. Milk, eggs, salads…
    The other day I bought 14 1-lb bags of frozen vegetables: peas, corn, broccoli, etc for a TOTAL of about $1.35. So it can be done.

  33. kai says

    Late to thhis.topic but I found your blog a short time ago and have been exploring. On the topic of coupons, I want to coupon to badly….but we don’t use traditional tp, I buy our gf flours in bulk, I truy veggies I don’t grow from local farms….strawberries only happen in June. We don’t use huggies for the little in diapers. And while I am all about saving I don’t want to undercut my local business or farmer buy paying a dollar a lb for pork if such a coupon happened. Couponing also makes me question the business practices of a company that can afford to sell their product so cheap. I will not post jack with my own rant.

    Plz excuse grammar errors. Phone typing blows

  34. ms says

    Big fan of coupons for things like toothpaste (often can get it FREE), contact lens solution (allergic to all but one brand and was able to use 3 coupons on a single box last week so it was about $3), a few cleaning products (using double-coupons helps), the recycled-paper brand of t.p. (haven’t yet figured out how to live without it…though I know a huge percentage of the world population must, God bless them), and baking supplies like sugar and flour that I’m going to use eventually and, when they’re on loss-leader sale and I have a coupon – it’s worth getting. What I’m not a fan of is running out to the corner to buy toothpaste full-price (outrageous) and without a coupon because nobody bothered to mention they’d taken the last tube out of the closet 3 weeks ago.

  35. ms says

    I was curious about the “Extreme Couponing” program. Since I don’t have cable I found it on NetFlix and watched a few shows. There needs to be a balance between the desire for Freedom from Want and the desire for Freedom from Fear. Not anyone’s judge – but think that balance needs to be revisited when one is stockpiling 47 (literally) bottles of free mustard – and your family doesn’t use mustard.

    One episode that made me cheer, however, was the ex-military / currently-in-a-ministry young couple who went full-on collecting supplies (many the likes of which aren’t available via food stamps) and, after getting their massive haul for free – called in the crew from their church’s food pantry and had it taken away to be distributed to people less fortunate. THAT was an awesome use of coupons! :)

  36. Linda Kurtz says

    My two cents worth: I hope we are all able to think the couponing issue thru as it affects our own personal reality. My family, finances, personal choices may be the same as most others out there (though I doubt it!), but it may not be. So, the way I determine the worth of couponing (or any other topic – fill in the blank) is directly connected to the things I have judged to be important in mine and my family’s lives. Is couponing inheritantly bad? No. Is it true that most of the coupons are for less than healthy food choices? Yes. Do they sometimes put out coupons for healthy, organic or basic supplies that I use? Yes. And so, if a coupon appeared before me that I will use I would happily snag it and transport it to my local grocery store! Couponing, like so many other things in life is a tool, a mechanism that I can use if it provides a benefit to me. Or not. Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox!

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