One day I accidentally left my coupon wallet in the console of my car. Then the unthinkable happened. A thief — probably thinking it was a wallet with some cash — broke into my car and stole my treasure of coupons along with the $2 in change in the cup holder.
First I was livid. Then I cried. Months of work collecting coupons gone!
But then I had a life-changing epiphany.
I didn’t need all those coupons to save money. I just needed to rethink how I shopped. In fact, my personal mantra used to be “Born to Shop.” I had a column with that name. To clarify, I loved to bargain shop.
I still use coupons, but I’m not extreme about it anymore. I realized that if I limited my shopping for everything from food to furniture, I could actually save more money than any extreme coupon binge experience. What I found when I was deprived of my coupons was that I was buying a lot of stuff I didn’t really need. Or rather, I was buying multiples of products I could have done without.
When you stockpile items, you may have a tendency to use more of them. Let’s say you’re running low on dishwashing liquid. When you don’t have another bottle to replace it, you may squeeze out less to save what you’ve got. But if you know you have four or five bottles under the sink, you don’t worry about trying to stretch what remains in that one bottle.
Bargains and extreme couponing make people feel smart, write Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler in “Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter.”
“When we see a sale, we shouldn’t consider what the price used to be or how much we’re saving,” the authors write. “Rather, we should consider what we’re actually going to spend.”
Sure, you got three tubes of toothpaste for a big discount with your coupons, but did you really need three? How much food is crammed into your refrigerator or cupboard?
Extreme couponing can lead to waste. And even if it doesn’t, how much time are you wasting trying to save 20 cents. What if you just reduced your grocery bill in general? What if you took your focus off shopping and spent more time managing your spending.
As I like to say, you never save when you spend. You’re just spending less.
Remember the TLC show “Extreme Couponing?” It had a lot of folks feeling foolish that they couldn’t clip enough coupons to save as much money as the people profiled on the show.
But anything in the extreme can’t be good for you.
“Seasoned couponers can tell you that it is possible to score great deals on healthy foods like produce, baking staples, and dairy, but it’s definitely not the norm,” Jacqueline Curtis wrote for the blog moneycrashers.com. “Much of the time, the best deals are for processed foods, condiments, and toiletries. That’s great if you’re in the market for a bunch of new toothbrushes for your family, but you could end up spending money on unhealthy foods and stuff you don’t need and won’t use. Think about it — getting a bottle of ketchup for $0.50 is a great deal, but if that great deal entices you to purchase 30 bottles, you’ve just spend $15 on more ketchup that you may not use before the expiration date. That’s not smart.”
One study found that couponing made people spend more. “Past research and conventional wisdom suggests that coupons are used by price-sensitive consumers to save money. Three studies show that coupons for premium-priced products can actually make consumers spend more money than they would have spent in the absence of coupons,” wrote the researchers for the study, “Spending More to Save More: The Impact of Coupons on Premium Priced Products.”
In the Money Crashers article above, Christy Rakoczy writes about what made her give up her couponing habit.
“When I was a coupon shopper, the goal was always to get enough into an order to use a money-off coupon," Rakoczy says. "However, the goal wasn’t just to buy products — the goal was to use the coupons to get products for free . . . The problem, of course, is that I didn’t need the items I was buying. The coupon craze created an incentive to buy unnecessary goods. While I could resell them (and sometimes did), they often sat on shelves in my house for weeks or months, taking up space.”
Then there was this story back in 2016: Extreme couponer holds up checkout line, sparking fight One woman took about 20 minutes to pay her bill at the grocery store because she was going through her sizable coupon collection. The incident resulted in a brawl.
Here’s what I’ve learned about sales and coupons: They are bait. Sure, you may save on some items, but the goal is to get you into the store to spend more than you’re saving. Think of it this way: You won’t become a millionaire with extreme couponing. You’ll just become a more skilled shopper.
Color of Money Question of the Week
Are you addicted to coupon shopping? Send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Extreme Couponing.”
Live Chat Today
Let’s talk about your money. I’m live at noon (ET) today to take your personal finance questions.
I also have a guest. Joining me will be Alissa Quart, author of “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America,” which was the Color of Money Book Club pick for this month.
Here’s my review: Why the future of America’s middle class is so ﬁnancially fragile
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More on being squeezed:
Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen: How tax fraud took them down
In last week’s newsletter I discussed, two Trump cohorts. His former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen were brought down in part because of their efforts to avoid paying income taxes.
A jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty on tax and bank fraud charges. Cohen pleaded guilty in New York to eight charges that also included tax fraud. And he admitted that he helped arrange — directed by Trump, he alleged — to pay off two women who have accused Trump of having affairs with them. Cohen pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion.
In response to Manafort’s guilty verdict, Trump said that “Paul Manafort’s a good man. He added that the conviction “doesn’t involve me, but I still feel, you know, it’s a very sad thing that happened.”
Last week I asked: What do you think of Trump’s response to Manafort’s conviction for tax evasion?
Jan Keating of Arlington Heights, Ill., wrote: “If Paul Manafort was ‘a good man’ he would have paid his taxes. Basically the statement is indicative of POTUS’ lack of judgment in regard to the type of people he tends to surround himself with: Manafort, Pruitt, Ross, Stone, etc. And it reaffirms his own sense of entitlement.”
Ed Johnson of Grand Prairie, Tex., wrote: “Trump is a businessman and he brought his businessman way of thinking into the White House, which simply doesn’t work. You can’t pay people off, you can’t hide money transactions, exhibit bad behavior or other shady business practices that work in the private sector. To make matters worse he surrounds himself with like-thinking individuals, which just compounds the situation. I like some of his ideas and some I don’t. The bottom line is he and his administrations are just inexperienced in what you can and can’t do at that level of leadership.”
Thomas J. Druitt of Paducah, Ky., wrote: “Unlike President Trump, I have zero sympathy with tax cheaters. I suppose what irritates me the most is how these tax criminals behave like they got caught driving 50 mph in a 35 mph speed limit zone when they are busted by the IRS and Department of Justice. To them, it is the same as receiving a traffic citation for something that they evidently believe is normal behavior for people with large (and mostly unreported to the IRS) incomes.”
“I am a Republican, or at least what a Republican was at one time,” wrote Lloyd Davis of Flower Mound, Tex. “So, as a fiscal conservative, Trump’s comments are like his tweets: not well thought out, beneath the dignity of the office, and comments that make me feel he doesn’t understand that the country is sick and tired of political misdeeds, which he appears to be excusing. We are judged by the company we keep and this is another example of very poor judgment on our President’s part. I want him to be successful. I do think the media is hard on him. However, when things like this happen, he is bringing about his own downfall.”
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