Using coupons is not all it's cracked up to be

Using coupons is not all it's cracked up to be
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I have a love-hate relationship with coupons.

First and foremost, because there are hardly ever coupons for produce! Giant food corporations and conglomerates have little interest in me buying strawberries rather than granola bars, which speaks to how messed up our food system is and how the government is in the back pockets of industry lobbyists. I have some serious issues with that. Problem #1: Lots of times, coupons get to you buy items you don’t need simply because you can save 50 cents.

Second, one thing I learned when I was really into coupons about 6 years ago was to only buy a product if you have a coupon AND it’s on sale — maximum savings; kicking ass and taking names; it’s like some strange, sick high. The thing is, oftentimes the generic is still cheaper! Problem #2: The psychology of coupons (yes I just said that) drives you to feel like you’re sticking it to the man by using a coupon AND paying at a discounted price when it’s not always to your advantage. On The $20 Challenge, I have to keep reminding myself to look for the lowest price, not necessarily “the best deal.”

Another Coupon Mind Game is that the expiration dates on coupons prompt you to use them before you even need the product (while some stores used to accept expired coupons, that has largely changed in the past couple of years). The date is approaching…the product is also on sale…you think, “I should just buy that huge pack of toilet paper now, because we’ll always need toilet paper, right?” Problem #3: Coupons expire, making purchases feel urgent, even when you should be spending your money elsewhere.

Something else to keep in mind is whether you are brand loyal. Coupons secretly tempt you into being brand loyal simply because the same products always offer the same coupons. If you love Pantene shampoo, great. There are always coupons in the Sunday papers, and their products are often on sale at grocery stores and drug stores. Me? I don’t care what goes on my head, as long as my hair doesn’t look greasy. (I’ve been known to make my own baking soda wash and apple cider vinegar rinse.) If you’re not brand loyal, you have to learn what the “rare” coupons are for products you actually use and love, and then yes, take advantage of those — one of the few times I still love a good coupon. Problem #4: Couponing is a system you have to learn and learn well so that you’re still able to get what you want and not settle just to feel like you’re getting a deal.

And finally, some good news (for me, at least)! Relating back to Problem #1, most coupons are for mainstream products that are simply not healthy. Dinosaur chicken nuggets. Personal care products that are full of questionable chemicals I can’t even pronounce. Cleaners and cleansers that do more harm than good. This week, I decided to ditch all of the unhealthy kid snacks and treats I’ve been purchasing for the past few weeks on sale/with coupons. Instead of sugary cereal and chocolate milk, for the same $12 I can purchase a package of organic baby carrots, 1 organic nectarine, 1 organic peach, 1 organic plum, a pack of organic raspberries and a 12-oz package of pre-sliced organic apples. Problem #5: Using coupons for junk food actually leaves you with less money for healthy food. I’m solving that problem myself this week.

I know this post may stir up some controversy in the Crazy Couponing world. Some people have the system down pat, and they love it, and that’s great for them — the serious couponers often even have extras to donate to charity. Maybe I’m not knowledgable or I don’t have the time to “do it right.” All I know is that you have to do what’s right for you. And when my kids are running around the house like wild animals on a sugar high after eating the Hershey’s Kisses and Kit Kats that I got for them because they were on sale and I had a coupon, I know that’s not right for me. I’m so much more pleased with what’s in my cart today.

Do you coupon? Is it just a lot of twisted marketing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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