The True Cost of a Coupon

Like many frugal femmes, I love to clip coupons. Every Sunday I relax with a cup of tea, a sharp pair of scissors and the Sunday paper. I flip through all the coupons and clip any I see for products that I regularly use.

Recently, I’ve noticed many stores pointing consumers toward the use of online coupons. At first I thought the stores had lost their minds, I mean — showing me how to save money on your products? I know you are reimbursed by the manufacturer and all, but still … it seemed too good to be true.

The more I started to examine this trend the more I realized that it was, in fact, too good to be true because many online coupons aren’t worth more than the paper they are printed on.

How much does it cost to print that coupon?

The coupon sites that I tried used an entire piece of paper to print each little coupon. With printer ink costing up to .10 per printed page and paper coming in around a penny per page, you’ve already spent a good chunk of some of those coupons by the time you are done printing them. If you simply must have the coupon, make sure you set your printer for the lowest quality print and don’t be afraid to print the coupons on the back of junk mail, scrap paper — anything you don’t mind ending up in the cashier’s till.

How much does it cost to go to that store?

Before you print that coupon, ask yourself if the item you printed the coupon for sold at your local grocery store. If it isn’t, you will have to make a special trip to another store in order to buy it. If you have to make an out-of-your-way trip then you need to consider the cost of gas as an expense that detracts from the saving’s offered by the coupon. It might only add an extra couple of pennies but when you add that to the cost of printing the coupon, you are well on your way to saving nothing.

Hello, would you like a virus, spy or pop-up with your coupon?

Many of the coupon websites out there require that you install their proprietary, super-special, secret coupon making programs into your computer. With every mysterious program you install from the wide open plains of the internet, you risk getting a virus. And even if it is downloaded from a company or website you trust you may still be installing their spy program that facilitates customer-targeted pop-up ads on your machine. Not only is this extremely intrusive and annoying but, if you don’t know how to get rid of that junk on your own computer, it could cost you quite a bit of money to hire your neighborhood geek to take it off for you.

Will you use the items you buy?

You know those people who have pantries filled with things that they will never use but that they bought because they were on sale? Well, you could be one of those people — spending money you don’t need to spend on stuff you don’t even want — if you buy things simply because you have a good coupon for them. Only print coupons for those items you want to buy and know you will use within the next month.

Does the coupon make it cheaper than the store brand?

A dollar off coupon on a box of name brand cereal will not make it as affordable as the store brand. If you really want to be frugal, store brand items are almost always a better choice than a name brand item with a coupon. Many of these coupons are used to lure you into making a bad decision for your budget. Remember, if the coupon doesn’t reduce your overall average spending, then it’s not saving you anything — it’s costing you.

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Author Info

This post was written by Yolander Prinzel. Yolander is a financial writer as well as a series 7, 66 and 2-15 licensed representative. During her decade of financial industry experience she has been an insurance agency director of marketing and director of operations, a life insurance underwriter, and a trading service specialist for Raymond James Financial Services. She was a featured speaker at the 2006 Hartford National Sales Conference and the 2006 Brookstreet Securities Annual Conference. Check out her portfolio at

6 Responses to “The True Cost of a Coupon”

  1. Edwin |  Nov 19, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Another thing to consider is the time spent with coupons, be they online or physical. If someone spends an hour more every week on shopping due to coupons but only saves $7, they might just get more value out of their time by playing with the kids or a variety of other activities.

  2. Abby |  Nov 26, 2009 at 7:23 am

    I used to think this was true – the time, expense, etc. didn’t make coupons worth it, and store brands were still cheaper.

    But over the past few months, I’ve followed a few great sites – is one of them – and learned how make couponing really work. By combining coupons with rock-bottom sales prices, I’ve slashed our weekly household budget for groceries, toiletries and diapers from $150/week to $100/week – and normally, our total spending is closer to $60. It does take time, but as you learn the rules at various stores and figure out what your family needs, I find that our grocery bill continues to shrink.

    I don’t spend a lot of time organizing my coupons, but I do spend about an hour with the sales circulars and coupons before going to the grocery store. The flipside is that my trips in the store are pretty efficient – probably half the time that I spent when I walked in with a few vague ideas rather than a targeted list.

    So it can work!

  3. Perry |  Dec 03, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Another and hidden expense of cutting and using coupons is the time cost ratio. If you value your time at $25 an hour, then every hour you spend cutting coupons costs you $25 you could have made elsewhere. Some people value their time much higher – in the hundreds of dollars per hour – so cutting coupons for such people may present a huge negative cost ratio.

  4. Yo Prinzel |  Dec 04, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    I hadn’t thought about the cost of your time, but again you are right. If you work for yourself this can be especially true because you could increase your billable hours by skipping the one to two hour coupon hunt and organization tasks each week and make MUCH more money than the coupons save.

  5. Anon Ymous |  Feb 16, 2010 at 1:43 am

    Or you can view it this way instead.

    Cost of time is so relative. Instead of viewing it as time wasted, view it as money gained.

  6. Jennimajor |  Oct 14, 2010 at 2:23 am

    This sounds like it could get annoying. Are they able to update you out of store too? – That would suck, the last thing I need is my phone blowing up with deals etc. I just want to go to the store, get what I want, I don’t want to be walking around the goddam store scanning stuff.If we want MIVAUSandMIVAUK coupons just visit coupongrove. Just give me the discount there and then, why do I need to screw around with my phone so you can store all the info and then sell to me later