Can you really save money with coupons?

Categories: Frugal Living, Hacking Life, Uncategorized, do more with less


I started clipping coupons when I was a dirt-poor college student, having to decide whether to spend and extra 60 cents on a couple of packages of Ramen noodles or use that money for bus fare to get to work. (Sounds terribly dramatic, but it’s true. It was Syracuse, N.Y., and it was worth going without dinner in order to avoid a three-mile walk home in the snow at night). Back then, the quarters I scraped together went a long way — a couple of coupons could yield savings equal to the amount needed to wash a load of laundry — and so the sorting and clipping was definitely worth my time.

I still clip coupons, but now it’s more an exercise in frugality, as well as a challenge to see how little I can pay for the things I usually buy anyway. Every once in a while I hit a jackpot — a buy-one-get-one free item for which I have coupons, for instance — and I find myself wondering: What if I did this all the time? Can you really save that much money with coupons?

Kathy Spencer says yes. And she can help teach you how.

The Boxford, Massachusetts mom spends less than $10 a week to feed her family of six — plus several pets. “The trick is stockpiling,” she told me, via email. “Look at the expiration and figure out how much you think you will need between that time frame and stock up!”

There are other tricks, of course. Kathy is the founder of the online couponing community How to Shop for Free, and she knows them all.

“Once you establish a stockpile, you can go weeks without stepping into a grocery store,” she points out. Joining a community like hers can make a difference, too. “We all work together so the sales get posted and you can see what will work out free and not even have to look at the sale paper if you are lazy that week. We also post some sales a week in advance, which gives time to get coupons for them.”

Wait a minute… “get coupons?” How?

Turns out you don’t have to wait for the Sunday paper — or buy several of them — to get multiple coupons. You can buy them on eBay… just do a search for the product you’re looking for. “You can buy coupons for your daily Dunkin Donuts or your favorite brand of makeup, or order 20 coupons for free cat chow and only pay a couple of bucks and get hundreds in savings,” Kathy says.

Don’t really need to save money by clipping coupons? Lucky you. But consider… you could buy items for next to nothing, and donate them to people who really do need help. Members at How to Shop for Free have donated surplus stockpiles to food pantries, neighbors, churches, family, and friends. “We just get too much for free and have to give it away! It has been amazing how many people have been helped just through coupons,” Kathy says. “It just seems to snowball! The more people I helped, the more they help, and it goes on and on. No one should have to go hungry or have to choose heat versus food. My children love to donate and especially love the Staples penny sales, where they can buy a bag full of stuff for under a quarter and donate it to the local Community Giving Tree, where it goes to help less fortunate children have school supplies.”

That last idea put coupon clipping in a whole new light for me. I’m going to take a closer look at the circular when my Sunday paper comes this weekend, and I’m taking Kathy’s tips — along with these other money-saving tips right here – to heart.

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9 comments so far...

  • I am not sure but I think coupons make me spend more money. They take me into stores I might have otherwise passed by, make me look at desire-inducing advertising/displays I would not have noticed, and make me feel like now that I’ve done all the kid-wrangling involved in coming inside this store, I may as well see if they have anything else I “need.” I also have friends who buy stuff they don’t really want/use much because “it was a good price.” So they have four times as much stuff as they would have had if nothing ever went on sale.

    I guess it’s like Vegas - some people are going to go there, enjoy free views and cheap entertainment, and save money on the great buffet breakfasts; while others are gonna come home with a lot less than they went there with. Depends on the individual.

    I have to say that even if it is possible to feed my kids and me on $10/month or whatever this lady is doing, I wouldn’t go that far unless I had to. This lady seems to be limiting the family’s food choices just to prove a point. I’m not extravagant, but I’m picky about taste, organic/earth friendly food, good nutrition, and convenience during shopping (I am not dragging my tots to multiple stores just to save a couple of bucks).

    SKL  |  July 24th, 2009 at 11:33 pm

  • I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it (no pun intended). I look at the coupons and rarely, if ever, see coupons for anything I’d consider purchasing. I don’t buy stuff in boxes or cans, for the most part - almost entirely fresh produce, meat, and dairy - so I don’t see how coupons could save me any money.

    a mom  |  July 27th, 2009 at 3:14 pm

  • Coupons save money only for the disciplined. You have to clip only what you need. If you have a small manageable number of coupons, you can actually go into the store and see that item is on sale for which you have a coupon and score.
    I’m also willing to walk away from coupons. If it is for a brand name that I can buy a generic that I like, cheaper, I’ll keep the coupon but not use it unless there is an advantage like 50 cents off and then I can add another 25 cent coupon and make it cheaper than the generic.
    But yeah, if you’re the Vegas type you’ll probably come out of the store poorer and with more than you can actually use.

    Mich  |  July 28th, 2009 at 1:49 pm

  • i’m not a college student but i live in a college town and found this site through my kids: they havea lot of coupons online and there’s a pritned version as well that my son has.

    there are good deals on dry cleaning, restaurants chains, and oil changes ect. so the answer is yes i think you can really save money with coupons.

    Bethany  |  March 4th, 2010 at 10:11 am

  • You really can save big money with coupons. I’ve heard the excuse that coupons are not useful for certain people because they only buy fresh fruits, veggies, meats, etc. Pardon me, but that’s a load of bull. There are plenty of coupons for fresh foods. Recently, there was a coupon out there for Buy One Dozen Eggs, Get One Dozen Free. I used it at a sale at Walgreens where eggs were only 99 cents a dozen, and paid less than one dollar for two dozen eggs. In the same transaction, I also used a coupon for a free bottle of Excedrin paired with a Buy One Get One Free sale and ended up with two free bottles. We’re not talking junk food here. I’m getting fresh food and frequently used OTC medicines for free using coupons. And there are certain things that everyone buys (i.e., toilet paper) where coupons can really save money , especially when paired with a great sale. People who claim that coupons are a waste of time haven’t actually given couponing a try.

    Chris P.  |  April 5th, 2010 at 10:50 pm

  • @Chris P.: Well, if there are “plenty of coupons for fresh foods,” where can I find them? I always page through the coupon books that come in the mail, as well as the online ones from, and it always seems like most of the coupons are for convenience foods that would cost me more, even with the coupon, than the same item made from scratch. I generally find, at best, one or two that I think I might actually use–and usually, those expire before I find a good sale to pair them with. I don’t get a newspaper delivered (I read mine online for free), but on the few occasions when I’ve had access to the Sunday coupon inserts, I haven’t found that the coupons in there are any better for my needs, so I don’t see the point of paying for a Sunday paper just to get the coupons.

    Part of my problem may be that I’m particular about the products I buy. I’ll only buy eggs that are free-range, for instance, so your “buy one dozen, get one dozen free” coupon wouldn’t have done me any good. But it does seem to me that the products I really use often–staples like flour, vegetable oil, frozen veggies, and so on–never have coupons available (or, at best, have cents-off coupons for name brands when I could save more just by buying the store brand). Am I just looking in the wrong places?

    haverwench  |  August 15th, 2010 at 10:18 am

  • Most printable online coupons are a waste. You think you are getting a product you actually want and shop for. Instead, after jumping through hoops and filling out numerous surveys you are taken to a site offering
    another product made by the manufacturer of the product you really wanted but not the product you asked for to begin with. In addition many of the printable coupon sites infect your computer with spy-ware or want you to download their toolbar. Its just not worth all the hassle.

    Sharon Smith  |  January 16th, 2011 at 10:11 am

  • I am a mom that does not feed her kids out of a can or box either and I still think that coupons save tons of money. I shop the deals at CVS and Walgreens because everyone needs toiletries and if you can get them dirt cheap and get money back why wouldn’t you. You can spend the money back at CVS for milk, eggs, etc. Walgreens Register Rewards you can spend at Jewel and buy fruit, organic products, etc. basically anything your little heart desires! I have had tons for coupons for fresh berries you just have to know where to look. It is true that there are tons of coupons for packaged processed foods, but on the flip side there are tons of coupons for healthy food also.

    Melissa  |  September 21st, 2011 at 1:14 pm

  • I need to get better at checking for coupons on blogs. My husband is great about it and finds some fabulous deals. What’s not to like about 50% off? Some of the deals on things you would buy anyway are amazing!

    Rebecca Griggs  |  March 19th, 2012 at 4:36 am