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Donna L. Montaldo

Psychology of Saving: Are Coupons Really Worth It?

By June 26, 2012

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Ever wonder if store coupons, in-person deals, online discount codes and gimmicks like 'buy one, get one free' are as good as they seem? Do the mega-sized quantities at warehouse store really give you more bang for your buck?

It's worth asking, since it appears that more of us are actively bargain hunting since the recession. Recent reports indicate that nearly 88.2 million consumers have used online coupons and coupon codes (eMarketer, 2012).

Additionally, data on grocery shopping shows that 50% of moms polled said they clip coupons and scan their loyalty cards regularly for savings (BIGInsight, 2012).

Dr. Mary Streit, faculty member of the Department of Psychology at Kaplan University School of Arts and Sciences, is an expert on couponing behavior and recommends that eager bargain hunters consider the following five tips before clipping coupons and making their next purchases:
  • Know the Difference Between Needs and Wants.

    Sometimes, by simply looking through the advertisements and clipping the coupons, you will start to think that you need an item that you hadn't even considered beforehand. According BIGInsight (2012), three in four respondents said they are more likely to try a new product at the grocery store if they have a coupon for it.

    Don't make impulse purchases; make sure you really need and will use the item before you end up spending more money than you planned.

  • If You Only Need One, Just Buy One

    If you only need to buy one warm sweater for the fall, then simply purchase your one item.

    The 2011 Coupon Facts Report found that 27% of coupons distributed require multiple purchases, up two points from 2010. You will most likely end up spending more if you succumb to the marketing strategy of 'buy one, get one free.' Furthermore, if you see a 'buy one, get one free' campaign, make sure that the first item is reasonably priced.

    Some companies will actually mark up the first item to offset the cost of the free item they are giving away.

  • Check the Expiration Dates

    Many items have a limited shelf life, so it is critical to check the expiration dates and think about whether or not you will actually be able to consume all of what you are purchasing prior to the date listed on the product.

    Quite often, the answer is no. If so, you may be better off buying your usual brand, which may be priced lower than the initial item you have to purchase to get the other one free.

  • Consider All Costs and Resources Required

    Some savvy shoppers drive from one store to the next to get the best deals. With the cost of gas being what it is, the question remains, is it worth it?

    Similarly, think about space. Who wants to become a coupon-crazed, hoarder? Consider the required storage space to keep your newly purchased items once you return home.

  • Time is Money

    Is it really worth your time and effort to clip coupons? The amount of time, patience and energy required when clipping and organizing coupons can be similar to the amount of time required for a part-time or even full-time job.

    Consider how much time you spend on couponing and other ways you could be spending that time. What is more valuable to you? Couponing for several hours to save a few dollars or enjoying time with friends and family, picking up a new hobby, etc.

In summary, consumers must be conscious of their spending and actively thinking during the decision making process. While coupons can generally be effective in saving money, they really only do so when they are used wisely.

See also:
On Sale! Or is It?
Common Couponing Myths
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