Are Coupons Worth The Time?

Not for the FrugalOkie household.   And not for 97 percent of coupon offers.

That’s a short answer, a gut-level opinion.

Here’s a slightly longer one.   If you don’t consider your time to be worth anything, or if coupon clipping is treated as a hobby, then by all means coupon clip away.

But if your limited time on this earth is more productively spent engaged in other meaningful activities, such as making memories with friends or loved ones, or producing something of value (dinner, writing, gardening), then clipping coupons from the Sunday newspaper or printing them from coupon websites carries a gigantic opportunity cost.

Direct costs.  How about the ink to print out those “free” web coupons.  Jet printer ink is some of the most expensive liquid on earth.

What about indirect time costs?   Minutes spent putzing around grocery store aisles looking for that particular item, minutes  spent online looking for the ones you want, minutes spent arranging them in those cute and “functional” coupon wallets, minutes of actual paying work traded to buy that coupon wallet, and finally, time spent throwing away those unusual items that you didn’t need anyways.

Why 97 percent?

Because some coupon offers do make sense, like store coupon cards from Target, Ace Hardware or Lowe’s that offer anywhere from $5 to $50 on bulk purchases.  Now that is  some real money!  They usually come in the mail, so you have to save or discard that piece of mail anyway.  We post them by magnet on the same on the refrigerator, along with a list of items needed in the medium term, so they’re a constant reminder that they have an expiry date.  Braum’s, a local Oklahoma fast food/grocery/dairy chain, sends a pack once or twice a year of little coupons that offer $10 off on a $50 total purchase, $8 off on a $40 purchase, and so on down to $2.  All told, it’s about $35.  And they take very little time at all to carry in your wallet and stop in and buy certain food items at prices competitive to Walmart and Aldi and with superior quality.  The dairy products at Braums are far superior to any carried by other grocery stores.

And generally speaking, we save more on groceries by other strategies like targeting special store offers, habitually choosing to purchase the store brand and staying away from the more expensive grocery stores.



There have been many reams and words written on the best way to plan a garage sale, promote a garage sale, price it, prop it, and profit from it.  But not so many, as far as I can tell, from the perspective of you the customer, and how to negotiate the best possible deal.   Everything is for sale, and everything is negotiable.  A yard sale may have Mom’s priceless paint-by-numbers acrylic painting, but the simple fact that it’s been relegated to a corner of the garate with a masking tape price sticker is proof enough that it’s not needed.

Dare to make a low-ball offer. Some folks have unreasonable high expectations of what their “stuff” will fetch on the secondary stuff market.  Well, when I bought this Bass-O-Matic at Walmart, it was worth $20.00, and I’m asking $15, it’s a fair price”. Well, no, it’s not either. A “fair” price is whatever amount of money a buyer is willing to part with, right here and now.  And right now, the market ( that would be you) thinks a Bass-O-Matic is worth exactly $1 (*).  Market sentiment may shift later on in the day with other buyers, but right now, a dollar is all you’re getting, Sparky.  So here it is “Would you take a dollar for it?”   Wait 30 seconds or so, and the your own market for slightly used game fish processors might take a nosedive to $0.50 each.

In any event, tip number two:  show them the money.   If you make a somewhat low-ball offer, and the seller hesitates, or rejects the offer, flash some green!  Say there’s a couch on sale for $125.  Most folks would look at it offer $50.   That’s less than half, you say, they’ll never take it, you say.  Well, hold out a crisp shiny fifty dollar bill.   Try to hand it to the seller.   More likely than not, they’ll take it.  They may stare at it for a while, while they’re having their internal struggle between choices A and B.  A,   have a nice steak dinner for two, or B, lugging that sofa back in the garage and then maybe loading in the truck, trying to make to the Salvation Army donation center that afternoon before it closes……  Chances are, they’ll take it. If they don’t, it doesn’t cost you a thing.

Try it on other little things, say an electric chainsaw, priced new at $50, now tagged at $10.  Offer $5.   (Do you need an electric chainsaw. Well of course you do, if you live in a typical suburban lot with trees).  Tell them that’s all you got left.  Hold out the bill and see what happens.   Sometimes, I have a five dollar pocket, a ten dollar pocket and a twenty dollar pocket.   When you say that’s all you got left, say it with conviction, shake your head and look sad, and then show them the money.  Just try to remember which pocket is which.  It wouldn’t do to say you’ve only got five left, and whip out a twenty… 🙂

(*) the actual bass-o-matic prop blender used in the Dan Akroyd SNL skits might probably be worth thousands….
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