Are coupons the best way to save money on groceries? Findings from two recent studies shed some doubt on what we think we know about coupons and who uses them.
A series of University of Arizona studies set out to reexamine some common assumptions regarding coupon users. One study found that a significant portion of frequent coupon users have annual incomes above $75,000. And while it may be no surprise that most frequent coupon users were found to be families with children, low income households with no children defied some perceptions by saying they rarely or never used coupons at all.
Couple that with a similarly timed Gallup poll finding people with annual incomes above $75,000 actually spend almost $30 more per week on groceries than the average family’s budget of $151 per week, and over 30% of households spend between $200 and $300 or more weekly on groceries. With higher income families’ high-frequency couponing and off the charts grocery spending, some question whether using coupons actually saves money for shoppers.
It’s possible that coupon usage and grocery spending are unrelated; after all, it’s natural that families with more resources would spend more. Grocery stores also have many subtle ways of encouraging shoppers to spend more, unrelated to the shopper’s income.
Large sale signs to attract your attention when you step in the door and store designs placing the most common grocery items like milk, eggs, cheese and meats as far away from the entrance as possible encourage you to spend as much as you can for as long as you can.
But there’s evidence to show that people with the means are the most likely to get sucked into the lure of a deal, especially when it comes to coupons. One example occurs on the TLC reality show “Extreme Couponing” where a coupon collecting family stockpiled years worth of items including things they didn’t even like or use simply because they had a coupon for it.
Coupons only save you money if you get a deal on something you already needed. If you just buy a product because it’s a good price or you think you might need it sometime in the future, then you’ve just spent more money buying something extra that you’re just as likely to waste. Some of the easiest and best ways to save money on groceries are also the most basic: make a shopping list, plan meals ahead, and buy store generic brands.
After all, grocery stores and manufacturers don’t print coupons so they can lose money on the deal.
What do you think? Do people save more or spend more with coupons?