Coupons always seem like such a great deal. Who can resist 50 cents off that box of mac and cheese? But is using coupons always a good idea? No. Here are seven times you might want to holster those scissors and shop without coupons:
1) When the coupon isn’t the best deal. Sometimes the store you’re shopping at knows a coupon is available for a particular brand name product, and they want people to buy their store-brand item in that category instead. So they’ll set up a better deal on that product to lure shoppers.
For example, a quarter off a can of Del Monte green beans is not bad, but a buy-one-get-one-free deal on the store brand green beans is probably a much better deal. And sometimes the product with the coupon is simply much more expensive than other brands, and the coupon doesn’t make enough difference. So don’t let that coupon you’re clutching blind you to the other options!
2) When you end up buying something you didn’t really want/need. Obviously, manufacturers create coupons so that you’ll try their product. But do you really want (or need) that product? You’re not saving any money if you buy Smucker’s Apple Jelly if you hate apples, even if you got the jar for $2 instead of $2.50!
Remember, too, that if you use that $1-off coupon to buy those Co-Co Crispies and your kids get hooked on the stuff, they’ll be nagging you to buy that brand from there on out (even long after the coupons expire).
3) If the coupon compels you to buy much more than you need. For example, buying 50 rolls of toilet paper at 50 cents a roll may seem like a great deal, but you’re not really saving much money if you only use one roll per week! Remember, time is money, so if you tie up a chunk of money on something you’re not going to consume in the near future — or spend a bunch of time chasing after the deal — you’re losing the opportunity to spend that money (or time) on something else.
4) When the fine print requires some purchase you don’t really want. Restaurant coupons are classic examples of this. You get a free pop if you buy a foot-long sub… But you really only wanted a six-inch sub! Or you get a double cheeseburger for only 50 cents more than a single burger… But you only wanted a single burger! You’re not saving money if you buy food that you’re not going to eat, no matter how inexpensive it was.
A variation on this theme is the minimum purchase coupon — that coupon from Macy’s that offers $5 off a $50 purchase seems like a great deal, but not if you would otherwise only spend $20 there. These coupons get especially tricky when they restrict what you can buy. For example, if you need to spend $25 at a restaurant to get the special offer, but drinks don’t count towards the minimum, are you going to buy two desserts just to meet the requirements?
5) When the coupon is going to overwhelm the business. Coupons from places such as Groupon, for example, can be a great deal. But sometimes the companies that contract with those places sell too many “deals” and can’t handle the response. That’s a serious drag for both the establishment and the customers.
If you’re going to buy a Groupon, consider waiting a month or so before you visit the establishment, so that the initial crowds die down and the company is over the rush. Groupons and their counterparts aren’t the only coupons that can overwhelm a business — remember when KFC offered a free chicken sandwich and the crowds overran the restaurants?
6) When you’re going to be embarrassed to use the coupon. If saving money is extremely important to you, you might never be embarrassed to use a coupon. But for some people using a coupon implies they’re cheap, so they eschew them on dates or other outings when they want to impress their companions.
7) If you already patronize the establishment and want to help them out. As with item 6, this may never bother you, but some people choose not to use coupons when they’re in their favorite restaurant, dry cleaner, butcher shop, or whatever, because they’re already regular customers and would rather help out the proprietor than save a buck. Only the newbies use coupons, they figure.
Coupons might seem like a spendthrift’s best friend, and in many cases they are. But sometimes, for a variety of reasons, you’re better off leaving the coupons at home.