Time to Get Real: How Much Can You Really Save with Coupons?

Recently, I read a post where a blogger expressed her discouragement and frustration for only saving 33% on a routine shopping trip. She went on to say that any savings is good savings and we should learn to be happy with less than perfect trips. But the point was not lost that 33% was below her norm and, well – just not good enough.

As I sat there, I wondered how many young women will read that story and feel like a failure because they’ve often saved even less than that?  How many will hang up their couponing hat and just plain give up?

It isn’t the first time I’ve read covert (and overt) claims of huge discounts on all grocery trips, all the time. But this one was the last straw. This time, I decided I needed to set the record straight.

Here’s the real deal:  Can you save 50-70% on your grocery budget by strategically shopping and using coupons? Yes!  Does that mean you’ll save 50-70% on every grocery shopping trip? Um, heck no!

If you followed me to the drug stores, you’d see me score savings averaging around 70%. Sometimes as high as 100%, or even a nice money making trip! I’m talking free toothpaste, deodorant, cheap cleaning items and the like.

If you followed me to my local grocery store, you’d see that I save about 30% on an average shopping trip. Sometimes less.  What you may not notice, is that I don’t have any personal care items, cleaning items, diapers, canned goods, pasta or paper items in my cart. There are no cosmetics, vitamins, batteries or medicine in there either. That’s because I already have that stuff in plentiful supply back home that I have accumulated mostly by playing the drug store game. So while my total savings on that particular trip may not knock your socks off, much of the savings is in what you don’t see.

My grocery shopping trips are often about buying food to make meals to feed my family. I have fruits, veggies, meat, milk, flour and a few dairy products. I’ve got gluten free, casein free organic items for my little guy on a special diet. I have juice boxes and lunch box items for my kids.

How often have you seen a milk coupon? Once a month? Is it enough to buy milk for your family until you see another one? What about oranges? Hamburger? I’m not saying you can’t save on that stuff. You can. But it isn’t going to show up on your receipt as $$ off coupon savings. It’ll be because you went to Aldi’s or the farmers market. Or because you have a side of beef in your freezer. It’ll be a result of an overall savings strategy. Not a result of coupons alone.

I call bullcrap on that one.

How many coupon newbies become discouraged and give up when they read dozens upon dozens of ridiculous claims of saving 70% on every grocery purchase? We women are already hard enough on ourselves. We all tend to have this built-in guilt chip that kicks in to tell us we should be doing this better or that better. I think we should be careful in our claims, lest we be responsible for discouraging someone from their couponing endeavors by embellishing our savings in order to look like superqueencoupondiva.

People need us to be real. They need to have a realistic expectation for what they can do. If they don’t, they might give up and walk away from a system that really could save them thousands per year. I save tons of money using coupons. But not 70%. Not just by using coupons alone.

Slashing your grocery budget is all about being strategic.  I purchase most of my diapers online.  I take advantage of daily deal sites to get bargains on household items.  I go to the dollar store and the thrift store every month.  I frequent the farmers market. Buy meat in quantity from local farmers. Follow the sale cycles. Once again, it’s an overall savings strategy.

Even if you were the queen coupon diva of the universe, there will still be plenty of times where you’ll walk out of a store with a receipt that shows a savings of 20-30%.  That’s okay.  That’s normal.  That’s how it is, folks.

Comments

  1. Lori,

    This is why I love your site so much. Again, you knock it out of the park.

    Thank you

  2. Right on! I’m sharing this with a link back, sista!

  3. Thank you for the words of encouragement. You are correct in stating that, when we don’t get the consistently high deals we want, we get a little depressed. The pressure is on so high to save as much as we can. Shows like Extreme Couponing reinforce the notion that any savings less than 90% are a failure.

    When I can use coupons, I will. Take this one for instance.
    Poptarts 8pk box at Target, $2.14
    Instore: Buy 3 get 1 free.
    Two coupons, each good for a dollar off 3 boxes.

    End result: 4 boxes for $4.42, plus tax. Not free, but at just over a buck apop, I’m happy with the deal.

    On another hand, I had a free Domino’s artisan pizza for lunch.

    • That’s a perfect example. $1 Pop Tarts is a great price. When can you get them for 70% off? Rarely! If they were 70% off, I’m sure I wouldn’t buy a years worth because my kids would eat them like crazy! :)

  4. I agree completely with this, well said! This is also why your my favorite website too!

  5. Huh. I am happy when I see a savings of 30% on my grocery bill. Sure I like to see more, but I also look at the actual number value (such as $20 off a $100 trip) I shop at Kroger and if I see 30% savings then I think I did good. I find my higher savings trips on the stock up items as well at CVS and Walgreens and sometimes Target.

  6. Thank you for that! Extreme couponing has made normal moms who are trying to save money for their families feel like failures for paying full price for bananas and milk. :)

  7. Thanks for being realistic! Since couponing, I save tons on all non-food items and almost getting them free sometimes so that I can spend the money I need to on groceries. We like to eat fresh (organic if possible) veggies and fruit and meat, so that’s where my budget goes. But I’m only able to do that because I’m saving on all the other stuff. BTW, since I found your blog about two years ago, I’ve been an avid couponer. So thank you!!!!

  8. Sharan Feemster says:

    Thanks for the post. Ht is why I follow your website the most. U are realistic bout your savings!

  9. Amen! I see on some other (also good) blogs link-ups for how much people saved on their shopping. A large number of those are huge savings, 75-90%, but they haven’t bought anything their families can eat for dinner. 10 boxes of fruit roll-ups and 7 boxes of juice. Hooray! But where’s the real food? I think they leave the real shopping trips off the blogs because they don’t look so good.
    When did saving become a competition? As long as you stay within your food budget you’re doing great!

  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! I’ve been starting to lay off using coupons because lately I haven’t been able to save as much as I used to. Thanks for the reminder of the real goal here… Long term and overall savings. Not an affirmation of our worth printed on a grocery receipt!

  11. This is why I’m addicted to your blog. I so appreciate you being real…about your savings and so many other aspects of life. You are always encouraging and empowering, never discouraging. Well done, you! You are helping me and so many other ladies out there who just want to make the most of what they’ve got. Thank you!

  12. Thank you so much for posting this! I have been couponing for a few months now, and when I first started I was very discouraged because I was only saving about 20 -30% and I was actually stressing out over not being able to save more. It was crazy! I live in a rural area and I drive about 20 miles one way to get to the stores. I am a SAHM and I do not make multiple trips to town each week. Then I decided that I will never be a “superqueencoupondiva” and that’s OK. Now I do what I am comfortable with and don’t dwell on “missed deals” or expired coupons. And I enjoy it now! Thanks again for your insight and honesty!

  13. Angela Porter says:

    Amen! I really do save on average 40% and I think that is fabulous! The money I save on personal hygeine products, goes back in grocery fund! Yes, there are weeks I save more and some I walk out going please God have mercy on us…all in all coupons help and they also help by making us look at what we need versus what we want…and btw it is ok to buy the wants once in a while!
    Thank you for the post!

  14. Thanks for keeping it real, Lori! I’ve couponed for years, and I know you can’t buy meat, and produce and walk out saving 70%.

  15. I want to say THANK YOU for this post. I recently started couponing this year and thanks to the Extreme couponing show everyone around you thinks you will be coming home from the grocery store with truckloads of product with a reciept showing you paid nothing. It can be very discouraging when you don’t. But with the help of all your posts you have taught me that it’s not just couponing that saves you it’s changing how you shop period. Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge.

  16. Love this post! I’ve been couponing for over a year now and I get way more product for my money than I did before I started. It also made me more familiar with pricing from store to store. Not all advertised sales are not always the lowest price. I also bargain shop for meat,milk, produce and clothing as well. So the total savings ads up all together. The money you save can with these combined is great. As far as like the show getting truck loads of products for free un-realistic except maybe for the show. I have gotten lots of free products with my coupons as well. I would definitely encourage others to give it a try. Just take it slow and don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t always see a huge savings. Over time those little combined savings add up to a big return.

  17. Thanks for the post :) You really opened our minds about the reality of life. My family has been saving a lot since I started using coupons more than a year ago. Imagine saving at least 30-70% on grocery (personal &/or households)…that’s already a blessing. Since I already have a stockpile that can last us months, i don’t need to go to the store very often. Instead, we really spend on food…i mean real food that doesn’t have coupons to begin with. At the same time, we can enjoy eating outside from time to time without the worry on our budget.

    Life is too short for us not to enjoy…& one of the things that my family enjoy the most is saving…whether 20-30% or 70-100% because every penny counts :)

  18. I used to have big savings on my shopping trips but then I switched how I was eating/spending. When I was first couponing I was in college and I didn’t mind eating mostly convenience items – in fact I like eating that way. But now I’ve graduated from college, I have more time to put into cooking real food, so my spending habits have changed and I buy more things I can’t get on coupons. Sometimes it is hard not to feel defeated, but I think every time I cook something homemade I feel awesome so it balances out. Plus, in that time, food prices have really risen so it’s harder now to save as much with coupons. It also depends so much on where you shop. Sometimes the people with the big hauls have stores with coupon policies that are wayyyyy different than mine. At my store, you have one day a week you can double coupons and even then it’s usually only 5, so that is really going to effect how much I can save! I’ve got to keep everything in perspective.

    • Exactly. I have kept a close eye on the blogs that claim 70-90% savings and they do get big hauls as you said – I really love to see that. But I never EVER see a weeks worth of breakfast, lunch and dinner in their photos in the years that I have been watching them. I love that they can get 3 months worth of cereal and toothpaste and I do the same whenever I can. But the week-to-week feed-your-family shopping trips do not yield that kind of savings. Even with the best coupon policies, you still need meat, veggies, dairy and bread items. I just worry people will get discouraged when they don’t save as much on typical shopping trips.

  19. You make a good point. While it is possible to save SOME money on coupons, you can’t get rich from couponing, as some of these television shows suggest.

    If you could, people would just quit their jobs and start couponing full time.

    Whenever someone tells me about how much they are “making” on coupons, I ask them, “What is the name of your Yacht?”

    They are usually flustered.
    I add, “If couponing is so lucrative, surely you must own a yacht by now!”

    But of course , they don’t. You can’t consume your way to wealth.

    And “Savings!” from a coupon are not Savings in the Bank.

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