I think the ludicrousness of the Extreme Couponing television show and the associated fad of excessive couponing to buy items you don’t want or need has been explored in more than enough depth by more thorough savers than I, so I don’t want to discuss that here today or in this larger post series. What I do want to discuss are the costs associated with moderate coupon clipping and how you may be spending more than you save if you aren’t careful.
How Much Is Your Time Worth?
One cost that is little examined in the debate over saving money with coupons is the value of your time and the amount of time spent couponing. This particular lesson is what led to my actually backing away from several sites dedicated to saving money. These sites eventually became time drains as I was seeking out deals for things I definitely needed and things that might be handy at some point in the future (which is another added cost to be discussed in the future). If I spent an hour looking for coupons, I would need to find $15 – $25 of savings on products that I would definitely be purchasing within the next couple of weeks for the hour to be worth what I could make in that same hour working. You may be able to make more money spending your time selling items on eBay, Etsy, or Craigslist than couponing would net you!
Even if you’re a full time stay-at-home mom or wife, there are more valuable ways to spend your time than hunting elusive deals. If you normally spend 1 hour a day working on saving money, you could spend 1/2 of that time on self-improvement such as exercising, reading, or continuing your education — all activities with long-term benefits and tied-in with your future cash expenditures or inflows. For example, neglecting regular exercise can lead to a variety of health issues that will require spending funds on deductibles and treatments while expanding your education will allow you to obtain a better paying job when/if you decide to return to work.
An often used argument used to support a hefty couponing habit is the fact that it allows a person to contribute to the household budget without actually working outside the home. Money saved is money earned – a fact. However, spending your day clipping coupons is a job and if the only thing you get from that are bottles of ketchup that you don’t need or a war surplus store size stock of baked beans, then you have little of value unless there is a ketchup or baked beans shortage tomorrow. Your time would be better spent at a job that pays you money and, hopefully, gives you benefits now or that will let you earn your way into benefits later.
Even if the money you save on perfect coupons – those for products you would buy anyway within a relatively short timeframe – and your take-home pay from a job end up breaking even, the job is still better because it allows you to sock away money for Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment. If you stopped being able to print coupons tomorrow, there would be no compensation for that, but if you were laid off at work, you could get unemployment benefits.
If you don’t believe that Social Security will still pay you money when you retire, examine the benefits of Social Security if you become disabled since one out of four people will become disabled before they reach retirement age. If you contribute to Social Security through earning income, you could qualify for disability through the Social Security Disability Insurance program which pays you based on your contributions to Social Security (or those of certain family members). If you don’t have a sufficient work history, then you have to qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) which takes into account your household income and other factors that may alter the amount of income you receive. Social Security also ensures that your children would receive a portion of your benefits if you died before they reached adulthood. Couponing cannot earn you these benefits.
It is not my aim to sound down on all couponing. I think clipping and printing coupons or using coupon codes for products you definitely need or would buy whether you had a coupon or not is smart shopping. But I don’t think aggressively monitoring deals on the internet or letting couponing take up hours of your day is a worthwhile investment of your time, particularly if you don’t have a long-term plan for investing your savings.
The better approach is to develop a personal approach to saving money that doesn’t deviate too far off course. For example, I usually clip coupons when my husband and I sit together and watch TV in the evening…you might like to clip coupons while watching your kids play in the yard and soaking up a little sun. Amanda has a system for nabbing deals while she is spending time on the computer taking care of other types of business. I follow a few Money Saving Bloggers on Facebook and act on the odd promotion in their feed if it is relevant to me, but I tune out the junk I would never buy. You might do the same or use Twitter to get your news. Either way, you are being exposed to the discounts on a wall you would be browsing anyway and can tune them in or out at your will and are minimizing the time you are involved in this process.
Ultimately, you want to develop a system for saving money on purchases that only takes a small portion of time per shopping trip or purchase, whether you are saving $5 or $50, because, at the end of the day, your time is a more valuable commodity than any other, and no one issues coupons that allow you to get a single minute of it back.