Pros and Cons of Couponing

Quick Answer

Couponing can save you money while shopping, but might cause you to spend more money, especially if you have trouble finding coupons for items you would normally buy or lose out on better deals from cheaper store brands.

A store clerk helping a customer using an online coupon from smartphone app at a store

While couponing can get you discounts, it is not always the best idea for saving money. In fact, some couponing strategies could end up costing you more.

Before you dive into coupon clipping or downloading, make sure you've got a plan for your shopping trip and what you'll do with your savings.

What Is Couponing and How Does It Work?

Couponing is a strategy often used to save on groceries, home products and personal items to avoid paying full price. By using a paper coupon, promo code online or store discount program, you may get some costs knocked off the top of your shopping bill. But estimates vary on how much you can really save even when dedicating a lot of time to couponing.

Some people spend time collecting coupons in multiple formats and from different sources, including store and manufacturer coupons in paper circulars, rebate sites and online apps.

The average family saves about $5 to $10 per week with coupons. But one study suggests coupons offer a yearly savings of over $1,400.

How much you save with coupons depends on how much time you put into it. Average couponers who spend about 10 minutes a week save around $7 per week.

Pros and Cons of Couponing

While couponing doesn't have to go to the extremes you may see on TV shows and online, it can be beneficial for many families. However, the practice isn't without its downsides.

Pros of Couponing

Couponing is popular for many reasons, including:

  • Price savings: The obvious pro of using coupons is saving on your purchases. If you can find coupons regularly for items that you planned to purchase already, you'll have valuable savings. Similarly, if you learn to strategize by combining manufacturer and store coupons, you could double your savings.
  • Options to buy in bulk: If you're looking to stock up on items that will last, coupons can make it possible and affordable.
  • Intentional shopping: Couponing also forces you to shop intentionally. You must have a plan to maximize your savings, which means you're less likely to go into the store and make impulse purchases. For some, couponing can be a strategy that helps them stick to their budget.
  • Access to new products: Manufacturers may release coupons for new products. Browsing through coupon sources could give you early access to these products at lower prices.
  • Ability to donate: Some couponers use their strategies for social good. If buying one shampoo that was already on their list could get them another free, they'll use the coupon and donate the extra item to someone in need, food banks or shelters.

Cons of Couponing

Even though couponing can save you money, there may be some downsides:

  • Not always the best deal: Just because a product is discounted doesn't mean you're getting the best deal. Coupons for brand-name items may still leave you paying more than buying the store brand, for example.
  • Storage requirements: Figuring out what to do with all the items you save money on with couponing can be a challenge. Serious couponing often leads to stockpiling, which requires space to save the items or eventual waste.
  • Reselling challenges: Some couponers realize they can't use everything they receive with coupons, so they begin to resell. But reselling presents its own challenges. Some coupons are labeled "Not for Resale" so you're not supposed to resell items purchased with the coupon. You'll also have to report any income to the IRS and, if you deal with food products, you'll have to safely store them and monitor expiration dates.
  • Limited dietary options: Couponers often find that coupons for food are mostly available for highly processed foods. They may not always be compatible with your specific diet. You may feel constrained by what is available for food-related discounts.

5 Places to Find Coupons

If couponing still sounds worth it to you, get familiar with the different methods so you can find the best deals for yourself. Consider using a variety of coupon sources including:

  1. Paper coupons: You may find paper coupons in circulars delivered in print newspapers or provided in flyers at the store where you're shopping.
  2. Store apps: Many stores offer coupons and discounts if you download and use their apps to shop.
  3. Rewards programs: Rewards programs at stores often provide you with a digital barcode or physical rewards card to swipe at checkout to receive discounts off your total.
  4. Online promo codes: When you're shopping online, coupons are often provided as promo codes. These may offer free shipping, a percent off or buy one, get one discount.
  5. Rebate websites: If you don't have the time to hunt down coupons for everything you want to buy, consider rebate websites. When you use these websites, either by shopping from their portal or by installing a browser extension, they find the best coupons for your purchase. They may also provide percentages of cash back or other reward point systems to help you save.

Tracking down coupons can be a fun hobby, but remember if you start spending a lot of time on it your savings may not be proportionate to that time. Some couponers may find picking up some gig work or even a part-time job could earn them more money than what they can save by spending hours couponing.

The Bottom Line

Coupons for things you already planned to buy are like free money, so take advantage of them when readily available. Getting a discount on your groceries or other shopping can help extend your budget.

Looking for discounts beyond your weekly shopping can also help you save. You can use Experian BillFixer™ to negotiate your common bills such as cable, cellphone, internet and more. Get paired with expert negotiators when you try a free seven-day trial of BillFixer to see how much you can save.