In my last post, I explained a few of the overlooked traps that coupons present to the frugal living challenge. One of the larger problems is that the thrill of coupon savings many times distracts from the real money saving opportunities: generics and store brand products.
I’m as vulnerable here as the next person. I just like the feeling that comes from seeing that purchase total fall with every scanned coupon. There’s a great sense of accomplishment that feeds on itself. I find myself, on each successive trip, wanting to beat my personal record for coupon savings achieved. This, in turn, causes me, perhaps subconsciously, to overlook the fact that the couponed product is much more expensive than its virtually equivalent store brand version. In many of these cases, there is no discernible difference in the product. But there’s just something more exciting about coupons, as they give us the sense that we are doing something affirmatively frugal.
Take paper towels, for example. I receive twenty-five cent Bounty coupons all of the time. It’s part of the Procter & Gamble coupon circular that comes in my Sunday paper about once a month. Bounty paper towels are just fine as a product, but, at the end of the day, I really don’t much care whether I use a Bounty or a store brand paper towel to clean up spills. When I keep this in mind, I realize that the twenty-five cent coupon, even when doubled, fails to bring the price for an eight pack down to the best store brand prices. The coupon has thus succeeded in duping me into a choice that is neither frugal nor practical.
We see the same issue with medications. Claritin, again a fine product for allergy sufferers, distributes occasional coupons that offer what appear to be big-time savings. We’re talking four bucks off a box. However, on the same aisle most drugs stores offer their own version for several dollars less in price. The end result is that the Claritin, even with the coupon savings, usually ends up costing more than the perfectly fine generic. Name brand aspirin and other pain relievers play the same game with those seemingly generous dollar plus coupon offers.
One of the fundamental principles of frugal living is the need to think things through before buying. It’s an important skill to exercise when faced with coupons, which have an uncanny ability to dupe the consumer into spending more than necessary by offering savings that are illusory in the end.