Is Couponing Worth It? Are You Wasting Money When You’re Trying To Save?

If you’ve ever watched the show Extreme Couponers, it is amazing to see how much money people save by couponing. But, with all of the time it takes to find deals and the extra things you may buy, you may be wondering – is couponing worth it? At one point in my life, I tested…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: December 9, 2023

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via my links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclosure for more info.

Is Couponing Worth It? Are You Wasting Money When You’re Trying To Save? #couponing #moneysavingtipsIf you’ve ever watched the show Extreme Couponers, it is amazing to see how much money people save by couponing. But, with all of the time it takes to find deals and the extra things you may buy, you may be wondering – is couponing worth it?

At one point in my life, I tested my couponing skills. I would get a ton of household goods for nearly free, and that was the main thing that I couponed for. I would clip coupons out of newspapers, I read coupon blogs, and more. There were many times when I would walk out of the store with $100 worth of items, having maybe spent only around $10 on all of it.

I wasn’t the like the people on the TV show, but I definitely loved getting stuff for super cheap and sometimes even free.

I was using so much of my time before I realized what was actually happening.

Today, I am much different – I still look for the occasional coupon, such as when shopping online and looking for a promo code.

Still, couponing can save you a decent amount of money on things you need and regularly buy. Like, if you always buy a certain laundry detergent and you find a coupon for $1 off, then you are saving $1 on something you would normally buy at full price.

So, is there a wrong and a right way when it comes to coupons? Can coupons actually hurt you? And, is couponing worth it?

Here are some couponing statistics that might surprise you:

That’s a lot of coupons!

But, what led me to today’s post was an email I recently received from a reader.

She told me that her partner had a couponing problem, and this led to him becoming a hoarder. She told me that whenever he received a coupon, he felt the need to go out and buy the item, whether or not he needed it. This had led to insane amounts of stress in their relationship, even though she had explained to him multiple times that he had a couponing problem.

While couponing can help you save money, it can also cause you to spend more money as well. It’s also incredibly time consuming, can cause you to waste things you aren’t using, and add unnecessary stress to your life.

But, when you are trying to save money, coupons can help.

And, coupons are everywhere! We’ve all encountered sales and coupons in our life. Coupons come in the mail, they are in the newspaper, and sometimes they are sitting in the store. In addition to physical coupons, you can easily find them on websites, in emails, and even promo codes on TV or the radio.

But as I’ve already said, for many people, coupons can actually be hurting you more than they help.

Related content:


How can coupons hurt you?

I would say that most people think of coupons as a way to save a little money.

It might be $0.50 off a loaf of bread, $20 off a purchase of $100 or more, 10% off your total purchase, etc. If you looked at those savings and were asked “is couponing worth it?” You naturally might say, “Yes, they’re saving me money. They’re COUPONS!”

But, here’s how coupons may be hurting you.

  • Couponing can hurt you in that you spend money that you may not have spent otherwise. You may go to the store or shop online simply because you have a coupon when you didn’t need or want the item in the first place.
  • You may be buying items that you don’t even need because you are addicted to saving money and using coupons – yes, this is a real thing!
  • You feel that you are saving money because you are buying something that is on sale. And if you don’t buy it, then you are giving up or losing money. One reader once told me that she felt that she was turning away free money by not using a coupon. This is an odd mindset to think that you are losing out on money by not using a coupon. Coupons are not income!
  • You are buying items that have coupons, even if the item is unhealthy. This could be unhealthy foods, and there are even coupons for cigarettes. Just because there is a coupon, doesn’t mean that the product is actually good for you.
  • You treat your couponing “savings” as free money, and then spend even more money than you normally would at the store. For example, if you saved $50 with coupons, you may then spend that $50 on other things at the store. You would probably be much better off just sticking to saving money and not spending your savings.

As you can see, there are many ways in which couponing may actually be hurting you.

Now, I’m not saying that all coupons are bad. I’m all for finding ways to save money, and seeking out sales and discounts can be a great way to save money, of course. But, it’s all about knowing when to use coupons to your advantage, and knowing when it may actually just be a sales tactic that may hurt you.


Why do stores have coupons?

The truth is that stores don’t create coupons to help you save money. Coupons exist to get you to SPEND your money. And, because many of us have connected our phones and email addresses to the stores we shop at, stores can track when it’s been a while since you’ve been in. To get you to come back in, a store might send you a coupon or discount code to visit them again.

Companies want you to visit their stores, whether in person or online, so that you will spend more money.

Even if the item is free, it might be because the store is hoping that you’ll help them get rid of some excess inventory, and/or purchase other items while you are shopping with a coupon.

Some of the other tricks retailers use include:

  • Increasing the price before they release the discount/coupon/sale. Stores do this all the time – they will increase the price and then offer a coupon. They do this because it makes you feel like you are getting a deal, but you are actually not.
  • Everything is always on sale. Do you remember the commercials where a store says they are going out of business, but then those commercials seem to last for years, and sometimes even decades? These retailers know that people love a good deal, so they act like you are about to get a deal of a lifetime. But, this is all just their retail strategy to get you to come in and spend money.
  • Setting a spending threshold before you can save money. We’ve all seen it, especially with online stores. They will give you “free shipping if you spend over $50” or “save $10 if you spend $50 on your overall purchase.” This can be a great deal if you were going to spend this money in the first place, but most of the time retailers know that this will persuade you to add a few more items to your cart so that you can reach the threshold.

Those are just a few tactics stores use to get you to spend more money.

It may sound like I’m talking about couponing and sales conspiracies, but these are proven tactics that stores use to increase their sales, reduce out of season inventory, and more.

Retailers know how to get you to spend your hard-earned money.


Why do people feel they need to use a coupon or discount?

It’s been proven that sales and discounts cause consumers, like you and me, to spend money, even when we don’t actually need the item.

When an item is on sale, you may find a way to work the item into your life, in fear of missing out, thinking that you may need the item later, and due to a sense of urgency.

I even find myself almost falling for that with some of my favorite stores. They send a coupon for something like “$10 off your entire purchase,” and they also say they are running a store wide sale. There are times when I think, “I need to get in right now!”

I have to ask myself, “is couponing worth it right now?” I need to think about whether or not I needed something from that store in the first place. The majority of the time I don’t.

Others like the thrill of using a coupon. They enjoy finding ways to save money and are addicted to getting things for super cheap or even free. This sounds crazy to non-couponers, but there is very much an addiction-like quality that some couponers experience.


What can you do to change your couponing ways?

To stop wasting money and buying items that you don’t need, there are many things you should do. I recommend first asking yourself a set of questions, such as:

  • Would you purchase the item if there was no coupon?
  • Do you need the item?
  • Where will you keep the item?
  • How will you use it?
  • Do you get a thrill out of using coupons?

For some people, it can be very hard to stop and ask yourself those questions, especially if you have a real problem and are addicted to the thrill of shopping with coupons. When you are able to stop and ask yourself those things, you will eventually realize that you’ve been wasting a lot of money on things you don’t really need.

If you like the thrill of couponing, there are other ways to turn saving money into a game. One of my favorite ways is to do no-spend challenges with family and friends. You give yourself a timeframe, like a week or month, and try not to purchase anything during that time. Other people can help you stay accountable, and it can be really exciting to “beat” other people with saving money in healthier ways.

Saving money really is great and can change your life in so many positive ways, but if the way you are saving money is actually causing you to purchase things you don’t need, then is it really saving?

In the end, couponing can sometimes be good for you, and other times it may be financially hurting you.

Do you use coupons? Why or why not? What do you think, is couponing worth it?

Filed under:

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

Like this article?

Join the Conversation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Honestly coupons in Italy are not so used in the Us but the truth is that sometimes you can save money I tend to use coupons only on products I’m going to buy!

    1. Yeah, I think the US has the most coupons, haha.

  2. Great post, Michelle!

    I once couponed hard. My family was struggling with money and couponing was the one way I could contribute to the finances at the time. So I took it upon me to learn how to do it right, not like in the show, where you see them buy 300 bottles of mustard or bbq sauce haha. Anyway, I can honestly say I saved tons, but it took me a while to get over the thrill of saving, and start getting just what we needed without over doing it. I rarely use coupons anymore, mainly because it is time consuming, and I need my time to work on my blog so I can contribute to our family finances with extra income, and not just savings. So, I agree with you. Coupons are an amazing way of saving money, but they can also hurt you, if you get carried away.

    1. Yeah, it is super time consuming!

  3. T.C. at Southern Jolly

    Michelle, this is a great article on couponing. Yes, I use coupons often to save money, but I do agree with you that coupons can sometimes cause me to spend more than I would have spent if I did not have a coupon. I have had a 50% off one item coupon before and when I get to the checkout at the store, I am told that the item was already on sale for 20% off (without a coupon) therefore I would not be able to use the 50% off coupon on that item.The coupon got me into the store, but it turns out that the coupon was not useable for the item that I needed, but I could use the 50% off one item coupon to buy an item that I did not really need.

  4. I used to be all about couponing and then I stopped b/c I felt like I was buying more than I needed. I still do it occasionally but I am very careful. Staples will send me those $10 of $10 or more coupons and if I didn’t have it I wouldn’t buy anything but it’s like free money…but I am good and usually only buy what I need.

    1. Good job on being more careful.

  5. For me, coupons cause a lot of personal frustration that I don’t need. Sometimes I’ll clip a coupon on something I need and then forget it at home when I shop. Other times, the coupons will be right on the package in the supermarket, and I will forget to use it in the checkout line. Maybe I’m just forgetful – 😉 – but then I end up being mad at myself instead of relaxed. So, unless it will amount to a considerable savings I usually don’t use them.

    1. I have felt the same anger before!

  6. Cheryl

    Michelle, this is such an insightful article. I know that I’m definitely guilty of spending money on things that I don’t need when there’s a coupon involved. I’m definitely going to try to be more conscious about this.

  7. Clarissa

    I have couponed for the past 18 years. I have a small stockpile and am okay with that. I only get things to add to the rotated stockpile when they are free. it is easy to get carried away with coupons and the show on TV is on TV for a reason. It is not realistic at all. I know someone who has been on a reality TV show and she confirmed that most stuff is made up to keep it interesting or why would you watch? I have slowed down on couponing in stores because a lot of doubling has went away, sales are not as good and coupons are not as good.

    1. Yeah, I know someone who was on extreme cheapskates and they said most of it was fake.

  8. Thanks for the great article, Michelle. You have some really good points about the true costs of compulsive couponing. I recently wrote an article on this topic on my own blog too. It’s so true that sales and coupons are a way to entice us into buying things we don’t need.

    Coupons and sales are great technique to get customers through the doors to start spending money impulsively. Even buying just one unnecessary item usually completely eliminates any savings from using the coupon in the first place.

    I find that avoiding coupons and sales is a great way for me to drastically reduce impulsive buying in favor of a more intentional way of spending.

  9. Investor Tuition

    I know I have sometimes spent money just to save money via a coupon. Whichever marketer came up with the coupon idea sure hit a winner. These days I will search for a coupon on an item I am going to buy. A far more sensible strategy.