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Couponing is a Waste of Money

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Have you ever heard the saying about Bill Gates? Supposedly, he is so wealthy that if he were walking and saw $20 laying on the sidewalk, it wouldn’t be worth his time to pick it up.

For the longest time, I did not truly understand that statement. If I saw $20 laying right in front of me, why wouldn’t I pick it up?! It just seems foolish not to!

Rather than just dismiss this crazy statement, let’s dig in and see if there’s any truth to it. We all know that Bill Gates has a current net worth of approximately $50 billion. Since he has done so well with his financials thus far, it can be assumed that he could earn 10% on his money, or $5 billion each year.

When we break down his income, Bill Gates makes $158.55 every second! By picking up that $20, he would actually be reducing his income. Now, I can hear some of you already… “No Derek, he’d just add $20 to his income that he was already earning.” I disagree. By taking his time to do something other than his work, he could be forfeiting his next big idea or missing out on a brilliant investment opportunity. That $20 bill could cost him millions over the course of a few years.

Couponing is a Waste of Money

A hand-full of you might understand and agree with this statement completely (if this is you, congrats! You might just be the next Bill Gates). For the rest of you, I suspect that you do not have a source of income beyond your 8 to 5 job.

For those of you that love couponing, I understand

Just a short while ago, I saw a news special about “The Coupon Lady”. They showed footage of a woman that stocked her cart full of groceries and everyday items. When she got to the check-out, her total was over $200 (not surprising), but wait! She pulled a wad of coupons out of her pocket and with every beep of the scanner, the total came down….and down…and down.

Her final bill was $9.41! I was fascinated! At that very moment, I started researching and hunting down those great deals. I was convinced that I could buy items at a 95% discount too! It is a great thing to save money after all.

What Happened?

I figure that I must have spent about 5-10 hours each week with those dumb coupons! Finding them, cutting/printing them, sorting them, finding discounts to combine them with, and finally using them at the register. It was incredibly time consuming! Plus, I never got that good at it either. I think the most I ever saved at the register was $25, or 30% of my bill.

Make More Money

After becoming discouraged with my piddly coupon savings, I began evaluating the equation of discretionary income once again.

Discretionary Income = Income – Expenses

In order to raise my discretionary income, I could reduce my expenses (which wasn’t working so well with those coupons) or I could make more money and raise my income.

Since that moment, I ditched couponing and started putting those 10 hours/wk toward the development of this website (as well as some other side ventures), and as you can see by my income reports, I am now earning an average of over $300 a month!

There is no possible way that I could have saved $300 per month by cutting coupons! Our monthly grocery bill is barely more than that!

Plus, by trying to save money, there is a limit to what you can save, but by earning extra income, there really is no ceiling. You could earn an additional $100,000+ a year after a few years of efforts (I plan to report the truth in this figure in 2014 :))!

I suggest you put down those scissors and start increasing your income.

Money

AUTHOR Derek

My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.

33 Comments

  1. I totally agree that making more money is a better use of time than trying to nickel and dime your way to savings. But I do suspect that Bill Gates’ income is not entirely active and that some of his income occurs passively since he has a reduced role at Microsoft and focuses mainly on his foundation work.

    • Maybe it wasn’t the best example, but as for couponing, rather than clipping those coupons, I could be making money! That was the main point I was trying to make.

    • @cashflowmantra I think you nailed it when pointed out that Bill Gates wealth is primarily generated in a passive manner. The key is to maximize your time and effort on the things that will actually generate income.

      That being said I think most people should take the time and energy that they spend clipping coupons and refocus their efforts on activities that will make a marked difference in their net worth. It boils down to the 80/20 rule.

  2. Derek, I agree with your premise to the extent that you put your couponing time into blogging. But if someone takes that time and spends it watching TV or surfing the net, or even walking the dog, they’re going to come out financially behind where they would be if they had couponed.

    You also have to take the tax consequences into account. Additional income is taxed. Couponing (or any method of saving money for that matter) is saving money that has already been taxed.

    Still, I think it’s good for everyone to balance making more money vs. saving money. And if couponing wasn’t working for you (especially since your food budget was relatively low already) you were right to spend that time somewhere else.

    • Right, if I had the choice between couponing and watching TV, I would clip coupons because it would be much more cost effective! So, if you do not have a side source of income, then perhaps coupon clipping is a good thing to do! Saving some money is better than not saving any.

      Also, I suppose you could do both, as you pointed out! If you have the time, then that’s certainly an option too! 🙂

      • My girlfriend’s sister teaches coupon classes at her church and saves $100’s of dollars. She also is a stay at home. It a great source of revenue for her and her family. But it is tedious and time-consuming–you just have to determine whether or not it is worth it to you.

        • I don’t mind clipping a few coupons if I know I’ll use them soon, but I’d much rather spend my time making an additional income. It has proved to be very effective so far.

  3. I fully agree with you. It also seems like many folk who engage in couponing are also severe hoarders. I mean, c’mon, who can actually use 3 years worth of Palmolive soap or dishwashing soap? The stuff does actually have expiry dates…Fair enough, some folk do use them responsibly though.

    Another point to ponder is that buying fresh food is often still cheaper than buying that horribly over processed crap that they give coupons for. People need to go back to learning how to prepare food from scratch. That is actually cheaper than spending 10 hours a week cutting coupons for things which are mostly unhealthy or plain unneccessary anyway…

    Here in South Africa, we don’t actually get coupons anyway, so we basically wait for decent sales, and only buy what we truly need and what we know we will be able to use.

    • Good point Shona. Many of the coupons are for unhealthy foods! My wife and I are starting to eat healthier (actually, she was always healthy… and now is trying to take me along for the ride), so most of the coupons don’t pertain to our purchases anyway!

  4. I find this well, amusing. Thanks for that. Mostly because there is a upside and a downside to most things in life, financial or otherwise. And you can just about make any argument with percentages and extreme examples.
    YES, we have to make choices, but there are those who cannot make extra money as you suggest, and for whom couponing is an easy way to stretch their exisiting dollars. For some it is more than worth their time and effort.
    I say bravo to either group. Both can and are using THEIR resources in the best possible manner.
    AND years ago when my company was in it’s boom years (and I made 6 figure bonuses) I still used coupons. My personality just doesn’t like to pay more than it has to for anything! You don’t need to be extreme and you don’t need to spend 10 hrs. a week to still save “something”. You need to be WISE about it, but you are still saving and it still adds up ~ and for me, it doesn’t make sense not to!

    • Good point Johannah. We can certainly split our time and save money along with making more money. If I go shopping and receive a coupon at checkout that I will most definitely use next time, I’ll save it and take it with me on the next trip. But, I just feel that searching for deals everywhere has become a waste of time. I can better utilize my time with my web business. It’s a much better money-maker.

  5. I hope you don’t mind me dropping a link here, but I recently had a bit of a rant on this very subject. http://www.beatingbroke.com/opportunity-cost-is-bull/

    Your argument is sound, so long as the time not spent picking up the $20 is spent making money. If Bill is just walking along the street, on his way home where he’s not going to do anything productive, the 30 seconds that he’ll lose by picking up the $20 isn’t really time he’d otherwise spend making money, it’s not lost income, it’s lost tv time.

    Bill’s time is only worth that much per second if he’s working 100% of every second. He’s a bit of an exception, because most of his income is actually passive income now, so he truly does make money whether he’s working or not.

    You, or I, on the other hand, have a little bit different equation that’s involved. 😉

    • This article wasn’t so much about Bill as it was about earning the maximum amount of discretionary income. If you have a choice between saving $200 or making $500, I would hope that you would choose the $500. Or, as some readers have pointed out, perhaps you could combine the two efforts and come out ahead even more than either option! 🙂

  6. Great article Derek. I totally agree. I had never heard that about Bill before but it is an interesting point. I don’t like couponing either and besides the time factor, there are not often coupons for things I use. There are much better and more efficient ways to make money and save money. Thanks for discussing this- I hope some people heed the advice.

  7. I think this is somewhat a kin to someone driving for 5 miles for a great price on gas…when they only drive 20 miles a month. It isn’t worth the effort.

    You have realized that couponing is not worth your effort.

    • Yep, I think you’re pretty much spot on. My coupon savings were only $40 a month with 30 hours of effort. It just wasn’t worth it. Now I put that effort towards my blog and I’m reaping much larger rewards. 🙂

  8. I can’t believe you were spending 5-10 hours a week couponing. I spend about 5-10 minutes looking at match-up blogs and 5-10 minutes making my grocery list and save about 10-20% on my grocery bill. That extra money goes straight into my savings/investment which increases my “passive” income. I still work on my blog and side jobs but I cannot agree with your premise.

    • My 5-10 hours were working toward saving 90% on my grocery bill. I don’t mind looking for 5 minutes to find a 10% deal, but my mad searches were just taking too much time and were not yielding results. If you enjoy clipping coupons and are good at it, I think you should continue doing it! Just don’t let it take over all your time. Sounds like you’re doing a great job though.

  9. My wife and I have been through the same analysis on couponing. She’s talked to some of the local coupon queens and we’ve both agreed that her time is much better spent helping me with my business, where we can convert her time to revenues. Great post!

    • I agree 100%. Keep earning that extra income and forget about those coupons! Unless they’re right in front of your face…

  10. I HATE COUPONING AND I SUCK AT IT! Glad I’m not alone. I am also a couponer failure.

  11. The other thing is that people see a coupon for something they normally don’t buy, and then get it b/c they have a coupon. How’s THAT for saving money?

    • Great point Emily! Coupons tend to make us a little crazy this way don’t they. We see a great deal, and we purchase an item that we really don’t need and will most likely never use/consume! Then we’re not saving money at all are we? We’re actually wasting more!

  12. Count me in as one who’s not a big fan of clipping coupons. But those $5 and $10 store coupons we get in the mail are just fine.

    • Yep, I can handle those store coupons too, but when it comes to using two coupons on a BOGO deal… that’s just too hard to find! Plus, the majority of the stores that run BOGOs are overpriced to begin with. I’ll stick with making extra money on the side. It’s way more fun too!

  13. Your opportunity cost assessment is accurate – coupons aren’t worth it.

    Also – coupons are generally for things that people need to advertise because we don’t actually need their product. Either we don’t need it at all, or we don’t need their expensive brand.

    You’ll never find coupons for rice, beans, or plain oatmeal.

    • I enjoy your comments Brave New Life! You are right on the money!

      Coupons are typically for items that we don’t need, or that are unhealthy, so we shouldn’t be buying them anyway. I love not having to clip those coupons anymore.

    • There use to be coupons for plain rice and oatmeal all the time. In fact years ago I would get plain cartons oatmeal for free with coupons. Every winter it would go on sale for .99 and there would be .50/1 coupons out every winter . I would get coupons from friends who got the Sunday paper and didn’t use coupons, and from my library that at the time gave away the Sunday paper on Monday, so I would get one paper there. I would end up getting enough oatmeal for free at double coupon stores that I had plenty all winter for making cookies and eating hot oatmeal for breakfast. As far as rice there were coupons for .35 or 50/1 rice that I would go to a store that had them for .99 everyday . They doubled coupons so with the .50/1 I would get them free.
      I don’t get those deals anymore though.

      • That is a pretty great deal! Have you noticed any others recently? Or do you think it’s becoming a waste of time and money too?

  14. I like the way you think. Not many people stop to think about the opportunity cost of couponing. I’m all for saving a few bucks if it is quick and easy, but if it involves spending hours scouring through store circulars and clipping coupons, forget it. As you say there are more productive ways to spend our time.

    • I used to think like the poor, where I’d spend hours to save a couple of dollars. Now, I’m happy to say that I’m starting to think like the rich. I am keeping up with technology and am beginning to realize how many money making opportunities there really are!

      If you want some ideas for making more money, check out my free eBook (you’ll get it when you subscribe), or just contact me through my “Contact” tab above! 🙂


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