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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Cost of Couponing

For all of you who have never used coupons before, or if you have only used them casually and you are thinking about getting serious this will show you how much (or how little) it can cost to use coupons. We are all so busy adding up are savings that I think sometimes we forget to mention that there is some money going into this. Luckily the investment is outweighed by the money saving benefits, and if you are doing it right than you won’t have to worry about spending more than you are saving.

There is some money spent in the acquisition and storage of coupons, but overall, you save much more than you spend. A lot of things you only have to buy once and the recurring expenses are very minimal. I would say that like everything else that you spend money on if you are worried about keeping it in check you should be sure and set a budget for your coupon expenses. I have seen some people get really carried away paying $12 plus shipping for a free product coupon with a max value of $15, that might not be the smartest move . 

I will take you through the cost of couponing including the following categories
  • Printer Ink
  • Printer Paper
  • Newspapers
  • Ordering Coupons
  • Storage 
  • Gas

Printer Ink
Printing coupons on-line through manufacturer websites, social media, and printable coupon sites can be an invaluable resource when it comes to saving money with coupons. I am careful to print all my coupons in black ink only. Stores should accept computer generated coupons in black and white and there is no reason to waste money on color ink when printing coupons.
We have 3 computers and one functioning printer at home and if the coupon is good enough I will print it from all 3 computers. Even with this the ink for our printer cost $12 a cartridge and we probably buy no more than 4 a year.

Overall cost: (for us) $50 a year

Ways to Save
  • Cartridge Rebates:  Most office stores have a rebate offer where you can bring in your empty ink cartridge for money back or store credit. Our local office store gives you $2 a  cartridge (up to $10 a month)
  • Refill Your Cartridge: I have seen some great sales on cartridge refills as low as $6, that’s 50% off the retail of a new cartridge, but I have found my printer does not perform as well with refills.

Printer Paper
Cost $4 per pack. We buy ours at Walmart, (unless there is a sale) There are lots of rebate deals to be had on printer paper at office stores but I rarely ever get those, I have seen the occasional great after coupon deal at some super centers, but again I can’t get every deal so I usually miss these and just buy the paper for retail at our local super center.  I would say I buy a pack of paper no more than once every 10 weeks. (depending on what coupons come out) That’s 5 to 6 packs a year.

Overall Cost $25 a year

Ways to Save:
  • Rebate deals at office stores: A lot of office supply stores sell bulk paper supply for nearly free after rebate repeatedly throughout the year.
  • One Sheet can be more than one coupon: I know I look at coupons like printed currency. But if you want to maximize your paper usage you should certainly consider flipping it over to get an additional coupon on the other side. (I usually give my scraps to my daughter for coloring pages)
Of course this is where the Sunday coupon inserts are, and probably your best opportunity to obtain multiples of any one coupon. This can get expensive as a Sunday Paper can cost as much as $2 a copy and if you have more than one paper available to you than you omay find yourself buying more than one edition of the paper as well.  I recommend trying to buy at least 5 copies of your Sunday paper each week. Once you have been couponing a while you can decide if you need more or less.

Average Cost: $10 a week

Ways to Save:
  • Alternative Sources: Consider buying your paper at a dollar store, where they usually retail for $1. Some regions you can get the Saturday edition of your Sunday paper at Menards for a lower rate as well. So look around for some deals.
  • Asks Friends Who Don’t Use Coupons for their Inserts: This is pretty straight forward, if you can find 5 friends that buy or subscribe to the paper but don’t care about the inserts perhaps you could buy just one copy of the paper each week and have your friends, family, and neighbors supply the rest. (Maybe a gift basket filled with free goodies every few months will encourage them to keep sharing)
  • Unsold Papers from Stores: Some people have been able to ask local stores and gas stations if they can have the inserts from unsold papers, before the stores turn them back in for credit. Some people have a lot of success with this so it is definitely worth trying. Careful with this method though because if your store happens to sell out one week you could find yourself with no papers.
  • Recycling Centers: Another fun way I have heard of saving money on the cost of papers is that local Recylcing centers may let you come in and look through the paper recycling to see if you can find some old inserts. This is especially easy if newspaper is sorted separately. Make sure and ask first (and wear gloves)

Ordering Coupons
This is a gray area when it comes to couponing and whether or not it is ethical is for another discussion. I don’t typically order coupons often, but do consider it an expense of couponing. Sometimes you can’t get access to coupons because they weren’t issued in your region or perhaps it is a tearpad or special promo coupon that you can’t get access to except to order it from ebay or some other clipping service.
We spend very little here and usually use creative ways to add to our paypal account without drawing out of our bank account to keep cost down. I would say that over the past 12 months I have only spent $15 on ordering coupons.

Average Cost: Varies

Ways to Save:
  • Join a Coupon Forum: Many coupon forums have a trading section, this is great for trading instead of buying coupons. Trade hot coupons from your stash for those you don’t have access too. All you have to pay is shipping for your end of the trade.
  • Sell some of your unwanted items on ebay: Instead of donating everything maybe try a few free listings on ebay to add to your paypal account. You’d be surprised how easy it is to sell on ebay, and suddenly you can turn those old clothes into coupons!
  • Use your Reward Sites. Sites like YouData and Swagbucks and Ebates can be great ways to build up your Paypal account and then you can use this money to buy coupons instead of money directly from your bank account. (and if you don’t need coupons just put the money in the bank!)
No matter how you chose to organize your coupons this is a major investment in time and money. The good news is once you have a storage system in place and paid for you won't have to make (or pay for it) again. There are several ways to organize your coupons.
  • File Box with dividers: Average Cost $15
  • Coupon Binder with multi-pocket sleeves – Average cost $50
  • File Box or Cabinet for whole inserts -  Average Cost $0 You can use any conveniently shaped box, use cardboard for dividers and this is super cheap way to organize inserts. Note: with this method you will have add another storage method for non insert coupons.
  • Coupon Binder with Whole Inserts  - Average Cost $30
Stockpiles are built over many small trips to certain spectacular sales. Some television shows may have people disillusioned that it is common to make on (albeit lengthy) trip to the store to build a 6 month stockpile, but this is not the average couponers experience.
You will find that often you will visit many stores multiple times during a sales week, especially when coupons are going to expire or if you are unable to get a raincheck for your sale item. We have a weekly allowance for gas that we do not exceed. Also I rarely if ever leave my house just to do a coupon trip. I would try to keep it to 5% or less of your savings if possible. So if you saved $100 this week you only spent $5 on gas (we get about 14 miles per gallon in town so that should get you to the store a few times)

Average cost: Varies

Ways to Save: 
  • Carpool with a coupon friend! This could be so much fun and they can help you shop, especially useful if you live quite a distance from the stores.
  • Visit all your stores on the same day.
  • Settle for getting what you can during one day of shopping
  • Set a budget for how much money to spend on gas for just coupon trips, outside of your regular grocery shopping.
  • Make a stop while you are running other errands
  • Go on the way to or home from work.
  • Use reward programs or store rewards to buy gift cards or prepaid cards that can be used for gas.
Cost Summary:
If I add up all these expenses listed above it would look like this for the year.
Printer Paper = $25
Printer Ink = $50
Gas = $100 (about a gallon a week)
Coupon Storage = $0 (recently paid for my first binder with swagbucks!)
Ordering Coupons = $15
Newspapers = $450
Total = $640 a year
(About $12 a week)

I saved around  $1,000 just during July using coupons, so for the year my total savings could well be between $15,000 and $20,000 and I know some people who get much more savings than I do. So for me the investment is well worth it, and of course there is some room to save money over what I spend on m coupon cost, and you could easily save more money than I do while spending the same amount. Although, looking at the numbers like this for the first time ever, I am thinking there must be a way to save on newspapers, wow, but that will be a challenge for another day.


  1. I am trying to find the best deals on the newspaper. I called my local Dollar Tree and they do sell the paper on Sundays so that might be the best bet. Thanks for the tip!