Musing about Shopping, at a Time You’re Supposed to Limit Your Shopping

I enjoy using coupons when I shop. Who doesn’t like to save a few cents or more, especially as prices continue to rise? And what’s better than a coupon on an item that’s a loss leader; the reduced price is further reduced with a coupon. Before our current situation of isolation (Hotel California!), a local supermarket was sending a weekly “Save $2 off of $10 purchase” coupon. That was very nice, the $10 threshold was not difficult to reach.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to conduct a study of coupons distributed in Sunday newspapers. I wondered how much could really be saved, if the claims were anywhere near true. Savings hidden inside are often shouted out on the front page of the paper. On Week 3, this statement appeared on page one:  “Save $203 on coupons inside.” The coupon flyers make similar claims: “over $75 in savings!”; “save up to $50”; you get the picture. One flyer directed readers to their app, to “discover” more savings. I also couldn’t help but wonder how much more is saved if the promoted products are not purchased.*

*Note: This query would take a real study, not simply this superficial musing. It would take recording the prices of each item with a coupon … that’s real research.

Some thoughts about shopping first:

Brand loyalty. My shopping practice is sometimes constrained by brand loyalty. When it comes to paper products, I stick with Bounty paper towels, Charmin toilet paper, and Puffs Plus. The same with soaps; Palmolive dish liquid, Cascade for the dishwasher, and Tide for my clothes. Coupons from other companies are wasted on me. I’m not tempted to stray.

Expiration Dates. Some drawbacks built into coupon use are the number of items you have to purchase, the size of the product, and the expiration date. What if the coupon expires in one or two weeks? What if they are valid only when you purchase two of the offered product? When I lived alone, that meant that something could go stale in my pantry. On the other hand, I find this offer useful for items such as vegetable oil. The second usually this does not go bad while waiting its turn.

Rebates. Some manufacturers offer a rebate if you spend a certain amount on a selection their products. I have taken advantage of rebates in the past and, no doubt, will again when it’s a product I use. The process is often complex … keeping receipts, marking receipts, mailing receipts in, making sure to keep a record of what and when you sent it, and when the rebate is expected. Constant Companion cannot waste is time at this game; it is a game. Do you really save?

Two more things I keep in mind when reviewing the weekly coupons. I don’t make use of the majority of the products. And, I’ve never heard of many of them. I’ve realized that I am somewhat of a conservative and I’m just not driven to try new products on the market. Call is lack of curiosity, or simply satisfaction with what I use.

Here’s the abbreviated “study”: what else is there to do these days? Every Sunday from March 15 til April 20, I made a (huge) list of all the coupons in the newspaper.  Over the four-week period numerous coupons from many manufacturers for many, many products appeared weekly.

Bradford Exchange Checks Coupons | Bradford Exchange Checks Online ...

There were ads galore hawking various and sundry products to be ordered on-line or by mail. Ads appeared weekly for home monitoring systems, tools from Harbor Freight Tools, one for the Giant liquidation on Portland tools, leaf gutter protection, eyeglasses from Visionworks and JC Penney, and checks. I order my checks from these ads; I get four boxes at a time to save money and I suspect I have a lifetime supply at the rate I write checks!

There’s lots of stuff for collectors: gold and silver coins and a “purr-cious” kitty figurine. I thought this was the cutest thing – Freedom Choppers Cuckoo Clock, Bradford Exchange – for motorcycle buffs.

The largest number of coupons in the month was provided for men’s and women’s personal products: soap and body wash,  lotions, deoderants, shaving stuff, women’s monthly needs. How do you choose between Dove, 75¢ (week 1 & week 3); Caress, $1 (week 1) [a brand I particularly like]; Olay soap, $2; or Zest, $1 (week 2). Lotion coupons included St. Ives, $1.50 (week 1) and in week 4 the following: Jergens, $1.50, Aquaphor $2, Nivea, $1.50, Eucerin, $1. There was the following offer – spend $10 on Jergen’s lotions and get a $50 restaurant card. Wow, they live in the optimism that restaurants will reopen in the near future!

I got a blast to the past from the $1.50 coupon for any Ponds product. When I was in high school and college, we used Ponds Cold Cream to remove the stage make up. I had no idea it was still made.

The next largest group of coupons was for over the counter (OTC) medicines, not including allergy treatments. I frequently think our household is fortunate because we rarely rely on these items. There were stomach remedies: Milk of Magnesia, an $8 coupon valid for only one week; Alka Seltzer, $2; Pepcid, Lactaid, Imodium, $1 & $2 coupons (all in week 1). Other similar products included Prilosec, $1 (week 2), Nexium, $5 and Colace, $5, the last two valid for 2 weeks (week 4). The next largest number of OTC coupons was for different types of eye drops: Preservision, $3 off one packet, $7 off two; Refresh, also off of two products (week 2); Systane, lubricant eye drops, eye vitamins, and eye drops; and Opti-Free $3 (week 3). Three similar products in one week; how does one choose.

I could go on and on with coupons for laundry and home care, hair care*, dental care,* allergies (I buy mine at COSTCO), cosmetics, paper products, and cosmetics. And then there’s the really necessary stuff that has the fewest number of coupons: food, snacks, beverages, and candy. And not to forget a few coupons for pet food, our friends in isolation!

*The hair care products, interestingly, included several products for covering roots. I think there are many out there in these days of seclusion who feel they need this type of touch up.

Coupons for food included a variety of prepared and frozen foods, nothing fresh, unless you count Easter ham.  There were coupons for salad dressings, cereal, pasta and sauce*, ham (weeks 3 & 4), yogurt, mayonnaise, cheese*, and more. Snacks included energy bars, soft pretzels, ice cream, cakes and cookies, and Carvel ice cream cake.  Candy was the usual chocolates, Hersey, Mars, and M&M products.

*I regularly use select pasta, sauce, and cheese coupons and clipped (and have already used) these, all for less than a dollar: Bertolli red sauce, 75¢ off 2 bottles; Barilla pasta sauce, 55¢ off 2 jars of sauce; and Sargento cheese, 75¢ off sliced cheese. I think the latter was a loss leader, added savings.

The 3 girls, Sweetie, Jinx, and Princess Tuptim

The few kitty food coupons were not for products which I prefer to use.

And so, this is the latest musing. I realize I did not come to the point of this discussion of saving with coupons. With all these coupons for all these various and sundry products, in the end, I believe I save more money by simply not buying the majority of them!

I stick with the brands that I have come to prefer for soaps, detergent and paper goods (when you can find them these days!). It’s been so many years since I colored my hair, no roots to cover up either. The same goes for cosmetics. As I wrote above, luckily we have little need for many of the OTC products. When I have a stomach ache, I pull out the candied ginger.

My musing is about nothing worth life or death, but something you might have thought about. Remember to continue (un)social distancing with your mask in place the next you venture out on a shopping expedition. I certainly will.


  1. As a passionate coupon clipper and linker (online as well as Sunday papers), I thank you for this post!


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