If there’s one thing I love more than being organized, it’s saving money.
My heart races when I see sale ads on social media, the circulars via snail-mail, and the email notifications on my phone, all informing me of the latest savings at my favorite shopping destinations. When my mom comes to visit, she still brings me the coupon booklets that come in every Sunday paper. I have a small accordion-file of coupons (organized by type) that I’ve collected for literally everything under the sun. My husband and I have a BJ’s membership to save on bulk purchases. I always b-line it to the back of every store to see what new items have been discounted and put on clearance. And Black Friday. Don’t even get me started… It’s like my own personal Shopping Olympics: each time I participate I try to out-save myself. At least it’s comforting to be reminded once a year that I’m not the only crazy person trying to save a dollar here and there.
But there is a dark side to this money-saving obsession. These seemingly helpful aspects of American capitalism (coupons, club memberships, and clearance items) can sometimes be harmful to your home and to your budget – even for someone as organized and minimalist as I am. So let’s talk about when it’s important to exercise savings-superpowers, and when it’s important to just keep moving on.
Part 1: Coupon Commotion
In 2011, the department store JC Penney underwent a change of leadership and, simultaneously, a change in their marketing strategy. Ellen DeGeneres was their spokesperson, and I will never forget the series of commercials she starred in: in each one, she questioned how the ideas of “-.99” price endings, coupon cutting, and bogus pricing began. To mirror these commercials, the new stores sported prices all ending in “-.00” and removed all traces of clearance, while coupons and “sales” prices were removed from their flyers which touted their new slogan, fair and square.
JC Penney was essentially striping away the façade all businesses use to sell products to consumers. To any reasonable person, this marketing strategy would have made perfect sense. However, the American shopper’s mind is not a reasonable one.
In an international Shopper’s Trend Report issued by the popular couponing website RetailMeNot, they found that “the majority of Americans (53%) said they value brands that offer coupons because coupons help them buy the things they want or need.” The study further discloses that “nearly half (48%) of consumers in the United States surveyed said that they use coupons proudly as a symbol of their savvy shopping skills.”
The average American shopper would rather use a coupon or buy something on sale (or a combination of both) than buy something at an “everyday, low price”. Why? Because shoppers feel “savvy”, getting an adrenaline rush out of saving money and trying to outsmart big-box stores. Coupons have a psychological effect on us that it is difficult to think logically past. Have you ever heard of Extreme Couponing? It’s basically its own sport, requiring patience, focus, and oodles of time devoted to mastering it.
In America, where shopping shrewdness and resourcefulness are highly regarded, nobody wants to participate in a bland shopping experience. Furthermore, who would shop at a store where there is no reward for being loyal (20% off your purchase, earning points, etc.)? Needless to say, if you go into JC Penney today, you will not see any remnants of their marketing strategy from six years ago because it failed miserably. If you want to read more about the blunder, check out this Harvard Business Journal article.
So, it goes without saying that coupons, along with weekly sales, rule the consumer market. Using coupons can be a great shopping strategy, but it’s important to be smart about it. There are two major things you should remember before you make your next shopping run: Don’t buy things you don’t need just because you have a coupon, and pay attention to the original price of the item you are purchasing. If you aren’t coupon-savvy, using them can lead to a waste of space and a waste of money.
Don’t buy things you don’t need just because you have a coupon.
I can’t tell you how many times I have received an email with a “today only!” coupon or special, or how many coupons I’ve clipped for things I might need someday, but haven’t used yet in my life. We are bombarded by information designed to entice us, and it’s hard sometimes to resist the temptation when it’s present. But let me share a secret with you: companies would not survive if it weren’t for coupons and consumers using them. If you aren’t going anywhere, then neither are the coupons.
If something goes on sale and/or you have a coupon, and you truly need it, then you should absolutely buy it. Even if whatever it is sits in a cabinet for a month before it is used (especially something you use a lot of or very often), it is worth purchasing and storing if the price is right (just watch for expiration dates).
All other sales and coupons you should forgo to maintain your home’s decluttered state and your wallet’s fullness. Don’t fall into the trap of, “But I have a coupon, so I have to go out and use it NOW!” If you don’t need anything, save your time, space, and money: there will always be another opportunity down the road. Remember – as long as there are consumers, there will be coupons.
Pay attention to the original price of the item you are purchasing.
This point is less about maintaining space and organization in your home, and more about fiscally-responsible shopping.
Sometimes I clip manufacturer’s coupons for brand-name items that I usually buy store-brand. When I go to the store to use my coupon, I almost always find that I’d still be paying more for the brand-name item with a coupon than for the store-brand item without one.
Of course, there are some times where store-brand just won’t do, so you have to buy the brand-name one (we have a special detergent we have to use in our cloth-diaper home). But consider this: would it be less expensive to buy the item on sale a different week, than buying it at regular price with a coupon now? Obviously, some things just can’t wait. If you need something for your home or family, you should buy it. If not, hold off – something better might be just around the corner.
Consumers are kind of like cattle: they are very easy to steer in the right direction if given the correct bait (aka. sales and coupons). However, as an informed consumer, you have the ability to look past the charade of advertising and see it for what it really is. My main goal here is to provide you with ways to keep your home decluttered, organized, and comfortable. But if I can help save you some money along the way, I’ll most certainly do that as well.
Stay tuned as I continue this topic in my next blog post, Coupons, Clubs, & Clearance: The Birth of Excess – Part 2.