Coupon Queens, Are They For Real?

by Katy on December 24, 2009 · 35 comments

I have a love/hate relationship with coupons. Yes, I use them, but I’m not a slave to them either. I do make sure to the use the $10 off $50 coupon that runs once a month at my local Safeway, and I keep a sharp eye out for loss leaders.

But I’m far from being a coupon maven. I keep an small (Goodwill purchased) organizer in my purse and usually use at least a few coupons per grocery shopping trip. Nothing to the extent that Good Morning America would come knocking at my door.

The video below is not new, and I have watched it before. For some reason, it really bugs me. Is it because I’m envious of her discipline, or perhaps too cynical to believe that her style of shopping is realistic and sustainable?

I check in with a few couponing blogs, and have certainly been keyed into some terrific deals, but mostly they’re about buying weird items like Glade candles and medicine and toiletries that I have no need for. Even the writers admit that they do not need all the stuff they’re buying, and end up donating their excess.

Today I ran to the Fred Meyer grocery store near my house and did pick up a two-pound block of locally produced cheddar cheese for $3.99 and a pound of bulk sausage meat for $2. Both items coupled with coupons from the store circular, and will be used for a Christmas morning frittata. But I also bought canned black beans, (my pressure cooker went kaput, sob . . . ) corn tortillas and loads of other stuff. Although the beans were a loss leader coupon last week, I didn’t get a chance to stock up. Otherwise, nothing else was anything I ever see a coupon for, and believe me I’ve looked!

I do glance through coupons.com around once a week and tend to print out three or four coupons, usually for cereal. (They are an advertiser on The Non-Consumer Advocate, but rest assured there is never any paid content on the blog.)

Give this video a watch and let me know your response. I have such mixed feeling on the whole couponing culture, (and yes, it is a culture) which must be why I keep returning to the subject.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Wendy December 24, 2009 at 4:02 am

It’s definitely possible to be a coupon Queen…my mom is one and so is my aunt but they are both retired and have TIME to go through all the coupons, match them up to the store fliers and go to different stores to get their bargains. I think that is the key – TIME. I do my best with coupons and sometimes I do very well, other times not so much. I just don’t have “hours” (like the woman in the video) to sit down each week and do the legwork required. We also don’t have stores that double coupons in my area anymore. We used to, but the best we get now is a store flyer offering double coupons on three coupons at a time, once in a great while. I think it’s great she is able to do this, but I wonder if she’s a SAHM or if she works full time, or what?

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Kristen@TheFrugalGirl December 24, 2009 at 4:06 am

I have a post in the works about this very video, actually. So, I’ll save my thoughts on the topic for that. I’m not a big fan of what she does, though, I’ll say that much.

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Kristia @Family Balance Sheet December 24, 2009 at 4:32 am

I have seen this video before. I use coupons, especially the store coupons for $5/50 and $ off produce or meat that they offer monthly. I also get coupons from the Sunday paper and on line, and I probably average $5-$10 off from manu. coupons on each grocery bill. It is not that I wouldn’t love to get our groceries for $4/week, but I have found that there aren’t that many coupons for food that we eat. I love looking in other people’s pantries, and the pantry in the video is stuffed with food that we don’t eat and I wouldn’t buy even if it was FREE.

However, I do shop at CVS. I don’t spend any money on our toiletries, like shampoo, feminine products, toothpaste, etc. I keep that stock pile to a minimum, just enough so that we don’t run out.

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Carolee December 24, 2009 at 5:23 am

Wow, that was quite the coupon trip! If I could do it, I would, but here in Canada we don’t have nearly as many coupons for food. I’ve never seen coupons for money off the basic, healthy necessities. No money off fruit, veggies, meat (once in the last 5 years that I’ve been collecting coupons there was a coupon for $1 off pork, but they were mailed out, and I only got three of them, so it wasn’t a long-term couponing solution).

Most coupons are for processed goods – dried, packaged, premade, etc. But when the big bag of milk is $6 and the best coupon you can find is only $1, and that coupon is only valid at a more expensive store where that bag of milk is $7.00, then the savings are hard to realize.

I suspect that these “coupon queens” save up their best coupons to use on the trips they make with the media in tow. I don’t think a lot of these trips are typical.

And then even if you have the stack of coupons…. you then have to deal with a cashier who acts like it is their personal job to reject coupons. It can make the shopping trip turn into a disaster. Some make up rules like “You can only use one coupon for your entire order”, or “You’ll be getting this for free! You can’t use the coupon”, or my favorite “You’ll have to use this next time. The coupon says to use it on your NEXT purchase.”

But I do like the thrill of getting stuff for free, even if it’s less than healthy or toilettries that will last for a long time. (less than healthy things can stay in my stockpile for an emergency and given to the food bank).

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Jinger December 24, 2009 at 5:44 am

Most of the items that you can get with coupons are for processed food or cleaning supplies beyond the basic vinegar and borax. I buy only ingredients to make meals from scratch, so don’t use coupons often. Plus, you need time…couponing is like a job. You need to devote time to finding, clipping and shopping at multiple stores to make it work. I’m not that interested in buying food we don’t eat.

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shymom December 24, 2009 at 7:06 am

I use coupons and have mixed feelings about them. I, like others, save between 5 and 10 dollars a week with coupons.

I don’t buy most convenience foods, on the other hand that would depend upon your definition of convenience. For some, crackers would be considered a convenience food. Sure I can make crackers, but it isn’t going to happen.

On the one hand, I like saving money with coupons (and I LOVE saving at CVS), and being frugal allows us to live our preferred lifestyle.

On the other, I do feel like I am actually shopping when I am sorting, organizing, planning my shopping trip. I’m not so sure that is how I want to spend my limited time on this earth.

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Kris-ND December 24, 2009 at 9:32 am

I don’t look down my nose at coupons, but I don’t go out of my way to find them, because I often find that a coupon tempts me enough to toss something I don’t need and wasn’t on my list into my cart.

When there are coupons for things I would buy normally, I will utilize them.

If I buy brand a shampoo and I have a great coupon for it, but it will expire before I make the trip back to the base to shop, I will buy it, even if it isn’t on that specific list. I don’t consider it an impulse purchase, rather just moving up a normal purchase I would have made later in the month(I only grocery shop twice a month outside of produce, etc that we get in between grocery trips)

Right now, I have a 1.00 coupon for a brand of lunch meat I normally buy. I will buy some lunchmeat when I shop again, because I normally buy it, and it will cost me less than a dollar assuming the price is the same as it was the last time I purchased it.

I have 1.00 off coupons for Kashi cereal. Kashi sells at the Commissary for 1.99, so again, cereal for a buck

I don’t have much access to coupons, as our local paper doesn’t even carry coupons in the Sunday paper. The coupons I use come mainly from the Commissary, and alot of them are only valid on military installation stores.

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Diane December 24, 2009 at 9:55 am

I don’t think that was a typical trip I do believe that there was a little bit of media hype about the whole article. Sure coupons CAN work, and obviously do but for us they don’t. Why? Well when was the last time you saw a coupon for apples? potatoes? etc. 99.9% of all the coupons you see in newspapers/online are for foods you couldn’t PAY ME to home. Full of high fructose corn syrup, sugar, additives etc. Sure these people are getting groceries for free but they are paying for it with their health!

I do the majority of our shopping at Trader Joes and the farmers market (plus some homegrown). I try to buy organic if I can afford it. I cut pennies in other areas (thrift clothes etc) to be able to afford good healthy wholesome food not full of artificial ingredients.

I guess I have a question to raise also, if everyone who shopped was doing this wouldn’t coupons stop? or wouldn’t stores raise their prices? Aren’t other shoppers paying the price for these coupon queens just as they already are for shop lifters? Someone somewhere is paying for their free groceries. By not shopping at the major supermarkets I know it’s not gonna be me!

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VB December 24, 2009 at 12:14 pm

packaged cereal is never a bargain even with coupons.

Make your own Muesli! We do it about once every 3 months and store it in the freezer. Then we mix it with fresh or frozen fruit, depending on the season, and yogurt. It’s yummy and it keeps your system scrubbed out nicely.

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Katy December 24, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Diane,

My Safeway actually does run coupons for potatoes pretty frequently, (10 pound bag for 99 cents) but this woman’s shopping trip is much more an exception than a rule.

I want to choose meals based on what’s tasty, nutritious and palatable to mixed ages. NOT based on bottles and boxes of stuff I happened to get for free.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate

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Melissa December 24, 2009 at 2:10 pm

I have to agree that most coupons are for stuff I don’t buy, but I guess if that’s what she wants to do, then good for her. I think it’s nice that she seemed to share the food in her pantry with others, which is definitely a benefit of that kind of shopping. I’m sort of a part-time couponer, because I often forget to cut any out, but I have been in line between a “coupon queen” and she seemed to be very savvy about her money.

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Kris-ND December 24, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Well, my husband loves Kashi cereal, so when I use my dollar off coupons for the cereal he loves and would buy anyway, it is indeed a bargain

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Dana December 24, 2009 at 5:31 pm

I am not a coupon queen for groceries because, as others have mentioned, most coupons are for things I don’t buy.

I am pretty good with CVS stuff and have things like toothbrushes and toothpaste stockpiled. I also donate a lot of it if I can get it for free or almost free. You only need so many tubes of toothpaste. 🙂

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elinor December 24, 2009 at 10:21 pm

I am SO with you on this issue. My cousin is one of the Coupon Queens you describe, she was in an MSN article on the subject and has her own wkly coupon blog. I despise the extent of which she uses coupons. She first tries to resell these items and if they don’t sell, she donates them for a full retail price tax credit. WHAT?

I know why she does this process. 1. Her father is a miser and taught her to be as well. 2. She gets a high off the process.

I tried to debate her once, but she justifies it by saying the cost is built into the price of products and if we don’t use all the coupons, the manufactures just earn more profit. She’s right to a point, but she really thinks that there are just not enough people being ‘coupon queens’ to make an effect. I’m sure that’s why prices are low, products are large, and there are no HFCS in anything.

I haven’t even gotten into the effect on the earth ‘buying’ all of these things can have. I can only fight the battle so far.

I can’t say that I am totally against her process, as once every few months her blog has something I in want to participate. I did get a ‘free’ diabetes kit once for my father who is a diabetic, and I did get the frozen pizzas for $0.24 each, but I only get things I will use. She did use her powers for good, when her office adopted a family Christmas. With all the things she got free, they were able to use the rest of the money on stuff they couldn’t get for free. I don’t know yet if she’d writing it off on her taxes.

elinor

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elinor December 24, 2009 at 10:27 pm

@Diane,

I know how you feel. The majority of the coupons, either from news paper, the coupon printer a the register or others are from the Manufactures not the stores. The manufactures have to refund all of those coupons, and I’m sure they will end up raising prices, reducing product sizes or find cheaper ways to make stuff. It’s not fair to the rest of us, as even some of the products you may buy are from the same manufacture as the other stores, so you get hit with some of these same results. And you can’t fight it with more coupons.

What’s worse is the coupons value is dropping. I saw a Ziplock baggie box, with a $0.15 coupon. How many people will notice fifteen cents off their bill?

elinor

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Karen December 24, 2009 at 10:41 pm

In general, I am cynical of things such as coupons offered to the consumer, coupons which supposedly help our budgets. Somehow, the company is making more off us, or they wouldn’t keep offering coupons–this is just logical to me. The coupon is really just another ad geared at making us buy a product we probably wouldn’t otherwise. (Of course the coupon for $1.00 off Kashi is the rare exception.) It’s just like when AT and T or whoever offers a lower-priced plan. Why? Surely they do not mean to cut our costs, but to amp their profit up. So I usually do not bother with coupons or company “deals”. Besides for which, 99% of the coupons I see are for junk food which nobody needs.

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Rebecca December 25, 2009 at 2:28 am

The stores in my area always put their own generic equivalents on sale for lower than the coupon-lowered price of a brand-name product if there’s a good coupon out. There are also a lot of restrictions on combining sales with coupons, and double-coupon days are unheard of. Unless there’s no generic equivalent I like (which is INCREDIBLY rare and only happens on products like tea and chocolate, which I’m a bit of a snob about), I don’t bother with coupons. If I have a free Sunday morning, I’ll clip select coupons and use them in my weekly shopping that afternoon, but I’m a college student doing research part-time and running a couple of my college’s clubs. I don’t have many free Sunday mornings.

Also, I’m not a fan of boxed products. My live-in BF is, and he’d be totally happy to eat boxed mashed potatoes and such every night, but I’d really prefer that we not, mostly because I think I’m a better cook than Ms. Betty Crocker! 😛

If that works for them and their family, awesome. It’s just not what works for me, in the situation and region I’m living in.

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Greta December 25, 2009 at 6:02 pm

What is a loss leader?

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Greta December 25, 2009 at 6:06 pm

I’m also wondering if VB would be willing to share the homemade museli recipe.

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Amy December 25, 2009 at 6:12 pm

I couldn’t get past the fact that reporter was wearing shorts.

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Dana December 25, 2009 at 7:27 pm

I noticed that too, Amy! Must have been “Casual Friday” when they filmed that. 🙂

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Katy December 25, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Greta,

A “loss leader” is a store item that is being sold for less than the store paid in order to get you in the store. They’re betting that you’ll buy that one item plus much more.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate

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Shannon December 26, 2009 at 10:14 am

I am lucky because all the stores around me double coupons up to $.99, so I use them on things I would normally use anyway, and sometimes I luck out and have a good coupon for a loss leader item and really score! That said, my coupon savings are rarely more than $20 a week and I am skeptical that anyone could really truly spend only $4 a week on groceries. I would bet that the lady in this video spent a ton of time prepping for that grocery trip. And while snagging a good deal is great, I question the ethics of some of what I see. For example, I visit a coupon blog that for a long time was advocating the practice of loading the e-coupon onto the Kroger card AND printing the physical coupon because due to a glich in their software you would get double the savings, often basically giving it to you for free. I think they’ve since updated things so that you can’t do that, but really it doesn’t seem right to me.

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Katy December 26, 2009 at 10:58 am

Shannon,

The only double coupon deal for me is Safeway, which allows you to double “up to 4 coupons, up to 50 cents.” I would probably use coupons more if all coupons were doubled.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate

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Linda December 27, 2009 at 4:21 am

I don’t use coupons. I only buy one box of cereal every week or two because we don’t eat it on a regular basis. My cleaning supplies are homemade and I buy my eggs and such from my next door neighbor who has chickens and ducks. I have found some local farms that have beef, so I will now start buying my beef from them.

I don’t buy a lot of processed foods because I make most items from scratch. Most of the items she purchased were processed items. Fish and seafood, I tend to buy from a fish market since I live near one of the largest fishing ports (In fact, she’s from Massachusetts, she does too).

We also harvest shellfish and my father-in law goes fishing with my kids every once in a while, so we stock up on fish, when they catch them. My shellfish license only costs $20 per year…it’s one of the greatest bargains. Great food and a nice day on the bay!

More power to her, if she wants to spend her time working on her coupons. It seems to work for her and her family. She certainly saves a lot. I just don’t want to do all that work for processed food.

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Michele December 27, 2009 at 6:54 pm

It comes across as more of an addiction.

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Heidi December 29, 2009 at 5:11 am

I think what’s important to note about that massive shopping trip for just pennies, is that it isn’t typical for a weekly trip. If she only got the freebies, then likely her cart was full of select items only, not All the things you need to feed a family. A cart full of frozen pizza, scented candles, toothpaste and instant coffee isn’t going to meet the needs of a large family for one week, obviously. But if you shop that way every week, matching up the coupons with sales, or “cherry picking,” then eventually (I’d guess after 12-15 weeks) you’ll have built up enough of a stockpile of non-perishables that you can afford to Only get the loss-leaders every week, plus your usual perishables (fruits/vegs, milk, eggs, cheese, meat, whatever).

I agree that most coupons in the Sunday paper are for junky processed foods – not something I want to feed my kids. However, I do use coupons for cereal, toothpaste/shampoo or other personal care items. And, if you keep your eyes open, sometimes you can find coupons for basics like eggs, cheese, produce. This week, for example, there is a coupon from the Idaho Dairy Association at http://www.coupons.com for $1 off ANY two pound purchase of cheese. I used that coupon at my grocery store in New York with no problem. (Cheese was on sale for 88 cents for an 8-oz brick, I bought 4, to make the 2 pounds, and got the $1 off. Pretty good.)

Also, many grocery stores will run ads in your local paper with coupons for produce items. In the northeast, ShopRite for example often runs coupons for carrots, lettuce, or potatoes.

I also like the coupons for get $5 off your purchase of $50. I often don’t make the $50 minimum, in which case I just add a $25 gift card to my order, which I’ll use the following week.

I hate to see couponing get a bad name by ladies like the one in that news story, who take it to the extreme. My grandad always used to say, “moderation in everything,” and I find that moderate couponing is very beneficial to my household expenses.

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EcoYogini December 29, 2009 at 11:30 am

I’m also ambivalent.

What about supporting local farmers and food producers?? I always feel that using coupons for local foods wouldn’t be helping our local economy. At the same time, here in Atlantic Canada, we have minimal coupons….

especially since most of her stuff was just that- processed stuff.

I don’t mind spending extra dollars on healthy, whole foods from local farmers. But then, not everyone has that luxury…. healthy food IS expensive.

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k. January 3, 2010 at 7:01 am

the thing is – if thats what you want to do and your biggest concern is how much you’re spending over what exactly you’re eating & feeding your kids then yes thats you CAN be a coupon queen. but is it worth it? most of what was in her cupboard “her stockpile” was boxed and pre-packaged stuff. yes is easy to clip coupons and eat for cheap or free if you dont care about over packaging, sodium content, or carbon footprint.
now you can think im getting all high and mighty about what shes feeding her family and thats fine. i am. i tried the whole coupon thing. the problem is i would wind up buying things of inferior quality just for the sake of saving money. our grocery stores dont give coupons for fresh produce or local, dairy products. so while i would love to say im able to feed my fiance and i for 25 cents a week id rather say im feeding us well and still being conscience of how much were spending. so if it means were buying into a csa, joining our co-op and buying our grains in bulk from a local hippy whole foods store – then thats fine. we’re spending $200 a month (including our monthly date night dinner out) and if that means were planting a garden next spring and baking our own bread to bring the number down even more than fine – at least my kitchen isnt full of cardboard box dinners and canned rubbish.

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Meg January 3, 2010 at 8:39 am

Somebody get those kids fresh fruits and veggies, stat!

A few coupons here and there, even for junk food, don’t bother me, but this sort of “game” bothers me. Feeding your kids shouldn’t be a game about how little money you can spend. Your kids’ health should come first — heck, I don’t even think adults should do this to themselves! Now, it’s one thing if you are truly poor and can’t afford healthier stuff. I certainly don’t want anyone to starve. But I don’t think that’s the case here.

I’d like to see the rest of her food supply, but a look in her pantry was very scary: Pop Tarts, Hamburger Helper? Those are not foods that growing kids need to be eating (no one really needs to be eating them, at least on a regular basis). I’d much rather see that mom spend her time with a garden, or maybe making something she can barter for fresh food if gardening isn’t her thing. Maybe she could trade the stuff she’s getting for fresh food.

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Mary Anne Morris January 4, 2010 at 8:10 am

Canned black beans! i could not belive my eyes… for sure, I thought you would have 20 lbs of dried beans stockpiled!

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Katy January 4, 2010 at 8:55 am

Mary Anne,
I do own a HUGE bag of pinto beans, and normally do cook my black beans with a pressure cooker, but I ruined it by boiling all the water out of it. (Sob.) Also, it’s important for me to have a few cans of black beans on hand for quickie meals. If I didn’t have the ability to pull together a quick dinner, we’d end up eating out.

I know you were kidding, but I felt the need to defend my “spendthrifty” action of buying already cooked beans. 😉

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate

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Jackie January 6, 2010 at 10:44 am

Oh man. This video makes the frugalista in me giddy with possibility. And then the greenie in my has to bop the frugalista in the head because it is not a deal if you don’t need it. I’m striving hard to make better food choices and it pains me that these choices are almost always quite a bit more expensive, both in terms of money and time. I would love to have a cabinet stocked with almost free convenience items like this woman has because I do not enjoy cooking all that much. But, if I’m going to make better choices for my body and the planet, I cannot do that. Plus, having all that extra STUFF around is just not good for me in terms of lowering my consumerism!

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KL January 12, 2010 at 2:54 am

I have to say the american coupon thing is one weird twist in the consumerist culture. (We don’t have such a system here.) Then again, here in Europe it’s the “bonus cards”. Everyone has a bonus card for every store around, so it’s not saving any money, we simply pay for unnecessary “bonus system” in the price of food and then forget to actually use those pennies we get at the end of the year.

I liked the video as a clever exercise in circumventing the rules. Not as an example of doing your shopping. What bugs me is that stores don’t mark coupons as “10 off of every purchase over 50” or similar – if there were more people like this, stores would not get a very good deal. Apparently, enough do not bother so that the system still makes money.

However, you can eat fairly cheap and healthy if you know what to do. Coupons don’t seem the way to go healthwise.

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