There was a time when I didn’t think twice about the purchases I made at the grocery store. This was back when I visited the store with my mother, and I sat in the cart with my feet dangling below me. Now that I am the one pulling out my wallet to pay at the check-out counter, I understand why my mother was so quick to return the items I used to grab while she pushed me around in the cart. Now that I think of it, I now understand why she probably stopped bringing me with her to the store in the first place.
Thinking about it now, I have no idea what influenced my mother’s shopping decisions. I do not remember her ever using coupons. Maybe she used them and I just didn’t realize it. However she managed to do it, my mother made sure that my siblings and I had what we needed and, occasionally, got what we wanted. Now that I am an adult responsible for my own decisions, I have much greater appreciation for all that my parents did when I was growing up. Shopping today consists of so many decisions it can make my head hurt. Take, for instance, a typical visit to the grocery store. Food is an essential aspect of life, and therefore, procuring food is an essential part of daily living that we cannot avoid. Simple enough. However, when I arrive at the grocery store, I am bombarded with decisions. Let’s look at the relatively easy ones: what items do I need to prepare my meals this week? Or what staples do I need to replenish? But even such straight forward decisions are quickly complicated in light of the many options and different brands available. Stores tempt me with certain items at eye level, when perhaps the better choice is a shelf or two below. I can buy a larger can at a better unit cost, but do I really need the extra food at the extra overall price? Next, let’s examine the tougher choices, the ones in which I must reconcile how my values fit with my shopping decisions. Do I buy whatever is cheapest, or do I pay extra for what is healthier for me? What about the social values of the company itself? Do I support free ranged chicken breast at 5 dollars a pound, or is the mass produced version at 2 bucks less just as sufficient?
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As a student, coupons play an important role in my shopping decisions. Sure they add something else to the plate, but I have found they provide more positives than negatives. For example, a coupon for an item I am already planning to buy can help me make a decision between one brand and another, and thus actually eliminate a decision. Over the past year, I estimate that coupons have saved me well over a hundred dollars, which, I am told, pales in comparison to those couponers who really know what they are doing.
Additionally, coupons have helped me try new things. For instance, one week when the budget was especially tight, I opted to use a coupon for almond milk instead of normal dairy milk. Without the coupon I would certainly have never tried it. To my great surprise, I really enjoyed it. Since then, I have opted to try non-dairy alternatives more often.
Another example of how coupons have helped my shopping decisions is when I decided to move beyond the cheapest loaf of bread and spring for a healthier, whole-grain choice. Coupons helped make the change in price easier to swallow.
One of the drawbacks of couponing is the time it takes to cut them out and organize them. However, if I can set aside a time to look through the inserts of the Sunday paper, I can sometimes find it relaxing. With the proliferation of technology, it has become easier to incorporate couponing with less and less hassle. Cutting up inserts takes up time, but now online sites allow me to just click and print, or better yet, scan straight from an app on my phone. Other programs let me take photos of my receipt and send it through cyberspace for additional savings.
Shopping, for me, has always been a dance between what I need, what I want, and whether it fits within the careful budget I must set for myself. I incorporate coupons into my decision making because, when used carefully, they allow me to extend my budget. To be honest, it also brings a little more excitement to the tedium of shopping. Perhaps there will be a day when my budget will allow for more liberties while shopping. Whether or not that day actually arrives, I imagine I will always find a role that coupons can play in my shopping life.