As someone who spent several years trying to scrape by (and I’m still scraping by) and who emerged from a chapter seven bankruptcy (I started out in chapter 13, but converted it) I should be a coupon queen. Yet I’m not.

Oh, I’ve seen those women on television. They bought an estimated $300 worth of groceries for $1.57, or some ridiculously low amount. It can be done. And they end up saving a lot of money.

But do I use coupons? And does having a coupon (or not) influence my decision? The answer to that is “maybe.” I get a coupon book called “Mad Money” sent to me monthly. In it are coupons from various local businesses. I page through it, but here’s the thing: if you are really, really poor (like me) coupons aren’t enough. They are actually a motivator to spend money. “Oh look, here’s a coupon from Pizza Slut. I can get a large pepperoni pizza, garlic bread and a two-liter of pop for only $7! What a deal!” Yeah, that is a deal. However, if I stay home and cook, I still get to hang on to that $7. Or, if I go out to my garden and gorge on homegrown tomatoes, I still save my $7. Yes, if I’ve got a coupon, I may be getting a better deal than if I just popped into the place and bought whatever I wanted off the menu, but I still have to spend money. And lately, my checking account balance has been in the single digits, or worse, it’s a negative balance. So unless the coupon is for something free, no purchase of a drink or appetizer necessary, I probably won’t use it.

However, a coupon that I do use fairly frequently comes on the back of a cash register receipt from a local grocery store. The coupon, actually coupons, because there are two of them, are for the local Goodwill stores. One is $1 off a purchase of $10, the other is $5 off a purchase of $25. Thrift stores I can totally get into. I need clothes like I need a hole in the head, but when I do get the urge to see what the local Goodwill has, I make sure I have some of those coupons in my purse, or at least in my glove box. I’d love to be able to buy Ralph Lauren clothing brand new, but I can’t afford it (and I’ve never seen any Ralph Lauren coupons in my LIFE). So I check out Goodwill, and sometimes I get lucky and can pick up a pair or two of his jeans. I don’t know what it is about them, but his jeans fit me very well. Actually, his pants in general seem to look good on me, so whenever I’m at the Goodwill and find some RL pants in my size, I get them. Are there times when I get the urge to thrift and I DON’T have one of those coupons? Sure. But I usually go anyway, because I seem to have a sixth sense about whether or not I’ll find something. I don’t go thrifting every week, but usually I’ll have an urge, and that’s when I’ll hit the jackpot and find all sorts of stuff: jeans, pants, shoes, blouses, backpacks, or some knick-knacky thing that would make a fun gift for someone or give me a few laughs.

Other coupons that I use are the “birthday club” postcards that come to me from Pet Supplies Plus. They are for my dog, Daphne, and my cat, Summit. The coupons are for a free toy up to $5. So, if I’m lucky enough to find something I think they will like for $5 or less, free toy! If not, I usually find something a bit more pricey (Daphne likes the toys that squeak) and pay the difference. Summit seems to be indifferent to toys, but I use the coupon anyway. (I could save myself money if I just let her play with the garbage. But I try to be a good mommy.)

A note from us at I’m In: We’ve got a ton of coupons to help you save for your pets, too!

So, coupons sort of play a role in my buying habits. If it’s for a place where I shop or eat frequently, and it’s for something I want, I’ll probably use it. But, if I’m feeling especially pinched, I won’t spend the money, coupon, or no coupon.

And if it’s for a place where I don’t like the food, I won’t use the coupon, even if it’s for a free meal. Life’s too short to eat at Applebee’s all the time. Even for free. I mean, really.