It is a little embarrassing to admit that coupons have an enormous influence on my purchasing decisions. Yes, I cut coupons—from newspapers, store magazines, website ads, and even those annoying junk mailings with loose sheets of ads. I like to save money as much as the next guy, and I find that coupons are often a great way to do so while still being able to purchase the products and services that I want. I take no shame in trying to save a few bucks wherever I can. Where I do tend to feel some embarrassment is in the way that it influences my shopping habits.
In the context of grocery shopping, coupons tend to be valid only for a specific brand of product they are promoting. For example, I used a coupon the other day for a carton of half & half that I cut out of a mailing; it was only valid for Dean’s brand half & half and only for a specific size. This makes sense, because it is the manufacturer offering the deal to promote their own brand, not just any brand of half & half. Here is where it leads to irrational and embarrassing behavior on my part. My typical procedure when using a coupon involves strict tunnel vision focused on the brand of product listed on the coupon. In the above example, I set out to find Dean’s half & half, and only Dean’s half & half. As soon as I found that eligible Dean’s carton, I was content to take it and continue on my way.
Now, grocery coupons are usually for name-brand products (i.e. not generic or store-brand). This means that they typically list at a higher starting price than any non-name-brand ones. Yet even with coupons, I have often found that the non-coupon-reduced store brand of the same item is often less expensive for virtually the exact same product. So back to the half & half story: Dean’s was about $3.50 per quart and I had a coupon for $1 off—30% savings is a good deal. Yet the store’s house brand for half & half (let’s call it ‘Milky Value’) was only $1.99 for the same quart: an additional $0.51 less than Dean’s with the coupon. So, I bought the Dean’s and ironically paid an extra 51 cents just so that I could use the coupon I had brought from home to save me money.
This may sound irrational. It is, and writing about it now makes me feel silly. But there is a level of satisfaction gained from using a coupon brought from home. I had cut that coupon weeks prior and saved it in a special coupon jar, knowing that someday before the expiration date I would probably run low on half & half and need more. I kept it in a safe place away from direct sunlight and excessive moisture, waiting for the right time to take it to the local grocer and watch as the cashier scanned the Dean’s carton for $3.50 before I casually hand her the coupon to lower the final price by a dollar, as if to say, “Ha! You thought you had me out $3.50 for this fine creamy goodness, but think again grocery lady! Nay, while these poor fools around me pay full price, I shall pay you only $2.50…plus tax, of course!” Okay, so it may be a little less dramatic than that each time I use a coupon, but the notion is the same: the effort of locating, cutting out, storing, and bringing the coupon to the store makes the savings earned extremely satisfying, even if there are other better deals available without using the coupon. For that reason, I base my purchasing decisions heavily on savings coupons, even when I probably shouldn’t.