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I'm in Coupons Scholarship 2014. Entry-Thomas C.

Coupons have almost no influence on my purchasing decision.  My wife and I make many purchasing decisions every day.  Some are routine, like gasoline and groceries.  Others are more sporadic, like maintenance and luxuries.  The overall evident pattern is that the decision is already made using other factors, like preference and worth.  Once the purchase is about to be finalized, deals and discounts are researched.  If a coupon is discovered, the worth is even better.  However, that is just the icing on the cake.  If a coupon is not discovered, it is not a show stopper.  The few times that we do use coupons are usually when we are already members of that place.

In routine shopping for gasoline and groceries, my wife and I follow just that: a routine.  We purchase our groceries from one plaza to save money/gasoline/time from having to drive to additional places.  The plaza contains a Walmart, Home Depot, and BJs, everything a family of four could need.  We use our kitchen calendar to plan out our meals for the entire month.  Breakfasts and lunches are routine choices and the planned dinners provide nutrition and variety.  Each week, this meal plan feeds into the grocery list.  We purchase food from Walmart because, more often than not, they will offer the cheapest price.   Similarly, we purchase gasoline from BJs because, they will offer the cheapest price.  Additional factors that influence our purchases are the common issues that influence the price.  What produce is in season?  The price of steak is currently high; can we have more chicken instead?

In reality, though, there are some products that will always be purchased because they are part of our routine.  My wife prefers Diet Pepsi, and I like Dunkin Donuts coffee.  My wife chooses Chobani yogurt, and I prefer Silk Soymilk.  Coupons for close substitutes would not influence our decision.  If coupons were hanging above the Diet Coke, making it cheaper than Diet Pepsi, we would still buy Diet Pepsi.  It’s our routine and preference.  The price difference would have to be huge to warrant a change.

One example that did warrant a change was the Oscar Meyer “already cooked” bacon.  My wife loved that bacon for its taste and convenience.  It was thin and crispy, and the preparation included a simple 45 second trip through the microwave on a paper towel!  However, the price was nearly three times as much as the other brands of bacon.  When we were looking for ways to save money on food, she acknowledged that the cost was not worth the reward.  And we switched to Hormel, ready to cook.

When it comes to maintenance and luxuries, our decision is based on a vision of the end result.  If something in the house or car breaks, how do we want to fix it?  Do we need to replace it?  Do we want to spend the money to replace it with something that will last for years?  Or are we looking for a quick fix?  Recently, our dishwasher broke and it was beyond repair.  My wife and I were excited to use this opportunity to buy a dishwasher that would be reliable for the next decade.  As we shopped around online, we found the model we liked.  Naturally, 95% of the shopping was done at Sears.com.  They are convenient and usually offer the best price.  After finding the model, it was rather fortunate that they were in the middle of a 4th of July sale.  At the very least, that persuaded us to purchase sooner than later.

Similarly, with luxuries, like planning a vacation, the vision is developed while thinking about what we want to get out of it.  What do we want to remember?  What are we checking off of our bucket list?  We recently planned a family vacation to New Hampshire.  Our plan was in place: camping, StoryLand, and Santa’s Village.  Leading up to the vacation, we looked for deals through AAA.  That was it.  The decision to go on the vacation was made.  If we found discounts along the way, that’s great.  If not, we’re still going.

We receive newspapers with coupons in the mail regularly.  Typically, my wife scans them for a few seconds before moving them to the recycle bin.  In our eyes, it’s not worth the time or effort to try to savor every deal through cutting coupons.  We’re not shopping anywhere else, and we’re probably not going to purchase anything different.

The last time I remember using a coupon for something was for our family pictures at Target.  It’s practically an unspoken rule that you have to use the coupons.  The coupons are for 40% off your purchase, no sitting fee, etc.  If you don’t use them, you are paying too much!  It’s very convenient.  Target mails the coupons to us as postcards.  They have long expiration periods, generally 6 months.  My wife tapes them to the refrigerator.  When our annual family picture comes around, we use the coupon to get the lowest price possible.  Similarly, we receive coupons for Stride Rite, Build-A-Bear, Panera, Old Navy, BJs, Southwest, etc.  We are members at those places.  We frequent those places.  Thus, we use the coupons at those places.  The coupons become the perks of being a member.

A note from us at I’m In: By signing up for our Deal Alerts, you can get the perks of being a member of I’m In, too!: deals for your favorite stores are delivered straight to your inbox!

In retrospect, this essay may sound like it is written by someone who is too lazy to use coupons.  I assure you, it is quite the opposite.  My family is so busy, and our time is very valuable.  We traded in the time we would have spent cutting coupons when we made the decision to only shop at Walmart and BJs.  For maintenance and luxuries, we value other factors above coupons, like the end result.  We do use coupons for places at which we are already members.  This life of routine, organization, and convenience allows us to spend our precious free time doing what we want to do most: spend quality time together.

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