Is couponing really worth it?

Every year, many Americans devote dozens of hours to carefully going through their local newspapers and online ads to find coupons that will potentially help them to save a lot of money in their everyday lives. However, some experts have come out in recent years to warn against this kind of thing, saying that it doesn't necessarily equate to the kind of everyday savings many might think. So which side is right? Both of them.

There is something of an art to couponing, or at least, doing it in such a way that a consumer is actually going to end up saving money. Typically, this involves a little bit of prep work even before the clipping and printing starts. What that means is people who want to save money probably should go through their past purchases and figure out what they buy most often, or what they buy that's both at least a little expensive and is purchased regularly enough to justify the time and effort of finding deals on those items.

Often, people who call themselves "super-couponers" will clip dozens of coupons for items they don't usually buy, but that's what experts talk about when they say it's a waste of time and - often - money. Because if a person doesn't usually buy canned peas, having coupons to buy canned peas at 50 percent off just means they paid for something they're probably not going to eat. Even if it was 50 percent off. Buying things they don't actually use or even really want, just because it's on sale, is actually a pretty good way for consumers to waste money.

What can be done?
By finding out what they buy most often, savvy shoppers who are trying to save some money will then be able to do very specific searches both through their local newspapers and online couponing sites, meaning they can find deals on things they actually buy anyway. Often, this isn't always easy, especially for people who are picky about the specific brands of food or other items they buy. But those who are willing to budge a little on who sells the cans of green beans they like will usually be able to save a decent amount of money.

What to avoid
However, it should also be noted that people who expect to save like super-couponers do will probably be disappointed. These are people who spend tens of hours per week just finding deals so that they can buy $300 worth of groceries for $22.50, but also end up bringing home 40 jars of mustard. That's not the kind of real-world savings experts talk about, and it can be a waste of both time and money as a result.

Consumers who are able to save money, though, should also try to avoid just spending it in other places. Instead, it might be wise to actually put it into an emergency savings account, or use it to pay down outstanding debts. Doing so can significantly improve their overall financial standing in a relatively short period of time.

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