Couponing Basics

It’s About Spending Less, Not Saving More

One thing new couponers are eager to learn is how to save more money. While it is important to learn how to save more, I think the more important thing to learn is how to spend less.

It may seem like the same thing, but let me give you an example. The Jones family wants to learn how to save more. They are a family of four and have a grocery budget of $60 per week, they cook 2-3 dinners from scratch each week and eat out once or twice a week.

In an effort to save more, they might begin couponing and buy a bunch of things they don’t need that are free or cheap. They might drive all over town to take advantage of the deals at every store. Soon they have a basement full of toiletries that they got for over 75% off and their pantry is full to the brim.

Now, while they did increase their savings significantly (from 20% savings to nearly 60% savings), their grocery budget has gone up to $80 per week, they are spending more money on fast food (due to being too tired to cook after chasing deals all day), and their gas budget has increased. Have they truly saved money?

My suggestion to the Jones family would be to learn how to spend less. Their grocery budget is already pretty low, but I do have a few ideas. First, they could search for coupons for the things they already buy. I would suggest finding free sources for coupons (like printables or homemailers) that offer coupons for products they buy regularly.

I would also suggest cutting back on fast food. For a family of four you would pay around $20 for a drive-through meal. You can easily cook a meal for four for about $10 at home instead. Cooking from scratch and using fewer convenience foods will also shave a little bit off their budget.

By cooking from scratch, using coupons when possible, and eating out once a month instead of once a week, the Jones family could cut their grocery budget down to $50 per week or less, and lower their fast food budget from $40 to $10 per month. This lowered their spending by $70 per month! Now THAT is the type of savings you should aim for.

Saving 90% at the drug store is not really great savings if you bought things you didn’t need. That means the 10% you did spend was unnecessary.

Savings should be measured by comparing what you used to spend to what you spend now.


  1. Thanks for this post. I’m new to this as well, and I’m learning that how I really save is not so much using the coupons as buying things (that we were going to buy anyway) while they are on sale. This is particularly true for meat and produce, which very rarely ever have coupons. Big savings come from sale+coupons on toiletries, cleaning products, etc. We’ve cut our grocery budget by almost half already, and still trying to get it lower once we get the hang of this couponing thing.


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  3. This is really great. I’m just learning to coupon and I was a little discouraged because there seems to be so much to learn as far as doubling coupons; using rewards points; and so on. I think you’re right on about “spending less” as opposed to trying to get things for free. Since I started couponing, I’m much more aware of how much I spend on items and I look to see if I have coupon for an item (or something comparable) before I purchase it. Before I used to walk into the store and just grab stuff off the shelf without considering the cost/value. If anything using coupons has opened my eyes and made me more spending conscious.


  4. This post took me way, way back!
    I first learned about couponing from my mother-in-law. Huge family, small budget, right?
    I must have clipped every coupon that came into the house (it was the 70’s, you really did clip, not print.) Most for things I never, ever previously thought I needed much less bought.
    But now I was tempted, especially if the item was also on sale at the drug store or grocery. Man, those marketers are good at what they do.
    Thanks for a great blog!


  5. Hi I found the article interesting and hear all the time how much is cost to cook a meal and for my family of three I can’t think of one meal that I would want to eat that would cost us $5 to make. My children are both under 10 and a package of chicken cost more than $5 not to mention the seasonings on it, the two sides of vegetables or whatever I make to go with it.

    I love to cook but don’t find it to be extemely cheap to do so.


    • There are a lot of things you can cook for under $5 that are awesome. I’m a serious foodie, and even I enjoy (not just like) eating them.
      This book is great, it has a lot of really good and different recipes. ( I hate that a lot of cookbooks for budget minded people are full of homestyle food. Not my thing!)
      I like the thai chicken wings and we make blanched almond green beans to go with, or ginger green beans.
      Carribean Lime chicken
      And then salad with carribean lime chicken and pineapple for lunch the next day
      Home made tomato basil soup and white cheddar grilled cheese sammiches (free diced tomatoes, basil out of the yard, free bread)
      Goat cheese and roasted peppers/mushrooms on baguettes
      Crock pot a pork shoulder and you can make a plethera of things, carnita tacos, bbq’d pork on baked potatoes, taquitos, and mexican salads with pork and black beans.
      We also make a good bit of manicotti (free pasta, cheap pasta sauce, ricotta and free touch of philly manicotti)
      Breakfast Quiche (more free veggies and free cheese)
      Chicken pot pies (free frozen veggies 1/2 lb of chicken breast, cheap cream and a can of free chicken broth covered with 1 sheet of puff pastry)
      Yellow Curry
      Tom Ka…..

      The list goes on and on.

      You should take a look at how much meat your family consumes, the average american eats way way way to much. For children the recommended amount is only 3-4 ounces per meal.
      Let me know if you want any recipes!


  6. I truly appreciate your words of wisdom and hope other “extreme couponers” will take your words to heart. The past few weeks, I have been so frustrated on my shopping expeditions, that I spend my valuable time planning for, when I get there and the shelves are empty. I am also of the mindset that it’s not really saving if the items you are buying are sitting in a stockpile in your house! I tend to buy items to use and/or have a backup or two for my family of 5, but when the shelves are empty, not everyone gets to reap the benefits that coupons provide. Okay, I will get off my soapbox now! Sorry:) Happy couponing! (within reason:)


  7. thank you! I needed that reminder. I find myself always running here and there trying to score the best deal on stuff that I already have a stock pile of and then I find my groceries get higher and higher but I have lots of body wash and toothpaste 🙂
    I need to learn to curb that and buy what I need! with coupons of course


  8. Stephanie,
    I think its just fate that I read this article tonight before bed! You may laugh but my husband and I were just debating about pre-ordering 20 bottles of Keri Lotion to get a $1 overage in a couple of weeks….I said ‘babe, its overage’ and he said ‘babe, we DONT NEED 20 BOTTLES OF LOTION’ and you know what, he is right! Why ‘collect’ stuff in the basement that our family of four will never use? I’ve learned this very well over the past couple of months…we’ve donated tons to families in Joplin and they need all those items way more than we do! Thanks for the post! Couponing can teach us many things such as the ability to refrain from using them on stuff we don’t need! =)


  9. Thanks! That is where I find myself right now…wondering how I can be spending so much MORE money while saving so MUCH at the same time! Your statement about saving 90% is spending an EXTRA 10% if it is on things you will not use. I do donate and help others, and ship to our troops. But now I see how I am spending too much. So thank you VERY much!


  10. Thanks Stephanie for a great advice. For me, you’re the only blogger who really exposes the truth within the world of coupons. When I first stumbled on your website, I felt right away that it is here where I could learn not only the tricks of the trade but most importantly the attitude that should be carried out with it. I thank Him cuz I’ve found you 🙂


  11. Great article… I totally agree…. I love to coupon and I have 5 kids so spending less is the top priority in my house… I love scoring free items with my coupons but I only use them on products and brands my family will use… I never buy things that I will not use Unless there is a super great deal on items that I can donate… Like cat food I don’t own a cat because my daughter is allergic to them but when I get coupons for free and dirt cheap cat food I get them and donate them to my local animal shelter. It’s a win win for my family because they get to do something wonderful plus the animal shelter benefits from my freebies.


  12. i also agree in this post 100 % i just started couponing and at first i was trying to buy or get the free stuff that i would get from my coupons on the newspaper than by the 3 week into it i realized i was buying things i didn’t need just because i saved money on it . so now i only buy the things i need with my coupons and try to limit the stores i visit to 2 maybe 3 cause my hubby works for 1 of the store we get a discount but other than that i’m being more careful how i spend my money :]


  13. I enjoy your post. BUT, I can relate to this family. Personally, with working full time, family, college, Chruch events, and couponing it can be a large task. What helped me a TON is a CROCK POT! Seriouly! So, early when I do lunches I get everything chopped up and seasoned and toss it in the CROCK POT. I work, coupon, come home to a ready to eat feast! Most of the time enough for the next day’s lunch too (hubby likes that). It’s like someone cooked it just for me when I come home to a wonderful smell of dinner. Saves me a TON by not being too tired to cook. Also, pretty healthy with fresh veggies and meat too. Everyone should try it sometime :0)


  14. I love this post. I work with people on finances and I totally agree with everything you said. I plan meals, shop according to meals, and look for coupons the same way. But I also price out bulk buying at Costco as well as buying store brand or a different brand than usual. When I blog (domestic engineering blog on my website I use my coupon savings for a percentile, but I do know that my actual savings is much more. And when I buy bulk, it is on items I need and I am going to use. Every once in a while I use a coupon to try something out, or for a fun purchase, but I agree, buying only what you need is a great tool


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