We couponers are a passionate bunch of money-saving enthusiasts, and while most of my columns discuss couponing in one form or another, you might be surprised by how many readers don’t shop with coupons. I’ve been receiving a lot of email lately from non-couponers who enjoy reading about saving money. Saving on the things we buy appeals to everyone, whether you’re an avid couponer or someone who simply wants the best price possible with minimal work to get it.
I’ve long advised readers to figure out the “best” prices for the things you buy – the lowest prices for which you see your favorite products on sale. Once you know that the best price for a gallon of milk is less than $2, or the best price for a single roll of paper towels is less than 50 cents, you can seek out those prices at stores with the lowest prices. Reader Dennis shares his perspective:
I know this doesn’t follow the theme of your columns, but I save probably as much or more by knowing where to make my purchases. Now that we are retired we have learned where to save the most and so we now shop at several stores. I have a main supermarket, but I also shop at a discount grocer, a big-box store and a warehouse club regularly. The discount grocer is low-frills, and I use it for many commodities. Produce is generally of quite good quality and the prices are usually about half the price (or less!) than those same items at my supermarket, and milk and bread are always significantly cheaper. The discount grocer has almost entirely its own brands so there are never coupons involved, again products are usually of good quality. Consumer Reports rated my big-box store’s house brand of coffee quite high, and the price is much lower than a regular supermarket. For large quantities of items such as laundry detergent, paper products and cat food, the warehouse club and big-box store are winners. Coupons and BOGO’s sometimes make the supermarket the winner. Of course the supermarket carries a much wider assortment of products that we can’t find elsewhere.
As a retired CPA, it’s my opinion that one overlooked value of couponing and bargain hunting is that people who don’t take advantage of deals will find it quite difficult to makeup for the lost savings opportunity. If a shopper forfeits a $20 savings, they may have to earn more than $29 in wages before they are back to the same point financially (when a 25 percent tax bracket and FICA withholding is considered). Again, I enjoy your columns.
There are several important points raised in this email. First, understanding which stores consistently sell certain products for the lowest possible prices is valuable knowledge! If you know that something you frequently buy is cheaper at a specific store, and working that store into your shopping schedule isn’t problematic, why not go there? In 2012, the Boston Globe stated that 76 percent of Americans shop an average of five stores each week, with only 3 percent of shoppers patronizing just one or two retailers.
Second, the money you save couponing and sale shopping is tax-free savings. I don’t think this is repeated often enough, and my astute reader’s email is spot on. You might have to earn $29 to have $20 after taxes to actually spend at the store. Save $20 through strategic shopping and coupons, and the money remains yours.
Smart Living Tip: One criticism I sometimes hear when advising people to shop around is the cost of gas – is it worth chasing around to various stores with the high price of gasoline? I myself don’t chase, but if I’m out and about and in the vicinity of a store that’s having a great sale, I’ll go. I try to combine multiple destinations in the same trip so that I’m not making special trips and wasting fuel.
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