Coupon Madness

- wadE

Whether you call them 'Coo'-pons or 'Q'-pons, you love 'em...or you hate 'em.

Coupons were big in my family growing up. My mom spent countless hours with scissors in hand (and later in life I spent countless hours scissors in hand, which was tough on a left-handed kid...stupid right-handers!!!) clipping, sorting, trading, and filing coupons.

Sunday's and Tuesday's were the big coupon clipping days. Tuesday's the Mower County "Shopper" came. It was (and still is) the local weekly "newspaper" that was completely focused on shopping, hence the clever name. The other was the Sunday edition of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. It's one of those New York Times sized editions that is 75% coupons and advertisements. Hours of fun!

There is no doubt that my mother saved our family thousands of dollars over the years. Now, how much more would have been saved if items that were bought with coupons weren't bought at all...hard to say. Regardless, even with those extraneous purchases, we saved a lot. But at what cost?

What sparked this is an article on coupons I read on startribune.com a few days ago.

The article talks about the decline of coupons in recent years (mostly attributed to a good economy), and how they truly serve as a form of advertisement and method to maintain brand loyalty; but the part I was most interested in was the person they called 'coupon queen'.

I was interested for two reasons. One, how dare they call anyone besides my mother the coupon queen! Two, the coupon queen's statement that she "saves her family about $2,600 a year by sorting coupons for roughly 20 minutes a day."

$2,600 is nothing to sneeze at. We all could use an extra two grand a year, couldn't we? However, she is an extreme case. Our coupon queen has also taught adult education classes, and the industry says that the 80% of shoppers who use coupons save an average of $206 per year.

Let's think about this though. Our coupon queen is obviously an expert coupon clipper. She knows where to get the best coupons and which ones are worthwhile. So it is safe to say that her 20 minutes a day is on the lean side, i.e. there isn't wasted effort, a novice person would probably take more time to accomplish the same amount of coupon work.

Assuming this is true, let's do some quick math:

(20 minutes/day) * (365 days in a year) = (7,300 min./yr.)

(7,300 min./yr.) / (60 min./hr.) = (121.7 hrs./yr.)

($2,600/yr.) / (121.7 hrs./yr.) = ($21.37/hr.)

How much do you make per hour at your job? If you are an hourly worker, that's an easy question. If you are a salaried worker, take your salary and divide by 2000 (the average number of hours worked in a year). If you make $40,000 in a year, your approximate hourly wage is $20.00/hr.

So if cutting coupons was your job, and you were as good as the coupon queen, you'd have to make more than 40K a year to not make it worth your time, right?

But I'm guessing not many of us are as good as the coupon queen. Let's take a look at the average person. The average person saves $206 a year. How much time do you think per week the average person spends searching for and clipping coupons. I would think an hour each week. Ok, maybe that's too much. Let's assume a half hour (a little over 4 minutes a day).

(30 minutes/week) * (52 weeks in a year) = (1,560 min./yr.)

(1,560 min./yr.) / (60 min./hr.) = (26 hrs./yr.)

($206/yr.) / (26 hrs./yr.) = ($7.92/hr.)

Not even 8 bucks an hour! Less than 16K a year!

Now forget the math, the most important thing is your time. What is your time worth to you?

Your job is a good reference point, but it should be a sliding scale. The more I hate to do something, the more my time is worth. I will never put down another ceramic tile floor! To me, my hourly time spent doing that is worth 100 bucks. If I can find someone who will do it for less than that, they're hired!

Some people love to mow their lawn, they find it relaxing. Other people can't stand doing it. Think about how much that time is worth to you...maybe it is worth the extra money to hire the kid down the street to mow it for you.

But I digress, the article does make one good point:

Parents are often the biggest users -- for good reason. Coupons can often save them significant cash on disposable diapers and other baby products. As children get older, parents can involve them in clipping coupons and matching them to store items, and practice math by adding up the savings.

Can you think of a better legal way to turn your 5-year old child into an revenue generating member of your family?

If you clip coupons, how much time do you spend doing it? Do you enjoy it, tolerate, or loathe it. What I'm saying is that next time you sit down, scissors in hand, think about if it's really worth it. After so many years and years of clipping, it isn't worth it to me!

- 03/03/2003


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