The other day in the grocery store, the woman in front of me in line handed over such a huge stack of coupons that I had to comment. “And I thought I used a lot of coupons!” I said. She smiled and told me about a web site called The Grocery Game which she used to maximize her savings. As she finished checking out, she showed me the bottom of her receipt. “I saved forty-five percent!” she crowed.
While I admit that reducing a $200 grocery bill to $110 is no mean feat, this incident reminded me of one of the greatest fallacies of discount shopping: focusing on how much you saved rather than how much you spent. So many coupons are for prepared foods and name-brand items. I wonder if this woman would’ve spent even less than $110 if she had bought store-brand products and fewer prepared foods.
Along the same lines, my most recent issues of Lucky and Real Simple were stuffed with $20-off-if-you-spend-$100 coupons. A 20% discount is nothing to sneeze at, but I know I’m not going to use those coupons because I just can’t see myself spending that much at Eddie Bauer or Chico’s.
I went ahead and signed up for the trial of The Grocery Game. It is useful to know which stores have what items on sale, and when I can maximize a coupon’s value. But again, even though Publix might have ground beef on sale and Kroger doesn’t, how do I know that Kroger’s isn’t still cheaper?
The bottom line is, keep your eye on the bottom line and don’t get distracted by claims of amazing discounts. What’s important is not how much you saved, but how much you actually spent.