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Coupons: Not such a deal

Posted Jan 11 2010 12:00am
Like a lot of people, I’m always looking to save a buck on groceries, so I dutifully check the coupons in the Sunday paper. Most weeks, though, I end up paging through the inserts with that feeling you get when you click through all the channels and there’s nothing on TV.

The problem: manufacturers rarely offer money-saving coupons for staple foods like bread, eggs, cheese, canned beans, pasta, olive oil, or plain oatmeal, all of which make up the bulk of my grocery purchases. Nor do you ever see coupons for fruits or vegetables. Instead, the deals are for processed foods you wouldn’t even think of buying unless you had a coupon -- which is exactly what the companies are counting on, of course.

In the past few weeks, in the weekend circulars, there have been coupons for bottled fat-free salad dressings, sugary granola bars, instant soups, frozen dinners, lunch meat, pancake mix, and fast-food sandwiches. Straight into the recycling bin they go!

The same circulars, by the way, also contain coupons for nasal spray, fiber supplements, cough drops, cold and flu remedies, and sleep aids. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Eating all that processed food increases the chances that you’ll eventually need over-the-counter medicines for all those ailments. If you’re lucky. If not, you may need the prescription versions instead.

I do buy some processed foods -- face it, it’s pretty hard to survive without a few of these things -- but they tend to be the higher-priced natural brands, and you don’t see many coupons for that stuff. (Read here about the types of convenience foods I use.) What I try to do, instead, is buy enough of these pricey items when they’re on sale to last me until the next time they go on sale.

I know everyone’s on a budget these days, and food prices just keep going up. But do yourself a favor and don’t buy a product just because you see a coupon for it. Or, for that matter, just because it’s on sale. It’s not a great deal if it compromises your health.
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