Reader Question: Can Coupons Really Help Save More Money Than Bulk Or Generic?

from the mailbag
Picture by Vera Kratochvil

I recently received this question from a friend of mine:

How can I save more using coupons for brand names at a chain store, instead of buying in bulk at Costco or buying store brands?

This is definitely a question that gets asked a lot around here, so I thought I’d answer it publicly (with her permission of course!) so everyone can weigh in.

When you buy your Sunday paper, there is one thing you will immediately notice upon flipping to the coupon section. About 80% of those coupons are for junk. The rest are probably for things you would purchase, if only their generic name counterpart wasn’t remarkably less expensive.

Generic might be cheap, but combine a store promotion with a coupon and brand name might be free.

Even with the coupon, you observe that you still could purchase this particular product for less if you just go generic.

Sounds so much easier. No clipping, and no concerns about having to search for the exact product to match your exact coupon.

I am a firm believer that most generic products are as good, if not better than their brand name counterparts.

So why bother with  coupons? Why not just default to generic as a rule?

We’ll get to that…

**Let’s discuss buying in bulk.**

Sams Club Price $10.88. For 4 tubes of toothpaste playing the drugstore game? I paid NOTHING.

Sams, Costco and even Walmart and Target often offer the option to buy more at once to save a bit in the long run. You can buy a case of 300 diapers for $.20 per diaper or a small package of 30 diapers for $.30 a diaper. You have to invest a bit more money up front, but long term you are coming out ahead.

Coupons typically can’t be used on bulk items (most specify a specific size, generally one of the smaller versions of the product), so grappling over whether to cut coupons when buying in bulk is a non issue.

So why bother?

The truth is, you actually don’t have to bother clipping coupons. Buying in bulk AND defaulting to generic are very valid and acceptable ways to save money and cut down on your grocery budget. I did both of those things for years and saved a lot more money than I would have buying brand name traditional sized products.


It is a myth that buying in bulk and defaulting to generics will save you as much money as strategically utilizing coupons.

It is also a myth that the only way to save money while using coupons is to buy junk food and forgo other healthier options.

It is NOT a myth that utilizing coupons strategically will take time and organization, which might persuade some to find that it’s entirely too much work for the savings involved.

Which is okay. Initially learning to shop strategically will be hard. Anything worth doing longterm is hard. There is a definite learning curve. One that I try to assist newbie couponers with in my eBook “How to Save Money in 7 Days“.

Rather than get into how exactly to use coupons strategically (since that is clearly outlined in my eBook and throughout this site), I am just going to state some facts:

  1. When you pair a coupon with a store promotion, quite often you will be able to get a brand name product for less than it’s generic equivalent. If the generic is still cheaper, buy the generic. The week the coupon comes out in the paper is NOT necessarily the best week to use it!
  2. Walgreens, CVS & Rite Aid all  have special store loyalty programs that when used strategically can easily result in 90%+ savings on household goods, health and beauty products and over the counter medications.
  3. Using coupons in conjunction with these store loyalty programs can practically eliminate spending on household goods, health and beauty products and over the counter medications. This means you have more of your budget available to buy good, healthy food.
  4. Buying in bulk might be cheaper than buying individual products BUT combining a coupon with a store promotion could result in getting several of the same product for practically free, if not completely free.
  5. Go ahead and throw out any coupons for junk food or products you don’t use. I used to suggest keeping them, but really that’s only useful if you involve yourself in coupon trading. Which honestly is nothing I’ve ever been interested in. This way you won’t be tempted to purchase things that your family doesn’t eat/doesn’t need.
  6. The savings on household products alone can be enough to justify clipping coupons.
  7. I rarely use more than 12-14 coupons per week (and that’s a BIG week for me. It’s normally more like 6 or 7) and I only buy 3 papers a week. I consistently save over 30-50% on my shopping even when I am not trying. There are some weeks I don’t even use a single coupon. It’s honestly not really the coupons that work the magic, it is the strategy! You don’t have to buy coupons on ebay or steal newspapers off of your neighbors porch to save money (nor do you have to ever ever ever dumpster dive).
  8. Gas prices have gone insane lately. Driving from store to store is simply not an option for everyone. When gas prices are high, food prices increase dramatically as well. Use coupons to purchase your non food essentials from your local CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid (using the rules of the drugstore game) and your non food expenditures will decrease dramatically. Pick one drugstore and one grocery store and don’t drive all over town looking for deals.
  9. Coupons are not just for groceries. You will find restaurant coupons, coupons for movie theaters and bowling alleys in your Sunday paper.
  10. Shopping strategically can be the ultimate self esteem boost. Learning to make more income for yourself WITHIN your income is incredibly satisfying and will boost your self confidence dramatically!
My kind of coupon!

So the short answer is yes (thanks Heather for NOW giving us the short answer!). Coupons really can save you more money than buying in bulk or purchasing generic. You have to learn the game, AND be willing to invest the time AND yes you will have to forgo brand and store loyalties here and there.

Is it worth it? Only you can decide that. My friend Brittany recently wrote a great post about how she decided to cut back on coupons and was actually saving more money. You’ll notice though, that she is still using coupons, just not as many and only on the things her family wants and needs.

You see, it’s not really about the coupon. The coupon helps, but strategic shopping can be done without ever clipping a single coupon. I’d argue that strategic shopping could even cost you less than defaulting to generic or buying in bulk in most  cases.

I am not an extreme couponer. I never have been. My stockpile per product is likely tinier than the quantity included in a case from Sams Club. I guarantee I spent less money though.  To me the time investment is worth it, and nowadays it actually doesn’t take me much time at all.

It’s all about deciding what works for you! You will save money buying in bulk and defaulting to generic. It won’t be as much as shopping strategically with coupons, but a penny saved is a penny saved.

What works for you? Do you have any arguments for or against coupon usage?

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Heather is the creator and owner of Family Friendly Frugality. She calls Texas home and is married to her best friend. With 2 children 22 months apart, she has her hands full. So full that she decided to start blogging as a hobby. That hobby blew up into a full time job. Now she's got the husband, the kids and the blog. We're not exactly sure what she was thinking, but she's too busy for us to ask. Find Me On Google +

7 thoughts on “Reader Question: Can Coupons Really Help Save More Money Than Bulk Or Generic?”

    1. I don’t remember where I saw it, but I saw an article of the things NOT to buy at Sam’s…soda was a big one! Their Pepsi products are consistently higher than the grocery store! I do find I save SOME at Sam’s (usually on dog food and laundry stuff) but when I factor in the cost of the membership, it’s not all that great.

  1. Thank you, Heather! I’m still considering whether I have the patience for strategic couponing, but you make excellent points, and I absolutely believe you’re right. Now I just need to implement….would it be crazy to hire someone to do it for me? :p

    1. Haha! Well, I think hiring someone would negate the money saving aspect of your efforts! However, you could try something like The Grocery Game for a bit until you get the hang of it. I am not a HUGE fan of The Grocery Game because I think it’s all information that can be found on the internet for free, but it’s a good resource for beginners.

  2. I just recently wrote on article about this on my blog. I personally have decided that with the time, patience, printer ink, paper, organizing, kids and so much more, that I have almost given up on couponing and am sticking with Aldi!

  3. You forgot one important argument against bulk shopping – you have to PAY to shop there. Years ago, I bought a membership to Costco b/c it was offered half price thru my employer & I wanted to see what all the hype was about. Really, really overrated. They only accept store coupons & their hours are horrible (they won’t allow customers in the store after 5:30pm where I am). I barely even got to shop there in the 1 yr that I had a membership b/c the only times they were open was when I was at work. Oh yeah, & the check out lines were atrocious. *drug store deals & coupons 4 life* lol 🙂

    1. True. Although I actually do find the cost worth it (plus I have a business membership…so it’s a write off, LOL), it definitely would not be worth it for everyone!

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