September is National Coupon Month in the U.S., which means that coupon bloggers are preaching the mantra of money-saving. Their experiences (and mine) are quite different from the ones cited by Kentin Waits in "Five reasons I don't clip coupons," over on MSN Money's U.S. Smart Spending blog.

Some coupon bloggers and I are giving five rebuttals, plus another myth-and-debunking thrown in for good measure.

Waits, a staff writer at Wise Bread, says he won't clip because:

  • You usually have to buy something to get a coupon.
  • Coupons attempt to modify behaviour.
  • Coupons encourage overbuying.
  • The savings versus time investment is low with coupons.
  • Coupons typically push prepackaged, processed foods.

Let's do this methodically. His first quibble is that while some coupons are mailed out free or are accessible online for free, most are found in the Sunday newspaper.

Not only does he not read the paper, he doesn't want "to have to buy something in order to be offered the chance to save money. It seems contradictory and is a bit too complicated for my taste," Waits writes.

I've talked to a lot of people who use coupons to stretch super-tight budgets, not to get a shot at TV's "Extreme Couponing." They obtain their Qs in creative ways:

  • Buying the Sunday paper at the dollar store.
  • Asking friends/family to save unwanted coupon inserts.
  • Visiting coffeehouses, fast-food joints and anywhere else Sunday papers are read and tossed aside.
  • Pulling coupon sections from recycle bins. (Here in Seattle coupon sections are mailed with the Wednesday food ads. I've gotten extras from the lobby recycle bin.)
  • Trading coupons with other users.
  • Keeping an eye out for "blinkies," coupons that pop out of little machines attached to store shelves, and "peelies," Qs that are attached to products.

Working the system
"Coupons attempt to modify behaviour." Well, of course they do. It's called "marketing." But consumers can turn this to their own advantage by combining coupons and sale prices. Stephanie Nelson refers to this as "strategic shopping," and it's a lot easier than it sounds.

"This is not your grandma's coupon clipping. This is an online, savvy way of doing it," says Nelson, author of The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Food Bill in Half.

Do an Internet search for "deals" plus the name of the store, and "you'll find [a local blogger] has done the work for you," Nelson says.

"Coupons encourage overbuying." Waits says that "often" multiple items are required, and he doesn't want to do that, especially if it turns out he doesn't like the product.

"Often" is one of those annoyingly squishy words. How often? Half the time, three-quarters of the time? Lately I've noticed cereal coupons have been requiring three-box purchases, but my experience is that multiple items aren't required "often."

Here's an antidote: Don't buy in, so to speak, to multiple-item offers if they don't work for you. Stick to the deals you know will benefit your budget.

And if you don't like a product? Chalk it up to "well, it was worth a try." If you did buy more than one, donate it to a food bank or return it for a refund.