Coupons boast big savings, and it is difficult to pass up a good bargain. Coupons have been a staple of American consumerism for decades, and there are even television shows covering “extreme couponing” with buyers obsessed with savings. But are coupons actually tricking you into buying and spending more? Here are some ways coupons may actually be a trap rather than a bargain, and tips on how to avoid them.

Buying What You Don’t Need

The most common way that coupons can cost you money is by encouraging you to buy things that you otherwise would not have. Perhaps this can lead to trying new things, but more often it leads to stockpiling. Rather than actually getting a good bargain, you may be cluttering your home with unwanted and unused items. This is a particular problem with food items, as food expires and you may literally be throwing money away. When using a coupon, it’s smart to always ask yourself if you would have purchased that item without the coupon. If not, skip the savings and spend that money on something useful.

“Buy One Get One”

One of the most common types of coupons are the “Buy One Get One” deals, often referred to as BOGO’s. But buyer beware: unless the coupon is “Buy One Get One Free” the consumer is rarely getting a good bargain. “Buy One Get One 50% Off” is the equivalent of getting 25% off on two items, which may seem like a good deal. However, single coupons often award more than 25%, and the BOGO may simply be trapping the buyer into purchasing more. When using a BOGO, you should ask yourself if you really need two of the item, or if you will actually use it.

“Minimum Order” Coupons

Another type of coupon that often tricks buyers into purchasing more is the “Minimum Order” Coupon. These are coupons, on or offline, that offer a percentage-off for a minimum order such as “20% off with a minimum purchase of $99 or more”. This is an attempt by retailers to get the buyer to purchase more than they would have otherwise. Although the coupon does provide savings on the overall order, it often leads buyers to spend more than they would have otherwise. A good trick when using one of these coupons is to ask yourself if you would have spent the minimum required for the coupon anyway. Then you can reap the savings, but otherwise you can get caught in the trap of buying items you don’t want or need.

Online “Coupons” That Aren’t Actually Coupons

One of the most common ways in which buyers end up spending more is through online “coupons” that don’t actually give a lower price. Online buyers love a good deal, and there are hundreds of websites that provide coupon codes to various retailers. However, many online stores provide 20-25% coupons only after raising their prices, leaving the buyer with the same or a higher price for the full-price item a couple of weeks before. Many popular clothing retailers use this method often. Avoid this by comparing the prices of the items to other similar retailers and decide if the coupon is actually providing a good deal.

Free Shipping with Minimum Purchase

With the convenience of online shopping comes the extra cost of shipping, and buyers jump at the chance for free shipping to save a few extra dollars. However, often free shipping comes with a “minumum purchase”, and you may find yourself $10 or $20 dollars short of the minimum. This coupon comes with a catch; often it leads buyers to buy more, and end up with a larger total than they had before. To avoid this trap, first ask yourself if you really want or need the extra items, and if the items are worth the extra purchase. It’s also a good idea to bring up Google and search for “Free Shipping [Insert Retailer Here]” and see what comes up. Oftentimes, coupon websites provide a ton of coupon codes that may give free shipping without the extra purchase. Finally, it’s always a good move to contact the retailer customer service directly, as they may have a few coupon codes set aside that they can give.

Coupons You Buy

Popular websites like Groupon boast big savings, but often with an expiration date. Often buyers will purchase the coupon and then forget about it, or decide it’s not for them, giving money to the retailer with nothing in return. When purchasing a coupon, ask yourself: will I actually use this in 30-days? Do I actually want to take this cooking class, or will I decide later that I don’t have the time? Always check for expiration dates on coupons before buying, and only purchase if you know you’ll use it long before the expiration date.

Extra/Lengthy Trips

Fortunately using online coupons avoids this problem, but oftentimes in-store coupons specific to certain stores can lead buyers to make extra or lengthy trips. The coupon savings may be tempting, but the extra gas and wear and tear on your car may not be worth using it. When using a store-specific coupon, be sure to compare to prices to nearby stores, and decide whether or not the extra mileage is truly worth the savings.

These are the primary ways in which buyers can find themselves losing money rather than saving money from coupons. Following these tips will help you use coupons the smart way, and to both avoid stockpiling and to become an overall smarter consumer.

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