We all know that we’re headed towards a recession. Or that we’re in one. Or whatever. All I know is that I’m looking to save money wherever I can.

Many personal finance blogs advocate clipping coupons as an excellent way to save a little money. Websites like Coupon Mom and The Grocery Game even make an entire system out of it. Get Rich Slowly posted a lot of info on creating your own grocery price book a while ago, which just seems like a lot of work.

Anyway, last Sunday morning I was inspired to pore through the weekly sale flyers. After skipping through pages of car advertisements, I got to the good stuff: coupons for a pharmacy, coupons for a grocery store, and a whole stack of coupons from various local merchants. I dove through them while listening to Weekend Edition on NPR.

And you know what? They sucked! All of the grocery coupons were on overly processed food, not fresh produce, dairy, or meats. (Do I really need fifty cents off of Hostess cupcakes? I can’t remember the last time I bought Hostess cupcakes.) Most of the local services coupons were intended for homeowners, not apartment dwellers. The one exception, an ecologically friendly laundromat that bills itself as “Portland’s Greener Cleaner,” is located clear across town.

And here’s what I realized: Fundamentally, coupons are marketing. And marketing is about getting you to buy something you ordinarily wouldn’t.

So, barring clipping coupons from the paper, how can we save a few bucks on necessities we might actually buy? Here’s some ideas.

  1. Browse manufacturer’s websites. Seventh Generation, makers of green-friendly cleaners and toilet paper, have an entire section of their website just for printing out coupons.
  2. For produce, keep an eye on your grocery store’s website for things that are on special. Produce and meats go on special with a lot more frequency than you might get coupons for them.
  3. Buy fewer processed foods! Stick to the margins of the store and buy produce, grains, and meats in their raw form. Since most coupons are marketing for processed food, you can skip the clipping and eat better at the same time.
  4. Use the checkout coupons you get along with your receipt. Yes, they’re still marketing, but they’re marketing that’s targeted to you, and you might actually save some money. I’ve gotten some great deals on cat litter and saline solution, for example.
  5. If you live in a bottle return state, take advantage of it! Since we get our milk in bottles, and the deposit on those is $1 a pop, we make sure to bring all of our bottles back. That’s money we’ve already paid; we might as well use it to buy the next round of dairy.

What else? How do you save money on groceries without the Sunday morning clipfest?