Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Cost of Free-Is FREE Really Free?

 Or, is it?

I've been posting recently about some really great FREE scores that I've been able to achieve using my coupons.

Just last month I was able to secure: 40 loads of laundry detergent, toothbrushes, toothpaste, body wash, and dental floss. All of which cost me nothing out of pocket, FREE.

While I've been happily adding items that my family will use to our shelving, and couponing to get those items for free, I've not paid much attention to what it actually cost to secure those items.

In fact, I recently had an interesting discussion about couponing, and the items that I've been able to get for free. This discussion resulted in a friendly debate about the cost of free.

For the sake of fairness, I thought I would post today about the cost of free, and ask: Is free really free?

This was the question posed to me, and after some consideration I've deduced that what FREE has cost me has been so negligible, that it didn't bare mention, or calculation. However, I do realize that to some, what I consider to be a negligible expense might, in fact, be a budget breaker for others.

In the spirit of the question, here are some things to chew on while your deciding to make a trip to get those FREE items with your coupons.

1. The cost of the coupon.

Are you getting the coupons you will be using from your Sunday Paper?
What does your Sunday Paper delivery cost you?
Are you purchasing the paper from a paper box? 
Either way, are you purchasing multiple papers in an effort to score extra coupons, and extra FREE stuff?

For me, this cost of free is something that I do not calculate. Why? Because, I don't subscribe to the Sunday paper.

I am so lucky, and have the support of my Dad who gladly gives me coupons from his Sunday paper. He has been genuinely tickled to see my mile long receipts from the store, which boast my savings. My Dad is awesome, but that's a whole other article!!

I also have a "hook up" at a local gas station where a paper box is located. The gentleman that fills the box on Sundays always has extras. He leaves them at the gas station with the attendant for me. I often get at least 5 extra inserts this way as well.

In contrast, I will calculate the cost of coupons that I secure using a coupon clipping service, or from an eBay auction. This is because I am spending money in order to be able to get that particular score. I deduct that amount from the retail cost of the items I receive using the coupons. Many times my savings is over 95 %. I can live with that cost of free.

However, you may subscribe to your paper. You may pay for delivery. You may resort to purchasing papers from the box. You may also turn to a coupon clipping service or an eBay auction to receive your coupons. If so, you may feel that your cost of free needs to be reflective of these costs.

2. Storage Space.

For me, I had shelving that was bare. Yep, before I started couponing again, we were running low, and were literally out of items we use. When this happens, it results in having to pay full price for items. That hurts the pocketbook. So, for now, where I am storing our items we get for free, is in places that I have room to store it.
I feel that somewhere down the road, I will have to make an investment in additional shelving.

Additionally, there will be a loss of real estate in my home, or so one would argue. My plan all along has to been designate one particular room for storage, and this is where my new stockpile/stock up room where be.  I have also had the blessing of being able to incorporate a pantry into my kitchen plans which will house many of our stocked up food items.
For me, the argument for organization in my case outweighs the cost of providing storage space.

However, you may not have a dedicated storage space in your home. Providing one may cost you money up front. If so, then this may be a cost that you will deduct from your cost of Free. Remember, if you plan ahead, and adopt an organized effort in storing your items, this will likely be a one time cost.  You may not have a room that you can spare for storage at all.  So, alternatively, you may choose to add storage space as you go. Again, be organized, and shop smart, and your costs will be minimal.

3. Speaking of storage, where do you put your coupons until you use them?

This speaks back to the article I posted the other day about my binder. There was the cost up front for the binder, and it's "guts". However, the binder itself was purchased for a child who is no longer in school. The binder was well used already (I really LOVE 5 star products, they last and last!). For me, the binder itself was recycled and therefore, it's cost not a factor in my Free. I also put my binder together 4 years ago, as such, I feel that to factor the cost of these items now would be superficial and would be falsely deducted from my cost of Free.

Then there was the discussion about where I put my coupon inserts before I cut them. Again, I think this speaks to my organization skills. I do clip all of my coupons. The ones I do not, or will not use, are immediately filed to be sent to our nation's military. I do not allow inserts to sit for more than 4 days. That's my cut off. I clip the night before my garbage/recycling is collected so that my discards don't stay in my home until next week's collection. Thus, these inserts do not take up valuable real estate with in my home.

You may not have your coupon organizational method secured yet. Or, you may still be working on it. Then of course, I give. There will be a cost to secure and then to begin to utilize that method. I suggest recycling what ever you possibly can to keep costs down. Check with thrift stores for binders, inserts, etc. Often Staples will offer rebates on items that you can use, so watch for those sales particularly close to back to school. Doing so will definitely keep your cost of Free down.

4. What about the time it takes to plan your shopping and to match up your coupons? Isn't your time worth something?

Of course my time is worth something. The saying "Time is Money" is one I live by. Because of this, I consider the time that I use to collect, clip, organize AND spend my coupons to be time well paid for. If I were to deduct this time from my FREE, I would not be able to secure my free items at all.

Saving money, using coupons, getting Free stuff is all a part of my weekly schedule.

For you, starting couponing may take more time that it takes me. Couponing is a habit and it takes time to learn a new habit. My honest belief is that if you stick with it, you won't feel the need to deduct your time. You, too, will be well paid for it.

5. Have you seen the cost of gas? How can you just go shopping willy-nilly?

Well, yes I have seen the cost of gas. Which is one reason I like to shop at the store that I do: Kroger. I use the gas points to help me save on the cost of gas.
Besides, I don't just go shopping willy-nilly. Every trip I make is well planned. I choose one, possibly two days a week to do my shopping, and I coordinate my shopping trips so that I get the best bang for my Free buck in the process.

Maybe you feel gas is too high to just jump in the car to make a shopping trip (believe me I do too!).
Perhaps you can partner up with another couponer and share the cost of gas for a trip. Maybe you can shop only once a week and do it on your way home from work. Maybe you have the blessing of public transportation and so the cost of your free would be a bus ticket that day. One thing about being frugal is that you soon learn to be creative in your thinking process. Stick with it, you CAN do it!

My goal with this article is to show you that while there may be a cost for free, FREE can still be accomplished. Of course, the accountants, and the statisticians who all work with money down to the penny may still feel that the cost bares mention. That's OK. At the end of the day, you can only deduct that penny so many times. In my mind, that penny is negligible to the hundreds if not thousands of dollars I save my family. It may ultimately be for you, too.

Until next time:


Angie said...

I have been very conscious of what it costs to save, therefore I have eliminated most of it as you have.

I used my Swagbucks to make my binder.

I only go shopping once per week, the two stores I go to are within two blocks of each other.

Both of the stores I shop at offer some type of gas rewards. That more than pays for our trip most times.

I get as much help as I possibly can to save time. I follow bloggers that do coupon match-ups for the two stores I shop at. I scan the list, make my list and grab the coupon. This week it took about 45 minutes. What I save this week will be well worth that 45 minutes. It also cuts my time in the store down by almost half. I'm far more organized now.

I could go on and on, but this is your blog. ;) I've found it may not be totally free, but it is still a heck of lot cheaper than full price.

Ya Ya Couponz said...

I Love Swagbucks. It's great that you could convert your SB's into a coupon organizer. Awesome....

My big thing was getting organized and then staying organized. It sure does pay off when you are organized. I'm glad you reiterated that. I can't stress it's importance enough.

45 minutes is great! I'm at about an hour and a half for this week, but I'm gearing up for a 4 store score. :)

Bailey said...

We all choose where to spend our entertainment dollars. While we downsized from a more expensive national paper to a local paper we still like reading the paper and keeping up with local news and events. We count the cost as an entertainment portion of our budget. The upside is that it comes with cost savings in coupons, announcements of cost saving events, etc.

Katie Jones said...

Wow...this post made sense to me and I have to be honest most coupon sites or articles confuse the heck out of me.
I have been wanting to use more coupons here lately because I always end up paying so much for such little food.
Granted I need to cook more so then I can actually buy useful food but I've cut down considerably on my dining outside of the home.
I would love to keep talking with you and receive all kinds of advice and I'll continue to look at your blog!
Thanks so much for posting this, it gave me some confidence in myself that I can do this!

Brooke said...

Saw your blog on WPLH. This post really makes a lot of sense to me. I love to coupon, but I guess free isn't always "free!" Love your blog!

Ya Ya Couponz said...

Thanks for your comments and encouragement. I really enjoy your participation!