Thursday, February 25, 2010

Where Amy Dacyczyn Went Wrong

Looking for Amy Dacyczyn?  Check out the video below as well as this 2009 Amy Dacyczyn interview.

I was really happy when I went to link up the latest installment of my Selling Used Books Online series to Tightwad Tuesday at Canadagirl's blog, Raising 4 Godly Men, to see a recent video interview with Amy Dacyczyn.  It was great to see her speaking, and to see the farmhouse she talked so much about in The Complete Tightwad Gazette.  Check out the video here.

Most of her advice still works in 2010, and I still find her and her books inspirational.  But I did learn one thing from her book that kept me from saving the maximum on my groceries until recently: In the article "The Scoop on Coupons" on page 55-58 of The Tightwad Gazette Volume I, Dacyczyn seems to dismiss couponing as a way to save money on groceries.

She rightfully asks the reader to consider whether alternative forms of purchase, such as buying in bulk, making homemade, or buying a store brand, would save you more than using coupons.  And in some cases, she is right.  I have brought coupons to the store to by a name-brand items that I needed and wasn't on sale, and by comparing prices I have found that it would be cheaper to buy the store brand without the coupon.

However, I fail to see how using these strategies could save me more than purchasing a name-brand item on sale and with a manufacturer's coupon and/or a store coupon and/or a customer rewards program.  For instance, no amount of bulk buying would allow me to get 13 ounces of pasta for 3 cents.   Granted, today's couponer has a lot more information and available coupons than Dacyczyn did in the early '90's.  Today there are printable coupons, coupons sold on eBay or clipping websites, coupons databases, and, of course, blogs that detail great deals.  So it is a lot easier to get amazing deals today than it used to be.

But because of her advice, I never looked into using coupons as a way of saving money.  Instead I bought in bulk, made things from scratch, and bought store brands.  And certainly, I did save some money, more than if I had bought name-brand items not on sale.  But since I started using coupons, I've brought my monthly groceries bill from $500-$800 per month down to $200-$400, and I know I still have a lot of room for improvement!

So I guess the moral of the story is that not everyone has all the answers that are right for you, and that you need to check out different ideas and consider different options.  And yes, I still love Amy Dacyczyn and The Tightwad Gazette!
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CallaLilly February 25, 2010 at 10:57 PM  

Have you ever bought coupons through ebay? Is this something I should look into?

Maureen March 20, 2011 at 3:51 AM  

When reading the Tightwad books or any books on frugal living you have to look at where the writer lives and the age of the book.

Here in the UK couponing is almost non-existant and I envy the ability of people like JANE4girls on her $800 a year and the guy on a savings newsletter who's sister challenged him to live on $1 a day - he did it so well - using coupons - he has never gone back!

From comments I understand that it also can depend on where in the USA you live because the amazing ability to coupon varies from region to region.

But, finally got there, frugal books - Tightwad Gazette especially - are, as you said, so inspirational. So often an idea that seemed impossible here in the UK had a nugget of gold in there that I could use.

For me the savings are from buying the 'basics' brands and making from scratch. Our food prices are shooting up and I'm thinking of a bulk buy.

Anonymous,  May 21, 2011 at 3:54 PM  

Interesting discussion - I guess what it comes down to is - what is your goal and what resources are you willing to use to reach that goal. Is your goal to spend the least amount of money out of pocket - at any cost? (to your health, to using a good part of your time tracking deals, gathering deals, and storing and maintaining a stockpile) Is your goal to eat health building foods at the lowest price possible? Is your goal to spend the least time in the kitchen? It takes incredible honesty and discipline to be a "strtegic shopper".
I think so many people get seduced by the coupon savings, "sale" or 67% savings. Well, if the price was high to begin with - who cares if it's 67% off. You have to buy by lowest price per unit, not percentages.
One thing that Amy got 100% right is the price book. Like tracking every cent you spend, maintaining a price book (or sheet) is annoying, but it is time well spent to decide if deals are worthwhile. - just my two-cents

Unknown May 30, 2011 at 2:25 PM  

I'm not sure I'd say that she "got it wrong" (although it's a catchy title!) - she was writing at a particular time and place, and coupons did not work out for her. Even today, it's only, AFAIK, for Americans who can use coupons to get such low prices. Like the UK, coupons are relatively rare here and are definitely only for overpriced name brand items. Even if I were to find coupons, I can't combine them or use them on sale items. So I save $0.10 on Campbell's chicken broth, bringing it down to $2.40 for 900 ml? I can buy the store brand for $1.99 regular price, or wait until it goes on sale for $1 and buy several cases.

I buy in bulk, know my prices, cook from scratch, stay flexible with our meals, etc. But never coupons.

Anonymous,  October 19, 2011 at 2:28 PM  

The only time I have found couponing helpful is at our warehouse club (BJ's, in our case), and they send us the coupons. I scan the coupons I see in the paper and I never see much value in the whole process. Except for coupons that are stuck directly on packages (of something I was buying anyhow), I haven't used manufacturer's coupons in years. I follow a similar process to Canadian Doomer (sounds ominous) in saving.

I am blessed (cursed) with an elephant's memory, so I can remember five years ago where I got a good deal on window cleaner. Amy is one of my heroes.

Elle,  October 29, 2011 at 12:02 AM  

What a great video - I can't believe Amy Dacyczyn is a grandmother!!! I owe her a lot - I read her books as a young newlywed and they completely changed the way we decided to live. We have now been married almost 20 years, are 1 year away from paying off our house, have no debt other than the house, have large amounts in savings and retirement funds, pay off credit cards every month - and if my husband were to loose his job, we have plenty of cushion. We chose to live way below our means at the same time many of our friends were borrowing themselves into crazy amounts of debt - and it breaks my heart to see most of them struggling now. So I say, thank you, frugal zealot!!!

Old She dragon March 8, 2012 at 4:02 AM  

The problem as I see it with couponing,is the economy is already teatering, at least here in the UK it is. Who pays for the goods that a couponer gets for free?
While A.D. may have chosen not to coupon because she could see better ways of saving, I chose not to because eventually the cost of all the freebies will come back to hit all of us.
A big company may just lay off one of its workers to offset loses or it may increase the cost of its products or pay it's suppliers less. Sooner or later, it comes back to bite us.
Nothing is free,there is always a balance made somewhere else.

Couponingcanuck,  May 2, 2012 at 8:38 PM  

I am also from Canada, and I can and douse coupons to make my disability income go further. So I guess your point is made; some do one thing(Bulk) some another, (Coupons), and even others a combination of the two. I am over $2000 in free product up on the year from what I spent,and I live in a small town with only two grocery outlets.

Anonymous,  May 20, 2012 at 9:03 PM  

Not to point out the obvious, but, hello!:
"She rightfully asks the reader to consider whether alternative forms of purchase, such as buying in bulk, making homemade, or buying a store brand, would save you more than using coupons."
"Because of her advice I(you)never chose to look into using coupons..."
Her advice was to CONSIDER FOR YOURSELF. You did not. She is not wrong. You simply didn't bother to follow it, then chose to blame her instead of owning it.
Don't mean to be harsh here, but it really gets old to see truth sacrificed for the sake of a provocative article title.

Unknown May 20, 2012 at 10:13 PM  

I suppose you're right! I guess the article title should be, "Where I Went Wrong"...

Gloria June 22, 2012 at 1:27 PM  

I have the Complete Tightwad Gazette, and it is interesting reading. I'm going through a financial crisis right now, but I anticipate that being over in a year or so. I've been collecting my shower water to use for my garden for four years now. With the drought going on, my garden looks fabulous. Once a week, I give the garden a good dousing with the hose, but if I were to do that every day, I'd certainly see a spike in my water bill. As for coupons, I only use them on stuff that I really need. I used a coupon for Great Clips the other day, and since it had been a very long time since I'd had my hair cut, the $4.99 coupon was a good deal. Yes, it wasn't the same kind of cut I'd get from Ulta, but money is tight right now. I'm also planning to write about my experiences with my financial crisis and publish it as an ebook. It will also have tips for saving money as well.

Kristel from Healthy Frugalista July 20, 2012 at 8:36 AM  

I stumbled across this post this morning. Amy D. is one of my heros. I found a kindred spirit when I found her newsletter. I couldn't wait until bedtime when I would have a few minutes to read her books. To me they were page turners! LOL.

Anonymous,  November 21, 2012 at 6:11 PM  

In answer to the question who pays for the free items, the manufacturer does. Stores send coupons back to the manufacturer and they are refunded in full.

Sarah November 25, 2012 at 10:49 PM  

She definitely pooh-poohed coupons.
I think that had more to do with her own values than with saving money. If she had wanted to she could have learned how to use coupons to their best advantage. However, to use coupons in a big way... you have to have restraint and she really was more interested in a DIY lifestyle which was free from advertisement warfare. Think back to her article discussing children's clothing and peer-pressure.
Couponing is more popular with those households which are suburban and affluent ($100,000+ annually) so I can see why they were not as popular in rural Maine.

Anonymous,  December 20, 2012 at 11:12 AM  

Amy dacyzn did not tell you NOT to use coupons. She led her readers to consider the savings vs.time spent for frugal activities. You shouldn't blame her if you failed to do so.

Anonymous,  January 20, 2013 at 7:17 PM  

Why in the world would anybody EVER buy pasta in cans? At ANY price??

Anonymous,  February 18, 2013 at 10:42 PM  

Living in a rural area in the U.S., I find it difficult to chase the sales using coupons and cost prohibitive. I believe Amy Dacyczyn was in the same situation. You always need to factor in gas when making trips. Maybe she could've featured someone who lives in an urban/suburban situation to give a different perspective.

NOVA Frugal Family February 24, 2013 at 5:20 PM  

I agreed with everything you posted. I save lots couponing and would never give it up because I can get free toothpaste, toothbrushes, shavers and personal care items while saving tons on groceries to support my family. Still making healthy choices while couponing is possible. I chalked it up to the time difference too but I would much rather save $500-$900 a month at the grocery store than go from yard sale to yard sale looking for deals. I guess to each their own :)

Pat L.,  March 5, 2013 at 2:49 PM  

I was given Amy's book years ago and I absolutely loved the ideas and used many of them, still do today. I do coupon but I find it to be of limited value because so many of the food coupons are for processed foods high in fat and sodium. My husband and I are on a low sodium/fat diet. And you can only use so many deodorants!

Linda (Sewfordough) April 15, 2013 at 10:21 PM  

I agree with Pat L. Coupons are mostly found on items that have lots of preservatives, salt, fat, etc. Those foods are already wrecking the health of many people. Even the non-food items are full of toxic ingredients. I like making my own laundry soap, facial cream, deodorant, etc. As well as making foods from scratch. I also use less packaging by doing so. Once in awhile I find a good coupon, but it's not the norm for me. Old she dragon makes some good points too. Thanks everyone for your input!

Unknown April 21, 2013 at 9:46 PM  

You got me with the title, lol I just had this conversation with someone. He said that he was going to get into Extreme Couponing. We live in New England, and very few stores double coupons and the ones that do restrict so much it's crazy, and hike up the prices. When I lived in Fl. while bringing up my family I saved tons of money between coupons and rebates. I was Extreme Couponing before most of the people doing it now were born! lol Also, up here most coupons expire so quickly it's not worth it to stock up, and if you don't clear the shelves yourself there is no more stock to be had. I still use coupons, but I have to be very quick and picky.

jopb August 17, 2013 at 3:13 PM  

She wrote the books at a time when coupons were not as prevalent as now. You have to always consider all the ways to save and see which is better for you.

Anonymous,  April 30, 2014 at 11:23 AM  

Amy said herself in many ways, in many places in the Tightwad Gazette her words and articles were jumping off points to think outside the box. So, if couponing works for you, great. Personally, the people who "save" hundreds spend much more time sorting, clipping and chasing coupons than they want to admit to. Also, I find most coupons are for things I wouldn't use, or are for a far more expensive brand name. Remember it isn't how much you "save" it is how much you SPEND.

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