Coupons for a Price: Deal or No Deal?

I'll be honest here. I've never really understood the lure of coupons. I've tried using them but I only last a few shopping trips and then I give up. To me it doesn't seem worth the 25 cents in savings or the fact that you have to buy more of what you normally do to take advantage of a few cents off. Plus I have yet to find an easy way to organize them so that I remember which coupons I have and when they expire.

So I was intrigued by Entertainment Book, a thick $30 book of hundreds of coupons at restaurants, Web sites, retail stores and service firms. I thought that since I was paying for the coupons, they'd be a bit more substantial than what you find in the Sunday newspaper. In Entertainment Book, which has been around since 1962, you'll find everything from 20 percent off Brookstone merchandise to rent one Blockbuster video and get the second free. Entertainment Book makes them specific to the area you live in so the Washington one is filled with coupons for local restaurants and stores. And you have one year to use all the coupons.

The face value of these coupons is a bit more, giving users discounts like 20 percent off or buy one, get one free. But the book is only worth the investment if you're a regular shopper at some of the stores listed in it. I don't shop at half the stores listed in the book. In fact I don't shop at 75 percent of them.

I've used the Blockbuster coupon as well as a discount on a nice gift basket I sent to a friend who got married. I was really excited to use the Robeks coupon, worth $5 toward a purchase at the smoothie store, but I was stopped dead in my tracks when a notice was posted near the cash register at the Shirlington location, stating the coupon was not authorized to be included in the book and therefore wouldn't be accepted in the store. Bummer! Other than a handful of other coupons I plan to use before the end of this year, the book seems useless to me. Once again I think coupons, even ones you pay for, make you spend money on things you normally don't buy.

Are there any fee-based coupons out there worth the fee? How have you used Entertainment Book and what are your tips for getting the most out of the book?

By Tania Anderson |  March 17, 2009; 12:00 AM ET General Interest
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The main reason I even buy one is to support the charity that sells them. I may use it once or twice a year, which covers the $25 cost, but it's not part of my shopping/dining routine. (btw, charities make between 20 and 50% for each one they sell)

Posted by: lorenw507 | March 17, 2009 9:07 AM

I must say I found this article a little "snobbish".

I'm a single professional who makes a very good living and I use coupons constantly. However, I'm smart enough to use only coupons that have value for me. Coupon books are like anything else - are you going to use the coupons; do you want to support the charity, etc.

Posted by: rlj1 | March 17, 2009 9:22 AM

I regularly save 10-25% off my grocery bill by using coupons. I rarely buy "more than what I normally do to take advantage" and I'm definitely getting more than a "few cents off." It doesn't take me much time either.

Posted by: ally75 | March 17, 2009 10:16 AM

My brother buys us an Entertainment Book every year for Xmas and we probably use it 5-10 times. Soon after getting it we put a post-it tab on all the things we would LIKE to use and once in a while we will remember to use a coupon. It will get misplaced during the year and sometime around Thanksgiving we will discover it and realize that we could have used it on X or Y.

On the other hand, my best friend is notoriously cheap (he freely admits it) and will not go out to dinner unless he has a coupon from this book, typically a 2-for-1 meal. However, this really limits your choices when you want to out for an adult meal...you are not going to find a place like Artie's, Coastal Flats or PF Changs in the book, so you end up eating at Squire Rockwell's (now a burnt-out shell).

Posted by: skipper7 | March 17, 2009 10:43 AM

Between January 1 and today I have saved $489.15 at my grocery store. I have the YDT receipt to prove it. This is a combination of buying store brands, and using coupons. I don't buy anything I don't need and never have to buy too much of anything. I spend maybe 15 minutes a week seeking and clipping coupons. Last year, I saved enough to make one monthly mortgage payment. If you aren't doing this, I am sorry, you are just thowing money away.

Posted by: poppysue85 | March 17, 2009 12:10 PM

I succumbed to a colleague's solicitation a few years ago and bought the entertainment book. Like you, I got almost nothing out of it and never bought it again.

I feel it's unfortunate that in many cases the Entertainment Book is sold by and for schools as a fund raiser, because it creates a great deal of pressure on parents to sell it to all their friends and co-workers, many of whom may not really want it.

Posted by: elg820 | March 17, 2009 12:44 PM

I don't really understand this coupon phobia. You clip out the ones for items you usually use and the next time store puts that item on sale and you want to buy it, you pull out the coupon and use it. Presto! You save quite a bit of money on something you were going to buy anyway. It's not hard.

I've never bought the Entertainment Book but a friend does and we've been able to go watch non-matinee shows for $6 each.

Posted by: LittleRed1 | March 17, 2009 12:46 PM

The Entertainment Book used to be a decent value. They seem to have let it go downhill in all geographic areas in the last 5 years or so. The big draw used to be maybe 5 to 10 decent restaurants w/ BOGO free dinners. These were restaurants that you actually would have patronized, and you more than made the purchase price back. Now, there are hardly any decent restaurants included in the book. It's a shame that the proprietors have let it go so far south. Used to actually have value once upon a time.

Posted by: EntertainmentBookGoneSouth | March 17, 2009 12:50 PM

My Dad gives us the Entertainment Book every year. I like it for a few reasons. When I first receive it- it's fun to look through it- kinda gives me a similar thrill like shopping- dreaming of all the places you'll go. I find the movie discount coupons the best. There are plenty of them and the discount is significant, $6.50 or $7.50 for regular night-time movies, saves $3-4/ticket. We just used a coupon for Saturday night dinner at Alexandria's Southside 815 Resturant- excellent restaurant by the way. We always use the coupons for Moe's (casual Mexican) and Top Golf (free bucket of balls.) So, you use some and you pass a few along to a friend because you see a coupon for one of her favorite places. And in the end, it all seems worth it.
As for grocery coupons- Shoppers Food & Warehouse has been having incredible double/triple coupon sales. It's just my husband and I so I don't shop at Costco, but I bet my bargains with coupons are even better, and I've got some stock in my pantry. Good luck.

Posted by: HotVelvetRose | March 17, 2009 1:00 PM

I don't use the Entertainment Book because I just don't frequent the businesses that advertise in it enough.

I am a total convert to using manufacturer's coupons in the last year or so, however. I routinely save between 75% and 104% (yep, I even get Safeway to give me money to leave with their stuff sometimes) on each grocery shopping trip. If you learn to shop sales in conjunction with coupons, you'll save a lot of money and would never think of shopping at big warehouse stores like Sams or Price Club (where you have to buy huge sizes and selection is limited). And, you don't have to limit yourself to store brands and cheaper products. The best deals are actually on the expensive national brands (and it's not all junk food--some of it can be relatively healthy).

I went to Safeway this morning and got another $30 of frozen foods and a box of granola bars for free and received a $10 credit to use on my next purchase. Here's what I got: Four Birds Eye Steamfresh meals for two, four Birds Eye Steamfresh bags of vegetables and one box of Quaker lowfat chewy granola bars. The total before coupons was over $30. I used manufacturer's coupons for the meals ($2.00 off each) and for the veggies (buy the meal, get the veggie free) and a store coupon for the granola bars ($.99 a box) in conjunction with an overall 10% discount on every purchase that I got when I called Safeway customer service and asked for it. Because Safeway has a Chill Out At Home (COAH) deal going all this month (i.e., buy $25 of frozen foods, get $10 off your next frozen food purchase), I was able to pay exactly zero for everything by rolling over my last $10 COAH store credit (I only threw in the granola bars on my order so that my total wouldn't go negative). And, even better, the precoupon price of the items I purchased counts toward the gas deal program they have so even though I wind up spending very little (or nothing sometimes) at Safeway, I actually get some sweet discounts on my gas purchases.

Posted by: sshopper | March 17, 2009 2:07 PM

The Entertainment book is definitely worthwhile. The Safeway coupons alone make up for the cost of the book.

Posted by: subwayguy | March 17, 2009 2:35 PM

sshopper and poppysue85,

You are my heros. Seriously. I've just gotten into this coupon thing and have saved about 25% off of my grocery bill in my first two weeks. I aspire to be as organized as you two are at it.

I cringe when I think of all the years I spent throwing money away because I was too lazy to clip a few coupons.

Posted by: JenPost | March 17, 2009 3:09 PM

Clipping coupons isn't that hard or time consuming, you just have to get into the habit. Since I do most of my shopping online - I have an email address dedicated for getting on lists at websites I frequent. I also google the website's name and "coupon" to see if anyone has posted coupon codes for the site prior to ordering something. www.retailmenot.com is my best source for website coupon codes. You can often get free shipping (if not already offered), % off your order, or a few $ off.

Posted by: mmmmmm1 | March 17, 2009 4:25 PM

I'm not as good as sshopper, but I routinely save 30% using coupons. I would never buy the Entertainment Book, because I don't eat out. We have a bunch of kids, and don't eat out, so that's a no-go. But groceries? We need those. So I definitely clip coupons.

The trick with those is merely to read through the circulars on Wednesdays, and match up the coupons that you have to what is on sale at stores. Some stores routinely double coupons, for others it is a special deal. When that happens, you can really do well. While I seldom get things for free (not counting the gas points at safeway or such), I do often turn a $100 basket of groceries into a $70 or less basket of groceries -- all things that we need. I don't do better, because we need a bunch of stuff that you can't get with coupons, like fresh fruit and veggies, milk and eggs, and because I keep our packaged food purchases to a minimum. I cook from scratch almost exclusively.

I'm also careful about comparing the price of a generic or store brand to that of the name brand after the coupon savings. It's a lot of math in your head in the store - I could carry a calculator, but I relish using my brain. But it is worth it. The list of wonderful things I walked out with for 25 cents is pretty impressive, and we have a lot of meals that cost $1 total -- not per person, total for 6 people.

At this point, I feed 6 people on well under $300 a month. And that includes toiletries and (dare I admit it) wine. Dinners are meat, two veg, and a starch. The fridge and freezer are stuffed, and you would never know I cheap out so seriously.

I would highly, highly recommend that you start clipping those coupons.

Posted by: badmommy | March 17, 2009 6:52 PM

It is bizarre that the Post's consumer blogger doesn't use coupons.

Posted by: subwayguy | March 19, 2009 8:33 AM

While it's true that the Entertainment Book has declined the past few years (lots of places have dropped out and there are mostly the same kinds of restaurants in there - Indian, Thai, pizza, etc.), it's still a good deal and we get it every year. We've found some great restaurants we might never have tried if we didn't find them in the E-Book. We use the Safeway coupons, movie tickets, sporting good stores, dry cleaning coupons, car rental coupons, tickets for stuff around town (mini golf courses, etc.). And, I know we're not using everything we can.

Posted by: ldf1 | March 19, 2009 9:43 AM

I agree with rlj1 and subwayguy. I can understand if she doesn't want to do it, but to say "I don't see the point?"

May I have her job, please?

I save, on average, 30% just from clipping coupons from the weekly circulars. I am really not trying very hard.

(Attention WaPo: this is the *only* reason I still subscribe to the paper. Cruddy delivery service, ridiculous editorial policy, poor copy editing and now a consumer blogger who doesn't see the point of coupons?)

Posted by: ajw_93 | March 19, 2009 10:02 AM

It's hard to believe you aren't putting us on just to get feedback for your blog. But, just in case you really are this clueless, I'll take those unused coupons you find so difficult to organize. And your job, too. (There's a column in the Post's musty vaults from decades back where I wrote about saving on groceries.) It's "work" that I'd love to be paid for! 'Cause it's more than just 'coupons'....

Posted by: msgindc | March 19, 2009 11:55 AM

I wait until late spring, and then you can usually get the Entertainment book for $9.95.
I have kids and we use the activity coupons and some of the restaurant ones and with the reduced cost of the book, easily make up that amount many times. I also keep it in the CAR which helps me tremendously, if we decided to head for a snack or etc I can grab the book and see if there is a coupon - otherwise it would be at home!

Posted by: KKreutzer | March 19, 2009 11:57 AM

I don't use coupons. There are never coupons on things I buy. If there were, I would use them!

Posted by: SAF_dc | March 19, 2009 1:50 PM

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