A Frugal Shopping Tip That Leaves Everyone Smiling

The coupon finding, freebie loving Kimberly over at My Good Cents posted a very cool tip that she found via It is so good and so uplifting that I thought I might share it as well. The tip goes like this:

Instead of throwing unwanted coupons in the trash, take them with you when you go shopping. As you walk down the aisles, place the coupons you won’t use next to the items for which they are good.

When the next person who is going to buy that item grabs it off the shelf, there will be a coupon waiting that can be used to save a little extra money.

I don’t know about you, but I like making people smile and thought that this was a great idea for making that happen.

But, it may not be all goodness for everyone involved. For the most part you could describe my ethics as utilitarian1, and thinking about this made me think about how a utilitarian might think about this frugal act in moral terms. I thought the internal discussion I had was interesting so I’ll share it.

In my thought example I said that I placed 25 coupons around my local grocery store. I decided to say that the rate at which others would find and use these coupons in the same day that I place them is about 50%, making the number of found and used coupons roughly 13. Since one of the main things that utilitarians do is they try and measure the happiness created by certain actions among all the people that it will affect I am going to have to quantify the happiness that my actions might cause. Not too keen on the idea of having to quantify happiness, I will give it some abstract value of :) . :) here represent the average amount of happiness that finding a coupon will create across the board. Some individuals will be happier and others will be less happier, but the average is :) . So in total terms I created 13 :) in the individuals I helped with my coupons.

Then I figured my happiness into it. For me personally, I get a sense of satisfaction from helping others even when I can’t see the affects of my actions. However, I generally get more satisfaction when I actually see the affect of my action. The classic example is that I like to watch someone enjoy a gift rather than just knowing that they enjoy my gift. I figure that this is pretty common. Since this is so, I figure that I will only get slightly happier by giving these coupons when I won’t see their benefit – maybe bringing me 2 :) . The total :) created is now 15.

On first glance this seems like a win-win from the utilitarian’s point of view because I will get the benefit of being a giver2 and a group of people will benefit from my actions and 15 :) is created. But is that really all the people who are affected by my actions? I think not.

We also have to consider the store staff. They are the ones having to clean up the remaining 12 coupons that I left strewn around the store, some high and some low. These coupons could get brushed off the shelves and end up on the floor, possibly causing cart wheels the skin, children to slip, or a manager to yell at an underling. When all is said and done these 12 remaining coupons maybe cause 1/3 :( to the three people that have to deal with them resulting in a net 1 :( .

The net happiness created is really 14 :) . That is still pretty good.

Now what if I could increase that happiness? Here is how it would work for me. Since I get more happiness out of actually seeing the benefit I give someone and I want to eliminate the 1 :( I would create by just leaving them around what if I looked for people who are buying what I have coupons for and give it to them personally? That could potentially create way more :) without any of the :( . All I would have to say is something like, “Hey, noticed you were buying that Chuck Norris action figure. I got a coupon for it. Here take this.” Seeing them rejoice at the fact that they bought that Chuck Norris action figure with a $1 discount would give me like … 5 :) . All I would have to do is help 3 people each trip and already I create more happiness just for myself than the other way would for all the people involved.  This is definitely a better way.

Each person might be different so consider your own personality and those personalities of the individuals that shop and work at the grocery store near you. Outcomes may vary.

Does anyone have another way to get randomly brighten the day of another person while shopping for food? Leave a comment or feel free to contact me with our handy contact form.

  1. You could describe them as utilitarian though I am emphatically not one. My morality does often resemble utilitarianism though. []
  2. It is more blessed to give than to receive – Jesus via Paul []