Friday, September 16, 2011

The Coupon Experiment

I once watched half of an episode of Extreme Couponing.  When it finished, I felt a very small niggle of guilt over my lack of aggressive couponing, but mostly I felt bewildered as to why anyone would want to stockpile shelves of toothpaste, bins of deodorant, and pallets of spaghetti sauce.  It resembled hoarding, just in a very systematic, organized, and cost-effective fashion.

Perhaps I get the wrong Sunday newspaper, but if my family tried to survive on what we could purchase with coupons, we'd be serving shaving cream, Dove soap, and air fresheners for dinner.  Or cat food.  Occasionally yogurt.  If you've been reading long enough, you know how I feel about yogurt.

Also, I don't think I'm at the level of carrying a binder to the grocery store, or (heaven help me), creating a spreadsheet.

It doesn't seem sustainable.

Still, I'm intrigued, so last night I went to a meeting titled Couponing the Non-Extreme Way to learn some helpful tips and terminology.  (Did you know that the coupons automatically printed out at the register are called catalinas?  There's a whole new set of vocabulary involved in this endeavor, apparently.)

Some information was common sense -- to know store couponing policies, only clip coupons for products that you really want to use, and read the text carefully.  Other information was eye-opening and simple, such as to register your grocery store bonus card online and select e-coupons in advance to automatically receive savings when you purchase those items at the store.


Suggestions were given for what additional newspapers provide the best coupons, considering that our primary local paper doesn't provide a wealth of useful ones.  A few websites were recommended, like this and this and this and this. I'll be checking them out.

Hearing the testimony of a real woman who cut a monthly grocery bill for a family of six from $600 to $300 was appealing, indeed.  I still waffle, though, wondering if it's possible for me to see any significant results without needing to quit my job in order to create time for couponing. (Counterintuitive, no?)

Balance seems key.  If you're a couponer (or, if you're on the fence like me), what are your thoughts and experiences?

Image compliments of CouponzCouponszz (flicrk.com)

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6 comments:

  1. I have noticed the plethora of coupons in our local paper, the "buy one get one" deals and the "instant savings" are combined with sugar, fats, trans-fats, high-fructose corn syrup and msg. We eat a whole foods diet, and are gluten and dairy free as well. I find (sadly) nothing of nutritional value in the coupons. As for the extreme couponing shows, looking into the storehouse of pre-packaged food I wonder - If you looked in the back row of food, when would it expire? Why would I want to eat Doritos in 2015 with the satisfaction I only paid $0.10 for the super jumbo bag 4 years ago? (EWWWWWWWW)

    So I am not a couponer. I choose to save money by providing my family with the freshest food full of nutrients and antioxidants that they may never pay thousands for cancer treatment or diabetes supplies.

    As it stands, I am friends with a few cashiers and they enjoy seeing my cheerful face and my well-behaved (mostly) children. Did you notice the cashiers shuddering (and their lips moving with prayers) when they see the couponer with 7 carts and an angry "don't you dare mess up my coupon savings" scowl.

    PS When I have 5 teenagers I might look into couponing so as not to be eaten out of house and home. :-)

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  2. Naomi Bell, you bring up one of my key issues, too: coupons never seem to be for fresh produce, but rather for processed foods. We try to limit -- if not avoid altogether -- bringing too much of that into our house, too.

    So, I think of coupons perhaps more for drug and beauty items, paper products, home essentials, etc., not for gummy snacks and the like. Good points.

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  3. I'm fairly adamant about couponing. My family was spending upwards of $200 a week, and had very little to show for it. Since I started couponing, I've lowered that to about $150, but I bring home two or three times as much.

    You're right that a lot of coupons are good for processed foods and often cleaning products that aren't exactly good for the environment or our health. So, I like to use those coupons for charitable services. After a while, you get a feel for what products can be had for dirt cheap (soap, shampoo, deodorant, pasta, crackers, cereal, etc.) I keep those coupons with a plan to buy for those who are less fortunate. It takes just a little bit of effort and even less money.

    The coupons you don't use can be swapped with friends for the ones you need. Then you can send all the unwanted and even expired coupons to military bases overseas that are always in need of them. You can even include some of your cheap food/toiletries when you send off your package. Check out this link to see where you can send yours. http://www.ocpnet.org/

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  4. Rebecca, thanks for the insight here! You're right: donating these items is a great idea, and I, too, had heard about sending coupons that had expired (up to six months, that is) to soldiers abroad.

    You sound like you've had great success. Thanks so much for chiming in. Keep up your good work!

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  5. I have a hard time with it as well. It seems so great to save so much money, but it is always stuff we don't necessarily need. Also, I try to buy generic when I can and it is usually cheaper than using a coupon with the name brand.

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  6. I've started couponing for our family and in addition to the tips all have mentioned before (we also eat a mostly whole foods diet in our home), I would note the following that I struggle with:

    Shopping (and spending) just to shop - I try to avoid this always. But coupons can make this more difficult. It's one thing to get stocked up on cheap or free items that you truly need and will use, but another to shop just in order to save. (the only way to truly save is not to spend!) So with that in mind, I only go shopping when I really have a list of needs - and then I throw in the coupon aspect as it makes sense. I also only keep a small stockpile. I'm with you on the ridiculousness of hoarding years' worth of toothpaste, etc.

    Getting the good deals, as I think you'll find as you venture online, often means compromising your own privacy and personal information. That said, give up your email address and/or create an account with just about any company, and they'll happily start sending you coupons regularly. This goes for the whole foods companies too. I find this unsettling, and do it sparingly if at all. Facebook has added a new dimension as well - friend them on FB, and get a link to a coupon (that you'll have to give up your email address for as well).

    Time and organization - you know me, so you know I don't have a lot of either. :P I did break down and get a binder, that you have to buy baseball card sleeves for b/c nobody actually makes coupon sleeves. That has cut back tremendously on the time spent on any of this stuff. Especially once I got it ordered to correspond to the aisles in the store.

    So, all of that said, we do save anywhere from 30-50% on our bill, as long as we follow our own rules - particularly the one about not buying just to use a coupon :)

    p.s. - any chance you might mention the more useful newspapers? :)

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