In my first post on this blog, I (only sort of) joked about wanting to grow up and be the superwoman who can use enough coupons to get $100 for $1.75. This week I learned why that might not be something for which I should strive.
On Wednesday, The Learning Channel (TLC) cable network launched a new series called “Extreme Couponing.”
Each half-hour episode highlights two shoppers who have taken more than just coupon clipping to the extreme. In the two episodes that aired this week, the shoppers’ trips to the grocery store yielded purchases with retail values ranging from $550 to more than $1900. One woman purchased 70(!) bottles of mustard simply because she had that many coupons for the product and was able to get each for just 39 cents. Another who was featured in the one-hour “Extreme Couponing” special that inspired the new series went dumpster diving with her young son and pregnant friend to rescue coupon inserts from among the Sunday newspapers at her town’s recycling center (watch for yourself here). And each extreme couponer proudly showed off to the cameras his/her home stockpile of groceries, including lifetime supplies (and then some) of everything from laundry detergent to toilet paper to cereal. And clearly, mustard. Lots and lots of mustard.
I will confess to being a bit of a coupon junkie myself. I clip the coupons from my Sunday paper each week and print out lots more from the Internet. Coupons often entice me to try new products, and in some cases even sway me to give up my brand loyalties. I can totally relate to the “high” of scoring a great deal on something using a coupon. Or better yet, stacking a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon where permissible, and possibly combining it with a mail-in-rebate so that I end up making money on the deal.
Being the natural overachiever that I am, I’ve often wondered what more I would need to do to get better results than the 10-30% percent I typically get using coupons at the grocery store. Watching “Extreme Couponing,” I learned what I’ve been doing “wrong”: spending time on anything other than coupon-clipping, stockpiling, and list-making.
The extreme couponers featured on TLC have clearly made an occupation of saving money and organizing their huge grocery hauls. One said she spends 4-6 hours strategizing about and preparing for each trip to the store. (I can only imagine how long it takes to put away and organize $1900 worth of groceries.) Several acknowledged that they turned to extreme couponing out of financial necessity due to a recession-related job loss in the family and have made couponing their full-time jobs. While I do enjoy a good deal as much as the next person, I am grateful to be able to afford groceries for my family without devoting my entire life to couponing.
A woman featured on Wednesday night’s show estimated that she has saved about $40,000 since she started couponing. Given her extreme level of expertise, I have to assume that she has been doing this for more than a year. If you are among those who can make more than $40,000 a year pursuing a job that brings you meaning and allows you to exercise your talents, then extreme couponing might not be the best use of your time. Between my responsibilities related to work, school, my family, and other obligations, I most certainly do not have the time to manage a stockpile with enough supplies to last my husband and I until the year 2016. Plus I draw the line at dumpster diving. And happily, in other lines of work, you don’t have to use the space under your child’s bed to store 1,400 rolls of toilet paper, like one extreme couponer featured in the show. Or buy enough mustard to last you until the apocalypse.
My comments are in no way meant to hurt or discourage those who have chosen a more extreme way of couponing than I, but rather to suggest that getting hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for just pennies is probably not a realistic goal for those already struggling to balance everything in their busy lives. However, even those who are strapped for time can take a few small steps toward saving money on their grocery bills. Here are some time-saving pointers I’ve picked up from my own couponing experience:
- Don’t leave home without them: Keep all of your coupons in an envelope (or better yet, in an organizer that allows you to categorize your coupons by product category, retail store, or expiration date) in your purse/briefcase/laptop bag so that you never find yourself in the store empty-handed. You never know when you may make an unexpected shopping trip, and you won’t always have the time to stop at home to retrieve your coupons in the middle of a hectic day.
- Plan ahead: Before you head to the store, make a shopping list and pull out any coupons you may have for items on your list. Also search for your list items on coupon databases like Southern Savers and Kosher on a Budget to find printable coupons for products you will soon be purchasing. A little organization on the front end can make your shopping trips faster and less costly.
- Declutter: Most coupons expire within 30-90 days. Take a few minutes at least once a month to remove all of your expired coupons from your envelope/organizer so that you don’t waste any more time flipping through ones you can’t even use anymore. (Rather than just discarding expired coupons, see Becky’s great suggestion about mailing them to U.S. military bases to help families there.)
- Don’t reinvent the wheel: Countless bloggers take the time to find great coupon deals so that you don’t have to! Many even match up the weekly sales at large retailers like Target, Kroger, and Walgreens with coupons currently in circulation to help maximize your time and your savings. My two personal favorites are the two I mentioned earlier, Mara of Kosher on a Budget (a great resource whether or not you observe the kosher dietary laws) and Jenny of Southern Savers (northerns might learn a thing or two here as well). Some other good ones include Budget Savvy Diva, Hip2Save, and Cuckoo for Coupon Deals. Follow these and other coupon bloggers on Facebook and/or Twitter so that their updates automatically appear in your news feed. That way, you won’t have to take the time to visit each of their sites, which makes extremely good sense.
What do you think of “Extreme Couponing”? And what are your best tips for saving time and money at the grocery store?
Thanks to Flickr user sado27 for sharing the above image.