~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~I think the TLC show on extreme couponing got many people talking about coupons, both positive and negative. For me, I have made several failed attempts at couponing over the years, but in the beginning of November I decided to take another stab at it when I saw that the many couponing sites have done almost all of the legwork for me. Much, much easier than in past years!
In November, being a complete novice, I saved $650 (of our usual $1000 grocery budget) and we had much, much more food on hand than ever before. Even with the purchase of a coupon binder and the time spent to learn the systems, I probably spent $100 on the binder, plastic pages, and newspapers, and maybe 10 hours learning how to do it all and setting up the binder. An excellent investment on month one for me, and an immediate payoff as well. Now I have my binder and my knowledge and I am doing very well with the couponing and I just buy 2 papers per week, so no more out of pocket expenses.
Before coupons I almost exclusively shopped at Walmart and bought a lot of store brand items. Now I shop at the grocery store, Walgreens, and CVS, and get tons of name brand items and things that previously would have been more of a luxury purchase for us, for way, way less than I ever paid for store brand items. When I walk through Walmart now, the prices make me cringe because I know how much higher they are than what I can get the items for.
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The concept that really made a click for me in couponing is to think of every grocery item as a stock. When you buy stocks, do you want to buy at the highest price, or the lowest price? Obviously, the lowest price. Well, every grocery item is a stock with a fluctuating price. Pretty much everything goes on sale sooner or later, normally in a cycle of 6-12 weeks. So, if I know I always need peanut butter, why would I buy it at the highest (normal) price, when I can get it on sale and with a coupon for less than a third of that price? I should spend the money to buy 3 for the price of one, and stock up when that is available. You do this over and over again with each item, stocking up on the items that are at their low or lowest prices, and holding out on other items as much as you can, until they go on sale and you couple a coupon with that sale. You use this strategy to build up a bit of a stock pile (not necessarily an excessive one) and then you don't ever have to pay full price again. :)
We eat very healthy, but what I have found is that there are actually a lot of coupons available for things we do use, and the money saved has allowed me to have more flexibility in spending on the healthier items that are important to us.
I did have normal go-to brands or store brand items that I would always purchase and not even look at other options. With coupons, I have found many items that it doesn't matter to me what brand we get, so therefore I can save a ton of money by choosing differently than I would have when on automatic pilot before. Some of my previous items I have now found definitely do matter to me, so now I never bother getting different laundry detergent or toilet paper, no matter how cheap, because I just don't want it. That's ok too. You take a little time and do a little trial and error and figure out what matters to you and then go forward knowing that.
I think of all the years that if I could have even made $100 or $200 a month at a side job, I wish couponing had been this doable. I know that many families need to stretch, and I believe that couponing is an extremely valid opportunity for stay at home moms to increase their income without having to leave home or set up their own business. For people that are completely unable to take on the extra job of couponing, don't worry about it. Coupons will still be there for you when you are in a different stage of life. And, you can't put a price on sanity. :) For those people struggling to make some extra money with crafting, sewing, babysitting, or other side jobs, I would guess that couponing may pay you better, and might be worth a try.
I do think of couponing as a part time job now. :) I think I probably spent about 3+ hours a week most weeks on it. I buy just 2 newspapers on Sunday plus have a family member save theirs for me. I clip, file the coupons, check the sales for my stores, make a plan, and shop. Shopping now takes longer because I go to more stores, but I get a whole lot more stuff for a whole lot less money. I usually file coupons while I watch a movie with my husband, so it isn't really taking any time out of my schedule to do that.
As for the extremes shown on TLC, I have seen various articles from people involved with the show and personal friends of the couponers featured that say that TLC really pushed these people to portray extremes that are not true to their real life. In other words, don't think that normal couponers do a 9-cart shopping trip. :) They don't. I do not have any desire to take over large amounts of my home with items I cannot use, but I do like to be prepared for difficult financial times, times when weather or health or car issues might prevent me from shopping, times when unexpected company shows up, or times when someone is in need. Sometimes my children need snacks for youth events, and in the past because I never normally bought those items, I would be making a special trip to the store to buy them when needed, plus pay full price. Now I am ready with those snack items, and I paid very low prices for them. I would rather pay full price (if needed) for the highest nutrition items, and get the junk foods for as close to free as possible.
Preparedness is something we can all benefit from, and obviously your own space availability, and ability to manage it all is going to dictate that. And you don't have to skip dates with your husband or become obsessive in order to stretch your grocery dollars way, way farther than ever before.
Even for healthy eaters, coupons can provide free or close to free items like:
feminine products, razors, toilet paper, tissue, paper towels,soap, lotions, shampoos, hair products, cosmetics, detergents, office supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste and floss, and lots more.
In just a couple months I have now got probably close to a years supply of many of the above items. (and it doesn't take a lot of space at all) Now if I see things that are free or almost free that I can get, it goes into a donation bag for my local food pantry, or sometimes to extended family. I love it that I am able to give more than ever before thanks to the good deals I'm getting.
I do not pay to belong to any clubs or groups for couponing and do not anticipate doing so.
I think it is important to not feel bad about it if this isn't a season when you can coupon. First things first, gals. :) Be kind to yourself and don't compare yourself to others. :)