First I have to make a few disclaimer statements because this can be a sensitive topic that is highly subjective.
- I have tried couponing before, and this post is about why it doesn’t work for me.
- There’s nothing wrong (refer to #1) with couponing.
- I’m not referring to casual couponing here and there, but the real deal, extreme-couponing-turned-into-a-reality-show kind of madness (no shade!)
My hat goes off to anyone who uses this method to save money and put food on the table for their family because it takes organization, time, and discipline. I got excited about the idea of saving money on groceries a couple of years ago and decided to try it for myself. I did some research online and found a couple of women to emulate. One, in particular, sold a whole organizing set complete with a binder, plastic sleeves to keep the coupons organized together, a shopping list notepad, and a small calculator. After getting it in the mail, I was extremely motivated to go to town clipping my coupons.
As instructed by another lady I found, I started signing up for a bunch of sites online that would alert me to deals. After that, I went out to buy my first Sunday paper so I could glean from one of the three weekly inserts that usually appear (Red Plum, Proctor & Gamble, and Smart Source circulars). Some of these sites even allow you to find out which insert will be out each week and what deals it will feature so you can plan ahead. Well, I did this for a couple of weeks, and my excitement slowly gave way to a sad realization that couponing is just not for me. Read on to learn why.
Time & Opportunity Costs
They don’t call this extreme couponing for nothing! One of the things I remember about my experience in couponing was the time I spent scrolling through deals online, looking for electronic coupons, and stopping to get a paper every Sunday to go through and cut up. It got to be very time consuming and exhausting, especially because I was just learning. And don’t get me started on trying to find the time to do all this as a busy, working mom. Time is precious and those extra minutes to hours could be spent on other activities.
That’s where opportunity costs come in. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, opportunity costs are defined by taking into account what you lose by choosing one activity over another. So in this case, choosing to coupon over spending time with my family or getting household chores done meant I would lose that time or have to shift it to somewhere else. You can even attach a monetary value to that. Spending time couponing takes away from doing other activities that could earn me more money (like driving Uber for instance) than I would save on groceries.
I do practice pinching pennies where I can and when I think about it. However, I prefer to focus more of my time on figuring out how to increase my earnings so that I can reasonably buy what I need and not worry about the cost.
It may not seem like it, but the adage that you have to spend money to make money (or save in this case) definitely applies to extreme couponing in the form of upfront costs. When I got started, I went online and ordered a coupon organizer that came with a lot of extra bells and whistles that I probably didn’t need. I think I spent, at least, $25 on it and never got to use it. I could have probably just gotten a binder and filled it with pages of sleeve pockets for cheaper, but it still would have cost me something.
What are some other expenses, you ask?
- Organizing tools
- 2-4 Sunday newspapers every week
- Paying upfront to redeem coupons on next visit
- Purchasing coupons (Yes, you can buy coupons on eBay. Who knew!)
- Gas costs due to making more shopping trips than usual
- Making costly mistakes due to not researching properly
Now, some of these costs go down as you learn and get better at preparing for these coupon haul shopping trips (and make less of them), but no one should go into this thinking they will be saving without investing into it first. I guess that applies to just about anything you do in life where a reward is expected.
Lack of Quality, Healthy Foods
Time & opportunity costs and financial costs are a pretty big deal to me, but the number one reason I don’t coupon is the lack of quality, healthy foods that coupons promote. We must never forget that nothing comes for free in this world, and the only reason coupons exist, is to market products and encourage you to buy more. When you buy more, it builds brand loyalty (or that’s the idea at least), and you continue to shop for that brand for years. Well, guess what. These companies sure don’t make as much money on fresh, unpackaged produce as they do the highly processed and packaged stuff that is not doing our bodies any favors.
I am a vegan most days (working on making that every day), with a focus on whole food, plant-based eating. That means no meat, dairy, eggs, or oil. I started couponing right around the time that I stopped eating all those things.
That cut out a lot of the food coupons available to me, which led to my frustration and resulted in me quitting. What about household products, you ask? Again, over the years, I’ve shifted towards more natural products that you rarely see coupons for, and even DIY lotions and cleansers that I make at home. That probably cuts out a good 50% of the household item coupons.
What is left just doesn’t justify me spending too much time on making couponing a weekly practice. However, if the stars align, and I see a coupon that fits what I need at the time I need it, AND I’m headed to the grocery store… oh, you better believe I will not hesitate to use that bad boy.
Lack of Need and Space
It is a fact that retailers have been requiring more of customers in order to redeem coupons, meaning you have to put out more cash to get the freebie. That translates into having to buy a bunch of the same item or spending over a certain amount for the deal to work.
With it just being my son and me, we don’t need a whole lot, so it doesn’t make sense for us to buy thirty-five boxes of cereal at one time. Not to mention, we recently got a bigger place but ended up downsizing from a kitchen with a lot of cabinet space and a pantry, to not a lot of cabinet space and no pantry.
We are literally bursting at the seams over here when it comes to storing food and other kitchen items. So right off the bat, if I’m not purchasing more than normal, or more than we need, then some of those matching deals (combining multiple coupons and applying them to already marked-down items) won’t work for me.
Couponing is a great way to save for a lot of families. It’s even a greater method for increasing one’s capacity for donating to those in need without spending a whole lot of money. Hey, it’s even a cool sport to show off your shopping savvy. However, it doesn’t work for everyone as I’ve demonstrated above with my example, due to time & opportunity costs, financial costs, lack of quality, healthy food, and lack of need and space.
For those considering learning the craft of extreme couponing, I recommend doing your research and starting slow. Don’t be extreme on day one! Test it out by calculating your costs versus how much you’ve saved, and keeping tabs on how much time you spend on the whole operation. Once you have those numbers, you can figure out how much you’re saving per hour of work. Use that figure to decide whether couponing is really worth your time or if you would earn more doing something else.
Also, consider whether it is actually helping you to buy the things you need or causing you to overspend and buy things you want more than need. Finally, it is my humble opinion that everything should be done in moderation. It’s called extreme couponing, but it shouldn’t take over your life.Do you use coupons on a regular basis? If so, I’d love to hear your success stories on how it helps you save money. If not, what are some other ways you save at the grocery store?