Confessions of an ex-Couponer

It’s no secret that I love a bargain, so after watching a few episodes of Extreme Couponing I was ready to jump in and save a bundle! Believing I could make a big difference for my family of four I did a ton of research and tried my best to save like the pros. Here’s what I learned:

First, it takes a lot of time and planning to find potential deals. I found myself spending 10-20 hours a week trying to acquire coupons, cut them out, organize them, match them to local sales flyers, make shopping lists, and prepare coupons for each store. If I were to add up all the hours I spent trying to find a good deal and applied them to a part-time job, I think I would have made out better with the extra job. Granted, I had young kids and wanted something I could do from home but, in my opinion, I would have been better off selling items on eBay or Etsy.

Second, besides the time it takes, there are a lot of other expenses that you need to consider. In order to get a good deal, you need multiples of high-value coupons to match with an item already on sale. You have to acquire those coupons somewhere. If you are buying papers, they typically cost $2.50 for each Sunday Edition. When I looked closer, I realized each edition has different coupons with different values in them. I found myself spending $7.50 to $10.00 per week just to get a few papers. I also found one paper that lets you buy previous editions in bulk. So I used extra gas to travel to a different town to buy 10 Sunday papers for $10.00. With all that paper, I ended up with additional gas guzzling trips to the recycling center!

Then, to get the best deals you need to travel to multiple stores. When you are making multiple trips and shopping at 3-5 different stores, the gas and time really adds up. Plus, each store presents you with special deals that try to entice you to impulse buy even more than what’s on your list.

To keep track of everything, I had to create a system for myself to try to stay organized. Some items I already had on hand but I found myself trying different binders and buying various supplies just to keep up! In the end I was spending $15-$20 dollars per week to save approximately the same amount!! Some weeks were better than others, but in the end I think the coupons won (not me).

Let’s not forget the store discount cards. Those shoppers you see on TV have lots of loyalty points added up before they shop. That is where a large portion of their savings comes from. What you don’t realize is the amount of money you have to spend to keep accumulating those points. And even then, you have to keep tabs of which points expire and when so you don’t lose credits you have already earned.

Finally, to get those discounts you have to buy multiples of items you probably would not have purchased without a coupon. The purpose of a coupon is to get you to buy a manufacturer’s newly released higher-priced items. The majority of coupons you will find are for snacks, packaged goods and canned items. It is rare to find a good deal on the items you use every day like produce or meat. You may find yourself stocking up on items you don’t really need. These items require more room in your house and may expire before you get around to using them. If you truly comparison shop, you will find that even with coupons, you can find another brand cheaper.

Also, worth considering is that with the popularity of coupon shows, retailers have really cracked down on the use of coupons. Many stores limit the number of coupons you can use per item or per purchase. They are also leery of printed coupons and tricks some unscrupulous couponers have tried to use in the past. Each store has its own policy, so it is worth looking into before you show up with a fist full of coupons that you may not be able to use. Advertisers are also aware of coupon tactics, so it’s getting harder to pair up coupons with sales. Often the manufacturers, will alternate them so the coupon expires just as the sale starts. If you don’t buy at the exact right time, you are out of luck!

Don’t get me wrong, coupons can really save you a few dollars if used wisely, but I have found that when you consider the time and effort needed to save more than $10-$20 it is not really worth the effort. If you are going to use coupons limit them to the items you already buy and don’t go overboard chasing elusive deals.

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