Several years ago, my sister tried to get me interested in couponing. I gave her my three standard excuses for avoiding coupons like the plague:
- I don’t have time to clip coupons, and .35-off is not worth my time anyway.
- We don’t eat the food that coupons buy.
- I don’t want to be seen as cheap or stingy.
She told me I might surprise myself. I was still skeptical, but I tucked her words away for a rainy day. A year later, the rainy days arrived. It was April, and I was a new stay-at-home-mom. We were suddenly in the deep end, living on one income. We either needed to sink into debt or swim with a tighter budget. We had built up a decent savings account, but who wants to dip into savings to buy toilet paper?
We needed to cut out about $200/month in spending from our budget. My sister’s words came back to me, and I decided to give it a shot. I figured the worst that could happen would be saving a few bucks. I jumped into the strange world of couponing. I started reading savings blogs and learning Couponese and cutting inserts and asking questions and making mistakes.
One sweaty, stressful transaction (couponing is hard work in the beginning), and I was hooked. I started dreaming about deals and doing multiple transactions a day and boring my poor husband with countless conversations that started with, “Guess how much I spent for all these items? No, really. Guess!” He’d play along, guessing some astronomical number so I could whip out my receipt and show him my savings. My husband was proud of my results but not interested in the details. Sound familiar?
Needless to say, I starting calling my mother and girlfriends instead. What is it with couponing that compels us to share our savings? A normal person does not gush about groceries; couponers, I discovered, are not normal people. Couponing will also drive you to dig through recycling bins for coupon inserts, scour deal blogs when sane folks are sleeping, open new email accounts, talk about deal scenarios at church, order coupons off e-Bay, and take surveys for product samples. Once unleashed, couponing is a crazy animal.
For me, the couponing high lasted for a surprisingly long time. Long enough that our bathroom cabinets were overflowing with free shaving cream and shampoo, and my pantry shelves were sagging with cheap tubs of oatmeal and cans of beans. Not only was I able to shave our grocery budget by $150-$200/month, but I was also able to give generously to local charities and food drives.
However, I caught myself spending time and money doing transactions for many items we did not need or use. I was bringing home bags of frozen vegetables and boxes of toaster pastries that we didn’t eat just because they were free! (And yes, I know this food can be donated to shelters.)
This led me to start educating myself about what I was feeding my family. I read books and watched programs. I cleaned out my pantry and my coupon box to only include products that I really wanted. Couponing actually led us to start eating better, not worse! (If this makes me sound like a food snob, rest assured I am not. My family still consumes our fair share of high-fructose corn syrup and can polish off a frozen pizza like nobody’s business.)
Two years later and I am now at a comfortable, feet-on-the-coffee-table stage in my relationship with couponing. I no longer dream about deals or sweat profusely in the check-out line. My husband and I haven’t had a coupon conversation in a long time. I use coupons on products I am not picky about (printer paper or dental floss or canola oil) so I can spend money on items that are more of a priority to me (eggs or milk or meat). I am more selective now, but I am still saving some serious money.
Have you noticed how couponing also makes you a smarter shopper, in general? It has helped me pay attention to growing seasons and loss leaders and good prices and sales cycles when making meal plans and shopping lists.
All of us in the Frugal Living NW community have different budgets, buying habits, and food preferences. The great thing about that is there is no need for stress (“I haven’t done a RiteAid deal in three months!”), guilt (“I paid full price for spaghetti sauce. Oh, the shame!”), jealousy (“How does she have time to stop at five stores in one afternoon?!”), or comparison (“At least we eat organic broccoli!”).
Whether you love Cap’n Crunch or eat all organic, whether you are new to the savings game or an old pro, we are all swimming in these crazy couponing waters together. Despite our differences, we all have one major strategy in common: We are choosing to save where we can so we have the freedom to give and splurge where we want. Or, pay the electric bill. Both lattes and light are good things, right?
Are you new to couponing? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Couponing for instructions, strategies, and inspiration!
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