Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sane Couponing

There are a few TV shows that I watch despite the fact that they make me yell at the TV. One of them is TLC's "Extreme Couponing." In case you haven't caught an episode yet, I'll sum it up.

It might be more aptly titled "Stupid Coupon Tricks." In this show, people spend 40 or even 60 hours per week clipping coupons, scanning grocery store ads, printing online coupons, making spreadsheets and planning in order to get a ton of groceries for nothing or next to nothing. They sit in the checkout line for hours with smug looks on their faces while the poor cashier scans and scans and sometimes they buy so much stuff in one transaction that the cash register runs out of memory and crashes and the order has to be split into multiple transactions. They then take their loot home to their "stockpiles," which take up their entire basement or in some cases, a bedroom or two of their house. But these things aren't what makes me yell at the TV. It's what they buy.

"No one needs 66 candy bars!!" I'll yell, or "You don't need a basement full of Cheez-Its!" Even better, "You only need 30 bottles of Maalox because of the 40 packages of hot dogs you just bought!" It's appalling.

I don't see the point in amassing a huge stockpile of stuff that you don't need just because you can. Don't they have better things to do with their time? I know I do, so I practice what I call "sane couponing."

Despite the "extreme" nature of the show, you can learn the basics of effective couponing from it. Basically, if you can combine a manufacturer's coupon with a sale, a store coupon, or both, you can really save a lot of money. You can get some stuff for free or nearly free. I do this all the time, and regularly save $50-$100 off of a week's groceries. But I do it on a small scale, and I don't spend much time on it.

In our suburb, we have three big grocery stores. Between the three of them, they have the stuff that we actually eat on sale every week. With the repertoire of recipes that I've amassed over the years, I can look at the stores' weekly ads while I eat lunch one day and put together a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu for the week based only on what's on sale. Doing this, I hardly ever even need manufacturer's coupons to really save a lot of money. However, I do clip manufacturer's coupons every week, but only for things that my family actually uses. I hold onto these coupons and try to match them with sales or store coupons whenever possible. If they never get used, oh well, there wasn't much effort wasted in clipping them. I don't get sucked into buying things that I don't need just because they're on sale or because I can. I stick to only buying the things we actually use.

As my favorite coupon blog, Frugal Living NW, has pointed out, it's not a good deal if you never use it.

Coupon blogs are another part of my strategy. I read Frugal Living NW and one or two others. I'm subscribed, so new posts show up in my e-mail, and I read them while I drink my coffee. In these posts, I'll see that something I use is on sale at Safeway, for example, and if I have the right coupon, it's really cheap or free. It's pretty effortless.

I don't buy 600 of anything, I don't have a creepy stockpile, I don't feed my family a bunch of junk, I don't spend much time on it, I don't have to piss off the cashier or the people in line behind me and I do save a lot of money using coupons with minimal effort. If I just look at the weekly ads, am willing to visit all three local grocery stores during a given week, clip a few coupons and read a few coupon blogs, that's all I need to do.

I will keep watching "Extreme Couponing," though, even if it does drive me a bit crazy. I am secretly hoping that one of these days, someone's stockpile will be so out of hand that "Extreme Couponing" will have to be merged with another of my favorite shows, "Hoarders." Now that would be good TV!
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