I think it's time to be a little more realistic about couponing, don't you? I mean, let's face it; “extreme couponing” is just not practical for most of us. I personally have no desire to turn my living room into a stockpile. I just want to feed my family for as little money as possible. Can you relate?
Don't get me wrong, I do try to save money on groceries as much as I can. The column of our budget dedicated to food is one of the very few categories that is not required to be a fixed number, so by making it as small as possible, I am freeing up money for other things.
So yes, I have tried couponing. And I did find a few wonderful buys. I also learned some great money-saving practices for buying groceries.
What I learned from couponing:
Pay attention to prices. The best way to do this is to put together a price book. By keeping track of all the regular and sale prices for a given item, I know when it is a good time to stock up. I can also decide on a target price — a price which I will not go over to purchase a given item.
Some people maintain their price
Only buy items that you will use. It can be really fun to find a marvelous sale price for watchamacallit, match it up with a double coupon, and buy a bunch of it! But this is not smart when watchamacallit is something that you never actually use – then you are wasting money, not saving it. I have learned the hard way that thinking I will get creative and find ways to use that item that I don't usually purchase is rarely going to turn into reality. It is more likely that the item will sit on the shelf and eventually get thrown away.
Stock up even when you don't need it right now, if the price is right. This applies to items that you normally purchase and use regularly. When the price is good, buy some more, regardless of how much you have already. If you wait until you need it, then the price won't be as good – but you'll have to buy it because you need it, and you'll spend more money.
Don't plan meals around sale items – just stock up. I don't know how many times I would plan one of the week's meals around something that I was planning to use a coupon on that week, only to find the store out of it when I got there. Grocery shopping is stressful enough, y'all; we don't need to be trying to figure out an alternate meal while roaming the aisles with antsy children. So now I just plan to stock up on sale items, not to cook with them — until the following week, that is.
But in spite of what I learned, for the most part I found that couponing did not live up to its claims, nor did it fit with my lifestyle.
Why I don't do couponing any more:
Coupons are for name-brand food. I rarely buy name-brand food, because I have not found any significant quality difference between name-brand and store-brand. Most of the time, all the coupon does is bring the name-brand price down to about the level of the store-brand regular price. I find it easier to just buy the store brand and be done with it.
Also, the store which I have started doing most of my grocery shopping at, Aldi, doesn't carry many name-brand items, anyway. I don't think it's worth my time or gas to go to a different store just to use a coupon or two.
Coupons are usually for processed food. I don't really buy much of that anymore. I make simple food from staple items. I buy a lot of produce, baking supplies, rice, and uncooked meat. After getting used to a less-processed diet, the thought of Hamburger Helper (or the like) makes me cringe.
Coupons are a lot of work, y'all. All that clipping and filing and finding them online and getting the printer to work and then remembering what I have… then there is the scouring of the sales flyers and the planning to go to this store and that… I'm sorry, but this just doesn't fit my usual make-it-as-easy-as-possible lifestyle.
Some people treat it like a job, and they have these amazing stockpiles, and they probably do save a lot of money. I confess that I'm just not feelin' it. I have other ways I'd rather spend my time. Such as with careful meal planning, which can also save a TON of money.
Coupons don't mesh very well with the rural lifestyle. I think to be really successful with couponing, you need to live within a few miles of many stores. I live 10 miles from Walmart and one other grocery store — and neither of them do double coupons. The amount of effort and gas it would take me to drive somewhere to use the coupons = too much for little ‘ol me.
So there's my two cents about couponing (ha! see what I did there? :-) ). I believe I can save just as much by planning simple meals and watching prices and only buying what I know we will use.
I even took a course to learn how to do all of that better. I totally thought I knew almost everything there was to know about saving money on groceries, but after just a few lessons of The Grocery Budget Makeover, I had already saved more than the amount I paid for the course itself! If you want to reduce the amount of money that you spend on food, then you might want to check it out! :-)
To coupon, or not to coupon? That is the question — to which I answer, “NO!” And there is NO GUILT if you want to join me! :-)