Back in 2011, my mom gave me a book about couponing. I read it and instantly became addicted. The TLC Extreme Couponing show premiered right after that, fanning the flames of my addiction. I tell you, I would have the circulars of three different supermarkets spread out on my desk at work, trying to match coupons to sales, which is the crux of couponing. I was signing up for all kinds of clubs, mailing lists, brand rewards — my email account was overflowing. I was standing in front of CVS when they opened on Sunday mornings, trying to get the “moneymaker” items (items where you can actually end up with a credit because the savings were so great). I had a file cabinet set up with files containing the Sunday coupons, organized by week. After every shopping trip I would calculate my savings percentage. Scoring items for free or a quarter would make me giddy. You think listening to someone describe a dream they had is boring? Try listening to someone give a blow-by-blow of their trip to the supermarket. Ask my husband.
This went on up until my third child was born. After that, I just didn’t have as much time. Also, it seemed to me that as everybody and their brother started couponing, the stores got wise and the great deals were harder to come by. At this point, I think I have finally achieved coupon equilibrium. After much trial and error, I have a system that works for me. I only coupon at ShopRite. (Eventually I would like to go back to following the deals at CVS too.) Every Friday or Saturday, I start my basic list on the ShopRite Shop from Home website: regular items like diapers, milk, juice, etc. I also take a look at the ShopRite circular, which comes on Thursday. On Sunday, I check Living Rich With Coupons to see if there are any great deals — the good folks there do all the coupon-to-sale matching for you. I print any electronic coupons I need and I also go through my paper coupons. I just have one small envelope of them now; no more file cabinet. I also make a menu for the coming week. So by Sunday night, I have everything I want in my online cart. This happens in dribs and drabs all through the weekend, when I have time. In a perfect world I would be able to sit at the kitchen, spread everything out in front of me, and be done in an hour.
Most weeks, I just have a few coupons. At this point, I’m more focused on buying what’s on sale. But every few weeks, the coupon stars align and I save $15 to $25 using coupons. Shop from Home also has great, simple promotions every few weeks, e.g., save $10 when you spend $150. Our weekly grocery bill is between $150 and $200. I think that is pretty respectable considering that includes cat food, cat litter, diapers, baby wipes, cleaning supplies, etc. It is not good when you consider that we have takeout for dinner twice a week. (There is a calculator from the USDA you can use to see how your food spending stacks up to their budgets.)
I have mixed feelings about the whole endeavor now. On the one hand, I certainly have learned a lot. I never used to pay any attention to store sales, and I never bought extra of anything. Now I get a lot more bang for my buck just from buying things on sale and stocking up on them when the price is right. I hardly ever need to dash to the store for toilet paper or diapers.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that coupons are sneaky, slippery little bits of propaganda. I know there are items I bought because I had a coupon for them that I would never have bought otherwise. There have been times that I ordered an item because I was positive I had a coupon for it, then couldn’t find it. Most recently, it has become nearly impossible for me to print coupons because I’m having a Java problem, and apparently so many people are having Java problems that the coupon sites are planning to dump Java.
So to recap: Don’t throw those Sunday inserts in the trash right away. There may be a few coupons in there that you can use. Coupons.com is also good and doesn’t use Java. Most importantly, pay attention to your store’s sales and rewards programs.