By Julie Ann
Earlier this year, the cable television network TLC premiered a new show called “Extreme Couponing.” I didn’t have a TV when it premiered and haven’t caught a rerun yet, but I did read plenty of reaction to the show on Facebook and Twitter. The consensus seemed to be that the extreme coupon participants actually belonged on the TV show “Hoarders” or that using coupons to end up with 500 bottles of mustard wasn’t really a savings.
The phenomenon has also received plenty of press beyond the opinions of social network users. I have seen articles on how many stores are implementing rules to curb the excessive and abusive use of coupons and more recently how newspaper thefts have risen since the show’s debut.
The fact of the matter is dumpster diving or stealing newspapers to get enough coupons to score 900 rolls of paper towel s so that you have to rent a storage unit to store them or spending all night clipping coupons for products you really don’t need isn’t at all economical, smart or practical.
So if extreme couponing might not be a good idea, then what’s the alternative? It’s practical couponing. Here’s how it works out in my life, some tips and things to look out for when couponing.
My best source for coupons is the Sunday newspaper. Every Sunday on my way home from church I swing by a store or newsstand and pick up The Oregonian. The cool thing about it is that it always lists how much coupon savings that week’s paper contains. The paper costs me $2 so it’s always my goal to find at least $2 worth of savings to recoup the cost of the paper (However, I do consider that I get a benefit out of the paper besides coupons.) Once I get home I comb through the coupon booklets and pull out the ones I can use. I then look through the department store circulars and note the items on sale. It’s a huge double score to find an item on sale and find a coupon for it too!
The newspaper isn’t my only source. I am constantly getting coupons in the mail and there are tons of Web sites out there that will help you find deals and printable coupons. My local grocery store even has a coupon exchange basket in the front of the store where you can take and leave coupons. Keep your eyes peeled because coupons are everywhere!
After I clip my coupons, I keep them in a centralized location (pinned to my refrigerator.) Before I head off to the store I go over my coupons and pull out the ones I can use on that trip. I’m a planner and rarely make impulse buys so I only take what I need. However, if you are an impulsive shopper, you should consider a coupon wallet so that you can have all the coupons with you in case you run into something you need.
Because coupons are typically for name brand products, you may need to do some comparison shopping to make sure you are actually saving money. For example, if Name Brand Soap costs $3.65 but Store Band Soap costs $2.99 you won’t be saving anything by using your 50 cent coupon (assuming the store brand’s quality is equal to the name brand and it often is.) Read the labels carefully and use good judgment before you buy. However, if Name Brand Soap goes on weekly sale for $3.35 you will come out ahead if you buy Name Brand Soap and use your 50 cent coupon.
Another thing to watch out for is coupons that require you to buy multiple products to receive the savings. For example, last week I had to buy 10 yogurt cups to save 70 cents. Since I eat yogurt pretty much every day, this was reasonable. However, if you can’t consume multiple products before they expire then buying two or more for a few cents savings isn’t practical. You can combat this by going in with a friend and spitting the savings.
Another helpful thing to know when using coupons is how and when stores are willing to accept coupons. Are there times when they will double value your coupons? Will they allow you to use a manufacturer and store coupon together? Don’t be afraid to ask the cashier the store’s couponing policy, especially now that some stores are cracking down. Be respectful of the policy and cut the clerk some slack if they must comply by the store’s rule. Some stores will post their policies on their Web sites, so you can check that out and perhaps choose the best store (for your financial advantage) accordingly.
For store loyalists and those who think clipping is just too time-consuming, check out Hassle-free Coupons, and learn more about Cellfire.com’s system that works for even the busiest or most forgetful shoppers.
If you follow these tips, you may not see savings of thousands of dollars like the people on the show, but you can very easily find a minimum three to five dollars in coupon savings a week which may add up to at least a hundred dollars a year in savings. And practical couponing doesn’t require scrounging for dirty newspapers or wasting your entire life clipping and organizing. And remember – if you look like a crazy person, then maybe it’s not really saving at all.
By Julie Ann