Photo by ilovememphis
I do use coupons sometimes, but I am definitely not an extreme couponer. I spend an hour a week at most clipping and printing coupons--time that I'm not always convinced is well spent. I don't make enormous bulk purchases because I'm kind of a minimalist. I just don't like having more than a few extras of something taking up space in my house. Also, I only have one small fridge/freezer, and that limits how much perishable stuff I can buy at once.
Extreme couponers seem to experience a real high from their coupon deals. They also seem to experience a great deal of stress in the checkout line. I can relate to both of these feelings. But to be honest, my overall feeling is that I would rather shop somewhere with groceries that are reasonably priced every day, where I don't need to use coupons to make my grocery budget work. This saves me time and allows me to buy what I want instead of what I have a coupon for.
When I go grocery shopping at Target, I can grab pretty much anything and be assured that while I may not be getting the best deal ever, I am not getting ripped off and I am not going to blow my budget. In contrast, all of the big chain grocery stores in my area inflate their prices so much that I would be crazy to do my shopping there without first arming myself with a store loyalty card and an envelope full of coupons. I don't like shopping at these stores because it really does feel like I am fighting a battle against the store for my money. The way their registers ring items up makes it extremely difficult to tell whether items are scanning for the correct price, so I have to scrutinize my receipt before I leave the store. It's all very stressful.
Another reason I don't enjoy couponing is that for me, time is literally money because I am self-employed. I realize that for homemakers and for people with regular jobs, this isn't the case, so saving tons of money with extreme couponing techniques is kind of like becoming self-employed or taking a second job and turning idle time into money. But for me, I have to think about whether my time is better spent clipping coupons or writing a blog post, clipping coupons or pitching an article idea, clipping coupons or giving myself a break so I will be well-rested enough to do my best work later. I also find that when I shop with coupons, I spend much more time in the store, so that's another time cost that I have to factor in. I also don't care much for shopping and find it irritating to spend a lot of time at the store, so for me, there is also a psychological cost to using coupons.
Though I have never been an extreme couponer, there have been times in the past when I used coupons much more heavily than I do now. These days, I usually limit myself to coupons for five items. Whatever coupons offer the best deals for things I actually want or need to buy are the coupons I use. I no longer go to multiple stores, spend two hours hunting around one store for coupon items, or drag my husband to the store with me to try to maximize my deals. I don't make special trips to the store to use coupons that are about to expire, I don't spend hours planning out my shopping trips, and I only clip coupons during idle time, such as while I'm heating up food in the microwave. I am much more aware of the need to balance saving money with saving time and saving my sanity.
Like fellow financial writer Katherine Preston, I don't think that extreme couponing is a viable option for most people. I think that being aware of the different techniques for saving money on groceries and household items is wise, but extreme couponing is not a one-size-fits-all activity. There are many paths to saving money on groceries, and everyone should use the money-saving shopping techniques that work best for them.