On Coupons…

Coupon clipping seems to be all the rage these days. We don’t even have a tv, but I haven’t been able to miss that “couponing” is now a word, and that it can be “extreme”. When I think of “extreme”, I think X-games, and risking your life doing stunt sports, not waiting in line at the local Safeway.

In case you’ve missed this cultural phenomenon, here’s a clip:

But, coupons and I actually go way back. For as long as I can remember, it was my job growing up to clip all the coupons my dad would pull out of the Sunday paper, and file them in their respective envelopes in the yellow file box, aka the “coupon box”. I had to weed out expired coupons, makes sure the twenty-something envelopes were always in alphabetical order… you know, your basic coupon box maintenance chores.

On Wednesdays, the grocery ads would come out, and my dad would circle items in the ads for the list, marking them with a “C” if they were only on the list if there were coupons for them. I had to write up the list for each grocery store, and staple the appropriate coupons to each list. On the weekends, he’d head out before sunrise, often taking me along, and we’d go to three or four different supermarket chains to get all of their best deals.

Was this a cheap way to feed a family of five? Yes. But we weren’t eating all that healthily. The pantry was always stocked with sugary cereals and all the hamburger helper and mac ‘n cheese we could make, but fresh fruits and veggies were more rare. Seriously did you take a look at that Extreme Coupon video? Anyone want to guess at the ratio of fresh healthy foods to packaged carbs filled to the brim with preservatives?

 

Fast forward a decade or so and I am somewhat surprised to find myself using a variation of my dad’s system. I pick up the paper at the end of my run every Sunday morning, and after reading all the local politics and real estate market news that’s fit to print, I go through and clip the coupons. (Is it just me or are there way fewer cereal coupons printed these days than there were in the 90’s?)

I don’t want to sacrifice our health in the name of cost savings… my dad has type 2 diabetes, and I’m sure the last 30 years of eating from his coupon purchases has played some part in that. And I don’t want to waste money with coupons either. There’s a reasons they get published – the marketers know that people (on average) spend more when they have coupons.

 

Here are some of the guidelines that I use when it comes to coupons.

  1. Would I put this product into/onto my body if it weren’t a “great deal”? If we don’t eat potato chips regularly, why buy them just because they’re cheap? Junk is still junk. Would you buy a hideous shirt if it were only $1? Where would you ever wear it?
  2. Do we need this much of this product? I’m not opposed to having a reasonable stockpile of supplies on hand. Who doesn’t hate running out of shampoo and garbage bags mid-week and not having time to get to the store until it’s become a huge annoyance. But how many do you really need? 6? 20? Think of how fast you go through something, and try to figure out if you’ll use it all up before the next time that product is likely to go on sale.
  3. Will it go bad before I’ve had the chance to use it? Food is the obvious target with this one. You think salad dressing lasts forever, but it doesn’t. It expires. And so do things like face soaps and lotions. Maybe they’re still usable, but some of the more desirable chemical properties have deteriorated.
  4. If I buy more, will I consume more? I think of this as the Peanut Butter effect in our house. When there is peanut butter in the house, we eat it – often before anything else. But when it’s not there, neither of us really craves it or feels like we’re missing out. So by not buying peanut butter as often, we’re probably actually eating healthier.
  5. What are the storage costs involved? I’ve heard that the Extreme Couponing crowd often has extended pantries, basements, and sometimes even rented storage space to keep all their bargains. But I have to ask… if you’re paying for that storage, either through rent, wasted space in your home, or the stress of dealing with it all when you could have a cleaner more organized living environment, then all those boxes of Rice Krispies don’t seem like the bargain they were anymore, huh?

Keeping those things in mind helps me keep our house stocked with enough of what we need, and very little of what we don’t, while trying to save a bit of money in the meantime.

 

What are your experiences with coupons? Any “Extreme Couponers” out there that I’ve offended?

 

Cheers,

Mrs. PoP

 

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