Thursday, June 9, 2011

Couponing: A Follow-Up

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.

When I reviewed the book, How to Shop for Free by Kathy Spencer, I promised to try a few things with coupons:
1. Try the Extra-Bucks thing at CVS.
2. Get my hands on some coupons from the Sunday paper.
3. Order coupons online and stock up.

After leaving CVS nearly in tears tonight and then spending a bit of time on Ebay looking for coupons that I might actually want and finding all of none, I have come to some conclusions, well, one conclusion: Couponing in any sort of extreme variety, is not for me.

In fact, I think all those couponers out there are nuts. You're not offended are you, couponers. Don't be, because in reality, I think those extreme couponers are just highly intelligent. My trips to CVS have left me wondering why these people are wandering through the toothbrush aisle instead of removing brain tumors. They definitely have a way with order and numbers and slow steady patience that I lack. I, for one, have certainly acquired a brain tumor from my couponing excursions (or perhaps a brain ulcer--is that a possibility; if so, I'm sure I have one).

Now, let me explain. Here in Evansville, Indiana (motto: sidewalks are for losers), there is no kind of doubling, tripling, or multiplicity of any variety in coupon-land. If it says $.50 off, that's what you get. Already the coupon cards are stacked against us because couponing takes time--in my smallish brained case--a good bit of time (and we're just talking CVS). For me, the time spent finding coupons, clipping coupons, reading ads, and wandering the aisles is simply not worth the pay off.

Let's take tonight's trip to CVS for example (it's my 3rd and most intense trip, but they've all been somewhat like this). I spent 20 minutes looking at the ad and writing down the things I wanted to get. I spent 10 minutes coordinating getting the coupons from freecycle. I spent an hour (yes, you heard me) wandering through CVS trying to match coupons to sales to Extra-Bucks deals. In most cases, I was unsuccessful in my matching game. I'd have a buy one get one free coupon, but the thing I could get for free wouldn't be there--or even more maddeningly--it wouldn't be the right size, so the coupon wouldn't work. For me this was the most frustrating part. I went into the store kind of expecting to walk out with some pretty good deals, and they just weren't there. In the end, I saved $4 in manufacturer's coupons. A good Sunday paper would have cost me about that. (As it was, I got mine from a nice lady off of freecycle, but that cost a bit of effort too, and a favor from a friend who picked them up for me). I also had a 20% coupon for my "entire" purchase. When I read the fine print however, (that'd be after my purchase--and, no, I won't be removing any brain tumors any time soon), it turns out that it's 20% off items that aren't on sale. Well, I was shopping mainly sale items, so my savings were considerably smaller than I expected. I spent $31 (ouch ouch and double ouch--if it was in food items I would have wrecked our cheap eat challenge). I got $6 in extra bucks, which takes the bill (provided I use those extra bucks, which you better believe I will) down to $25. I did buy all items that I will use and have been wanting and/or needing. And I now have at least 6 months worth of good shampoo and conditioner as well as toothpaste. Which isn't too bad. But nothing was free tonight, or even really close. And then I got to my car and realized I had a $4 off $20 coupon in my wallet. And that's when, after an hour of reading teeny tiny letters on teeny tiny coupons and trying to match codes and even getting a rain check for a toothbrush, I wanted to cry. And I remembered something--something important in coupon world. I am an idiot. No, no, that's not what I remembered. What I remembered is this: Couponing is a game. If you make a false move, you will lose at the game. I'd made a false move and I'd cost myself 12% off my total bill.

My Two Cents: What's Worth It and What's Not:

1. It's worth it to take a look at the ads, although I'd recommend you choose one or two stores. If they've got stuff you've really been wanting or needing and it has extra bucks attached, or if they extra bucks will actually make it "free," get it. Milk with extra bucks is always a good deal for me. As is toothpaste/shampoo if I need it (as of now, I don't and won't for a while).
2. If you get a Sunday paper because you like the Sunday paper, have a look at the coupons. I realized that the Sunday paper coupons are way way way better than the coupons I find online. I was surprised by how many more and how much better and how much longer till expiration. They could save you some money. For me, it's not worth it to try to match and all that; I just didn't have success and it made me feel like I had to go to 40 different stores to find things and that made me want to poke my eyes out, but if the coupon is for something you'd get anyway, then why not use it? I don't think buying a Sunday paper or even hunting one down is worth it in an area without coupon-doubling/tripling, especially if you cook from scratch.
3. It is nice that I have nicer shampoos for generic prices, but I'm not sure it's worth it to me to play the game, but maybe it is to you.
4. After I started perusing the CVS ads online, I started getting coupons to my email. I did not ask for these. They merely came. Sure that's creepy and I'm quite confident that my computer is more intelligent than I am, though hopefully Kip can give it a run for its money. However, those coupons were super easy to get and they saved me some money. Even if you just run in for one little thing, 20% is still 20%.
5. For Ebay coupon hunting, I think it's worth your while to look for coupons when items tend to be on sale anyway (i.e. chocolate chips at Christmas time). You could end up getting a whole bunch and having a nice little stockpile. But other than that, it just takes so much time to search for the coupons you want. And I was woefully unsuccessful. Additionally, Ebay makes it so easy to get distracted (especially when you're discouraged by not finding the coupons you want) and you might get depressed and have to salve you coupon wounds by buying cute new rain boots (no, I didn't, but that doesn't mean I didn't want to).
6. As I've alluded to a couple times above, one of the problems I encountered in my couponing experiment was that I started feeling like I needed to go to more and more stores to get the very best deal to match whatever coupon I had. Also I felt I had to go to the store that week. This isn't how I want to spend my life. And it's not how I want to spend my summer vacation with my kids. Additionally, it creates a type of urgency in shopping that is unbefitting to cheapskates. It works only for the most disciplined and educated shopping divas. As for the rest of us, we just end up getting blue nail polish and extra popsicle molds because we were in the store, walked past them, and they were on sale. Generally speaking--the more you shop and the more stores you go to, the more you're going to spend. I know it isn't true across the board, but I also know that it's true a lot of the time.

In Short:

1. Don't ignore coupons you come across with little or no effort (I get them in my mail or inbox periodically); clip the ones for things you always buy and put them in your purse.
2. Do it a little if you have the time. Go for milk/shampoo/truly needed things with extra bucks and throw in some coupons if they're around.
3. Do it a lot if you love shopping, have a large brain, and tend to win at the games you play.


  1. There is a blog where they do all the coupon to sale item matchups for you. Hope that helps.

  2. Thanks Amy. I'll have a look. I have to say, though, that in my remedial position, I have just as much trouble at the store finding the item that matches the coupon that matches the match-up. I don't suppose I could hire someone to hold my hand while I'm there:). But seriously, I'll have a look at the site. I know that there are deals there and we have a CVS ridiculously close to our house. It seems a shame not to be able to make this work.

  3. Buy-Low sometimes has double coupons. You have to check their weekly ad (they have them this week, thru Monday). I like to check their ad and Schnucks' ad (online or if they come in the mail), then if there's something we use on sale, go to couponmom or some other site and search for printable coupons for the same thing. By doing this, I have gotten good deals on cereal (like Schnucks would have it 3 boxes for $5 and then I have a $1/2 so I get it for $1.16/box, so cheaper than Aldi). I got Suddenly Salad for 75c/box this way at Buy Low, and a box of Cheerios for $1. We don't really eat Suddenly Salad, but for 75c we'll try! Hope that helps.

  4. I actually do take a jaunt to Buy Low every so often. i didn't know they doubled coupons; I'll have to keep my eye on their ad. But they do have some really good loss leaders and sales and in-ad coupons.



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