My Adventures in Extreme Couponing…

A few weeks ago, I found J watching Extreme Couponing.  Never in a million years did I think he would watch that show, but there he was…completely fascinated.  I was trying to get out of the house to run errands and he kept calling me back into the room.  Finally, I gave in and we watched two episodes together.  A week later, we watched a marathon.  Now we DVR the shows.  We are totally hooked.

When we first bought our house  I was determined to be a thrifty shopper and to keep the house fully stocked at all times.  To do that, I decided to start clipping coupons.  After a few months, I realized I was buying things I didn’t need just because I had a coupon and food started going bad before we had a chance to eat it.  Also, cutting and sorting and keeping the coupons organized took a really long time.  So I stopped.

But I was so intrigued with the thought of getting $2,000 worth of groceries for $10 that I decided to give this extreme couponing thing a shot.  The first thing I did was research.  I watched Extreme Couponing a lot, but I didn’t really understand how these people were managing to find these great deals and I definitely didn’t understand the math.  Turns out, there is a LOT of work and planning that goes into getting free groceries.  It also turns out that most of these strategies rely on things like being able to use an unlimited amount of coupons, unlimited doubling of coupons, special store discounts and the allowance of overages…when the coupon value exceeds the price of the item.  And the real key to extreme couponing is building a stockpile of goods so that you only have to buy what’s on sale, but you still have everything you need.

Well…I wasn’t willing to build a stockpile in my house.  I don’t have the room and I really think it’s a little bit nuts.  Then I found that the stores where I live have policies that limit the number of coupons you can use at a time and they only double coupons for less than $1 and none of them allow overages at all.  I also knew that I’d never walk around my neighborhood, asking my neighbors for their unused coupons and I was certainly not going to go dumpster diving for coupon inserts, so I was limited to the coupons that came in my Sunday paper.  Ok…clearly I’m never going to be featured on the show!  But I still wanted to see how much money I could save if I used coupons and did a little planning…instead of just walking into the store and buying whatever looked interesting.

The answer is…a lot.

I started by going through the coupon inserts and cutting out coupons only for the products that we use…though I decided not to be too brand loyal.  Then I went through all the grocery store circulars, which is something I’d never done before.  I circled everything I thought was a good deal or that we might need.  Next, I went through the fridge and pantry and made a shopping list of things we needed or things we were starting to run out of.  I matched up the store sales and the coupons to my list, organized everything and headed out to the store.  My shopping trip took a little longer than usual as I stopped several times to double and triple check my list and coupons.  I also bought more groceries that I would in a normal week.

After I went home and put my groceries away, I sat down with my receipt and a spreadsheet to see just how much I’d saved.  About 40%.

I’ve been doing this for every shopping trip in the last four weeks and so far I’ve saved over $300.  In just 4 weeks!  I’ve spent a little more on groceries than I normally would have, but I decided to stop up on some things that we use all the time.  We now have a lot of shower gel, tampons, toilet paper and paper towels…things we tend to run out of quickly.  I also stocked up on canned goods at last week’s Shop Rite Can-Can sale.  It’s been really nice to have a fully stocked kitchen and it’s made it really easy to cook more often.  In the last week, I’ve only gotten take-out for J once…and that’s because he was really craving Wendy’s.

I’m officially hooked.  I will never go to the grocery store again without a plan and a packet full of coupons.

I’ve picked up a few little tips as well…from watching Extreme Couponing and from my own experiences…

  • Comparing stores is a must.  I found that the prices at one local store are wildly lower than all the others…and it’s my new favorite place to shop.
  • Some weeks will be better than others…it just depends on what coupons are available and what you need to buy.
  • You don’t need a huge stockpile that takes over your entire basement, but keeping a few extras on hand is always a good idea.
  • The more detailed your list and the more organized your coupons, the easier it will be when you are shopping.  The first time I did this I had to keep checking my coupons to make sure I was buying the right size or number of products…now I just write all that information right on the list.
  • Make sure you check your receipts before you leave the store to be sure that you’ve gotten all the discounts and coupons to which you are entitled…because the cashiers make mistakes.  And call a manager over if there is a problem.
  • Make sure you compare the unit prices…for example, a 200 count bottle of Aleve with a $4 discount was still more per pill than the 80 count bottle without the discount.
  • Don’t get sucked into buying something you aren’t going to use just because you have a coupon…because it’s a waste of money.
  • Coupon clipping services can be a good idea…sometimes.   There was a coupon for $5 off each bag of the dog food we use…which is really expensive.  I only had one, but I ordered 5 more from a clipping service.  I paid a total of $2.10 for the coupons, but I saved $25.  If you need a lot of one particular coupon or the coupons are for a high dollar amount I think those kinds of services are totally worth it.

I’ve started a savings account and every week that I spend less than my food budget because of coupons I’m going to deposit the difference into the account.  I’m hoping to have a couple of thousand dollars by the end of the year.  Who’s with me?

So tell me…do you use coupons?  Have you ever tried an “extreme” trip where you got everything for free?  Does your store allow overages? Have you ever been to a Shop Rite Can-Can sale?

What I learned at the grocery store…

Who knew going grocery shopping for Thanksgiving dinner could be educational?  Here’s what I learned last night while collecting the ingredients for our feast…

  • You are not the only person who waits until the last minute to plan a menu and shop for food.  Expect the grocery store to be packed…at 9pm on Tuesday night.
  • The lines and signs in a grocery store parking lot are merely suggestions and you can really drive and park wherever you want.
  • When you wait until the last minute you will have to go to two different stores to get everything on your list because one store will be out of at least three different items. 
  • It’s impossible to get people to move using telepathy – you know, like the guy who blocked access to the turkeys with his cart while he chatted on his phone and drank coffee.  Staring at him while thinking “Move asshole!” will do nothing.
  • If you are going ask the person on the phone to move you are going to have to yell…otherwise they won’t hear you over their own self-importance.
  • Pre-cut vegetables are more expensive, but not having to peel and cut up potatoes is so worth the extra money.
  • People will eat anything if there is a “free sample” sign next to it…even if there is no sign indicating what it is.  This seems to be especially true of cheese and baked goods.
  • It is possible for two grown women to get into a shouting match over a bag of marshmallows. 
  • It’s amusing to watch two grown women get into a shouting match over a bag of marshmallows. 
  • If you strike up a conversation with the person in line ahead of you, you might get yourself invited to Thanksgiving dinner. 
  • If the surly teenager at the register is tired and wants to go home, he will ignore you for five minutes while refilling his bags and talking to his friend at the next register.  If this happens, it’s completely acceptable to throw a 14-pound turkey at him. 
  • If you shop with a boy you will end up with random things in your cart that were not on your list.
  • If you shop alone you will spend far less money than if you shop with a boy.
  • Finding room in the refrigerator for all your newly acquired groceries might require an advanced degree in engineering. 

As you can see, my shopping trip was…eventful.  Want to know what was even better?  When we got home and went to brine the turkey only to find it didn’t fit in any of our cookware.  That was a good time.  Also, when J finally managed to get the turkey into a pot and covered in brine and halfway to the fridge…and then spilled the water…the nasty turkey water…all over the floor and the inside of the fridge.  What was awesome. 

Actually…the very best part was when J suggested we cook and eat the turkey neck.  Turkey grosses me out.  Eating things like necks and feet and tongues grosses me out even more.  So turkey neck?  Um, no.  I gagged right there and immediately threw that disgusting thing in the trash.  I’m gagging now just thinking about it. 

So who else is cooking for Thanksgiving?  Are you going to use the neck and giblets of the turkey?  Have you done your shopping?

For the love of the groceries…

I love grocery shopping.  Is that strange?  I think it might be.  I remember growing up, my mother hated going to the grocery store.  To this day she avoids that place like the plague and makes my dad do all the shopping.  I don’t know why exactly, but I suspect it has something to do with her apathy towards food in general.  Unlike me, she eats because it’s a biological requirement.  She hates cooking.  She’ll eat whatever is there and sometimes, if nothing is, she’ll just skip dinner.  I don’t understand this way of thinking at all.  Skip dinner?  Not in my house. 

No, for me, food is practically a religious experience.  I read food magazines and cookbooks.  I watch Food Network all the time.  I’m a great baker, but a lousy cook…although that doesn’t stop me from trying.  Good food is very important to me.  So I guess it makes sense that I like to go to the grocery store.

Tuesday was a rotten day at work.  I was really stressed and tired when I got home and it was a sweltering 101 degrees when I left the office.  On the ride home from work, J and I had our usual “what do you want to do for dinner?” conversation.  I knew there was no food in the house and that I’d have to go to the store.  I wasn’t especially looking forward to that because I was tired and cranky.  But I collected my coupons and my list and off I went. 

As soon as I walked into the store a feeling of calm came over me.  It was freezing in there in a way that my house will never be.  It was a Tuesday night, so it was basically empty.  I collected my cart, got out my list and got a scanner.  My grocery store has scanners that you take with you and scan your groceries as you shop.  I love this…it makes checkout so much easier and I can keep track of what I’m spending while I shop.  I started out in produce, with a quick stop at the deli.  Then I strolled each aisle, leisurely selecting items I wanted.  I stopped to read labels and check out new products.  I compared prices and sales.  I sang along quietly with the easy listening favorites playing over the sounds system.  I smiled at other shoppers as I passed them.

Only twice was I bothered.  The first time it was by two kids who were running wildly up and down an aisle, screaming and knocking things over.  I gave their mother a dirty look as I passed her…not that she did anything to stop them.  The second time was by a woman who was yapping loudly into her cell phone while she followed me down two aisles.  I gave her a dirty look too…because, really, what is so important that you have to talk on the phone while you shop?  Get off the damn phone…you are harshing my mellow!  If I wanted to be annoyed while I was shopping, I’d bring J with me.  (Note: We used to shop together, but he annoys me too much…touching everything and asking a lot of questions and bitching when I buy brand names instead of the store brand…so now I leave him home.  He helps unload and put away.  He’s much better at that.)

While I was loading my groceries into the car I realized how much better my mood was and that it was all due to my relaxing shopping experience.  I started to wonder if this love of grocery shopping was strange?  Are most people like me or is my mom’s hatred of it closer to the norm?  What do you all think?  Love it or hate it?