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?