On January 18,2011, I saw a post by Family Frugal about Mr Coupon and his appearance on TLC's Extreme Couponing special. This piqued my interest, and I started exploring the world of coupon bloggers. After a week of digging around in their part of the blogosphere, I had a brilliant idea -- I would become an extreme couponer and I'd blog about it! I was picturing a funny series of three or four posts, most of which would be rambling funny pieces about not being able to manage a complete grocery shopping trip (20 minutes in a grocery store and I was ready to ditch the cart and leave) or public arguments between me and my partner about stockpiling. I was going for humor. Or I thought I was.
Turns out extreme couponing is interesting. It also turns out extreme couponers are interesting and very friendly. Before I knew what had happened, I was nodding my head and saying things like, "This is so easy, why doesn't everyone shop this way?" and BAM! -- I was an extreme couponer.
I wrote my first extreme couponing post on February 3, 2011 -- a year later, I'm still an extreme couponer but it doesn't feel extreme, it feels normal. Going to a grocery store without a list, without a deal in mind, or without coupons is WEIRD, and we don't do it any more, but that's not the only thing that's changed.
When I started, I swore I would not become a stockpiler! I was the one who freaked out if my partner put three cans of tomatoes in the cart when we already had two cans at home. Today, I not only have a stockpile -- I have a stockpile room with a special can dispenser (OK two special can dispensers) to help keep my cans organized. The stockpile has grown so much that we've had to reorganize it three times in order to stay organized.
Because we have a stockpile, we rarely run out of anything -- and we rarely have to pay full price for things we use regularly. We also don't have to worry as much about skyrocketing prices for things like peanut butter. (How much are you paying right now? I have a stockpile of 12 jars of peanut butter, and I didn't pay more than .75 for any of them. Yay stockpiling!)
Besides my initial fear of the stockpile, organizing coupons was the biggest problem I faced. I started out clipping most of my coupons and putting them into little pouches in my coupon binder. That got old faster than I'd like to admit and today, my binder is pretty empty. I just don't need it.
I've moved to two expandable file folders for my coupon inserts and a manilla folder for the uncut printables. I'm using plastic envelopes labeled with the store names on them (and have a couple for free products and coupons for trial-sized products, too) and another catch-all for coupons I've clipped/found at stores but haven't used yet. This is working really well and saves time -- I don't worry about my messy coupon binder any more!
Because I'm not using a binder, I am not dragging my binder around to stores for those just-in-case moments. This does mean that I've missed out on a few potential deals, but my stockpile is such that I don't have to catch every deal anyway. I've learned that another deal always comes along, so if I miss one -- it's really OK.
Some of you may remember that I watched every episode of the first season of TLC's Extreme Couponing (and live Chattered/Tweeted them) -- I'm glad I watched those episodes. There are two huge lessons to be learned from those shows. First, the simple one - nobody really needs to buy 100 bottles of water or 100 individual candy bars unless they're trying to make a splash for TV. Second, and most important, coupon fraud hurts everyone.
I obviously knew that decoding coupons and coupon fraud were illegal and that stores and brands lose money when dishonest people do these things. But, I hadn't really stopped to think about how coupon fraud can affect those of us who use coupons properly until I watched a few episodes of Extreme Couponing.
Not all couponers shop that way. Not all couponers defraud stores and companies who provide coupons. It seems as though the interest in couponing may have brought along an increase in coupon fraud and decoding and if that keeps up, couponing as we know it today is probably going to change -- and that could be bad for us.
We still do the bulk of our shopping at the commissary, but most weeks we spend less than 1/3 of our budget there. Meijer, Jewel, and Target have picked up the slack nicely.
We've finally figured out why some people really like Aldi, even though they don't take coupons. (Have you seen their produce? And their cheese? And if you've only been to an Aldi that's run down and smelly - you must keep trying, they aren't all like that! Ours is a beautiful, beautiful place and I'm just sad we wasted so much time assuming it was like the first one we shopped at in Florida years ago.)
We even find ourselves going to Dominick's on a regular basis, and that store was pretty much off-limits because their prices are so much higher than other stores. Turns out, they do have some very good deals -- sometimes -- if their deal match/justforyou stuff actually works, (which is still a bit of a problem).
And yes, we do coupon at Whole Foods from time to time, though our Whole Foods is not nearly as coupon-friendly as I'd like. I might need to explore some of the other stores in my area. Since we only go once a week, it wouldn't be too difficult to visit another store, since we pass a few different ones from time to time. I think I'll put that on my list of things to try this year.
- This year, I must go couponing at Menards. Sarah makes it easy, and I've got to figure out how to get a trip to Menards into my schedule -- soon.
- I also need to get better at submitting refunds. I sometimes buy the products and forget to send them in on time. Or, I'll just forget to buy the things at all. Or, I won't pay enough attention to the refund chatter and completely miss the boat on a great refund opportunity.
I'm thankful to the entire coupon community for the help and inspiration they've provided me. I also want to point those of you who are new to couponing to the resources I still use every week -- these folks can help you learn how to coupon effectively:
- A Full Cup (coupon database and forums)
- Mashup Mom
- A Thrifty Mom
- Jill Cataldo
- Southern Savers
- Sarah's Deals
- Totally Target
- My Litter
You'll also find these resources helpful:
It's been a great year of couponing -- I sure hope there are some great peanut butter and toilet paper sales this year, I don't want to run out.
If you have questions about couponing, ask them in the comments, I'm happy to help.
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