The extreme couponing fad hit its high water mark a few years ago. That doesn’t mean it’s gone away, and every time someone shows up on TV or a magazine article is published, the race is on again to figure out how to do extreme couponing.
If you’re wondering how using coupons can get extreme, consider this hypothetical example. You see a coupon in the newspaper for $1 off of something. For our sake, let’s say it’s $2 off of a bag of cookies. Now, let’s say that the grocery store is having a sale where those cookies are 2 for $4. Bam! You’ve got yourself some free cookies.
That’s not really extreme, yet.
Now, imagine that you go through the recycle bin at your office building and find eight of those coupons and you get eight bags of free cookies.
That’s a little more extreme.
Now, imagine that you build your entire shopping list around this sort of deal and you roll home with $300 worth of groceries for just $23.
Now, that’s extreme.
Is Extreme Couponing Right for Me?
Coupons can save you money, there is no doubt about that. If you have a coupon for something you were going to buy anyway, you’d be a fool not to use it. But, does that mean that extreme couponing is right for you?
The allure of extreme couponing is the math. Getting stuff worth $200 for just $10 sounds amazing, and it is. However, there is a catch. First, a word about that math. The $200 for $10, means that you got $200 of regularly priced stuff for $10. In other words, you might have gotten the same $200 worth of stuff for $125 without doing anything “extreme,” just by getting the sale price and using your SooperCard or Safeway Card, or whatever. In this case, you didn’t save $190, you save $115. It’s not that it’s insignificant, it’s just that everyone gets the “normal” sale prices.
Second, you’re not going to walk into your local Safeway on any given day and walk out with $200 worth of milk, juice, bread, eggs, cheese, meat and produce. Most times, that $200 will include several duplicates of the same item where a really great sale combined with a really great coupon. In our cookie example above, it’s unlikely that you need eight bags of cookies for the week. On the other hand, assuming they are sealed, they won’t expire for a long time. As a result, now, you don’t have to buy cookies for 8 weeks. Your savings are twofold, one that you got them for free, and two the money you save by not buying them the next time.
In other words, extreme coupon doesn’t work by showing up with your menu and a little file box full of coupons. You get those numbers by taking advantage of uncommon opportunities and then stocking up. If you take advantage of a sale and some coupons to get 6 bottles of ketchup for $1, that’s great, but you’ll still need another $150 worth of regular groceries to actually feed the family for the week.
As you can imagine, to really make extreme coupons work for you, you are going to have to store some stuff. In fact, if you read into detail on any of the extreme coupon websites, you’ll notice they frequently mention donating items to charity. There aren’t many families that will go through 100 lbs of dried beans in a reasonable amount of time, no matter how free they were.
In order to make extreme couponing really pay off for you, you’ll need good storage. A second pantry and a standalone freezer are required to go really hard core into couponing. Otherwise you’ll be running out of places to put your ten boxes of pasta you got for just $2.00. Read the success stories on couponing forums, and you’ll notice that people only get to feeding their family for $25 a week after they’ve been doing it for a while and have a large stockpile of items that fill in the gaps of items that were not on sale on any shopping trip.
It’s also hard to be an extreme couponer if you are a picky eater, or are loyal to certain brands. Master level couponing requires buying the best deal on laundry soap with the lowest price and the biggest coupon, not buying Tide when there is no coupon and no sale.
It also helps if you have a big family, or maybe multiple families that can share. In many ways extreme shopping with coupons is a lot like buying in bulk at places like Costco or Sam’s Club. A dozen tubes of free toothpaste is a bomb shelter level supply for someone living alone. It’s just a few months worth for a family of seven.
Free Coupon Deals Are Harder
Remember that the way you get to extreme coupon number is by getting free deals and then getting LOTS of them. It’s not that you’ll necessarily get 25 different items for free. In fact, getting something free often requires that the item be on sale and that you have more than one coupon for the item (and the store allows that). Many times, there will be a limit on the number you can purchase. When you can get free deals, however, is when your couponing math looks the most impressive.
When Coupons Are Not a Good Deal
There is an old joke, that relies on ’50s stereotypes, where the wife comes home with a new dress she bought for $100. The husband complains about the money she spent, and the wife replies, “It was on sale. It’s normally $200, so I actually saved you money.”
The wrong kind of power coupon usage can be just like that joke. Manufacturers don’t use coupons to save you money, they use coupons to make them money. The motivation may be to sell more units, get you to try a new brand, or maybe even get you to buy more. That’s why you’ll see lots of coupons that require you to buy more than you normally would.
A coupon for $2 off of 3 jars of salsa, might make sense for a family of five, but no sense if you’re the kind of person who lives alone and takes a month to get through a single jar. In that case you bought $9 worth of salsa with a $2 savings for a total of $7. Or, you could have just bought one bottle for $3. It takes three months for this coupon to pay off. As long as it’s something that doesn’t go bad, it might still be worth it to you. Otherwise, you’re just better off paying $3 every month and not throwing away expiring food.
In the end, it’s always a great idea to try and save money. Just remember that extreme couponing takes time and patience and a big pantry. If it works for you, then do it and do it well. If not, take advantage of low prices and coupons whenever you can. Every little bit adds up.