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What I Learned From Couponing — And Why I Don’t Do It Anymore

I think it’s time to be a little more realistic about couponing, don’t you? I mean, let’s face it; “extreme couponing” is just not practical for most of us. I personally have no desire to turn my living room into a stockpile. I just want to feed my family for as little money as possible. Can you relate?

There are lots of good frugal practices to be learned from couponing -- read to see what I learned, and also why I decided it just wasn't for me.Don’t get me wrong, I do try to save money on groceries as much as I can. The column of our budget dedicated to food is one of the very few categories that is not required to be a fixed number, so by making it as small as possible, I am freeing up money for other things.

So yes, I have tried couponing. And I did find a few wonderful buys. I also learned some great money-saving practices for buying groceries.

What I learned from couponing:

Pay attention to prices. The best way to do this is to put together a price book. By keeping track of all the regular and sale prices for a given item, I know when it is a good time to stock up. I can also decide on a target price — a price which I will not go over to purchase a given item.

Some people maintain their price books over years; it was enough for me to put it together and use it for awhile. Then I had a pretty decent idea in my head of what was a good price and what wasn’t, and which store was the least expensive place to shop.

Only buy items that you will use.  It can be really fun to find a marvelous sale price for watchamacallit, match it up with a double coupon, and buy a bunch of it! But this is not smart when watchamacallit is something that you never actually use – then you are wasting money, not saving it. I have learned the hard way that thinking I will get creative and find ways to use that item that I don’t usually purchase is rarely going to turn into reality. It is more likely that the item will sit on the shelf and eventually get thrown away.

Stock up even when you don’t need it right now, if the price is right.  This applies to items that you normally purchase and use regularly. When the price is good, buy some more, regardless of how much you have already. If you wait until you need it, then the price won’t be as good – but you’ll have to buy it because you need it, and you’ll spend more money.

Don’t plan meals around sale items – just stock up.  I don’t know how many times I would plan one of the week’s meals around something that I was planning to use a coupon on that week, only to find the store out of it when I got there.  Grocery shopping is stressful enough, y’all; we don’t need to be trying to figure out an alternate meal while roaming the aisles with antsy children.  So now I just plan to stock up on sale items, not to cook with them — until the following week, that is.

But in spite of what I learned, for the most part I found that couponing did not live up to its claims, nor did it fit with my lifestyle.

Why I don’t do couponing any more:

Coupons are for name-brand food.  I rarely buy name-brand food, because I have not found any significant quality difference between name-brand and store-brand. Most of the time, all the coupon does is bring the name-brand price down to about the level of the store-brand regular price. I find it easier to just buy the store brand and be done with it.

Also, the store which I have started doing most of my grocery shopping at, Aldi, doesn’t carry many name-brand items, anyway. I don’t think it’s worth my time or gas to go to a different store just to use a coupon or two.

Coupons are usually for processed food.  I don’t really buy much of that anymore. I make simple food from staple items. I buy a lot of produce, baking supplies, rice, and uncooked meat. After getting used to a less-processed diet, the thought of Hamburger Helper (or the like) makes me cringe.

Coupons are a lot of work, y’all.  All that clipping and filing and finding them online and getting the printer to work and then remembering what I have… then there is the scouring of the sales flyers and the planning to go to this store and that… I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t fit my usual make-it-as-easy-as-possible lifestyle.

Some people treat it like a job, and they have these amazing stockpiles, and they probably do save a lot of money. I confess that I’m just not feelin’ it. I have other ways I’d rather spend my time. Such as with careful meal planning, which can also save a TON of money.

Coupons don’t mesh very well with the rural lifestyle.  I think to be really successful with couponing, you need to live within a few miles of many stores.  I live 10 miles from Walmart and one other grocery store — and neither of them do double coupons.  The amount of effort and gas it would take me to drive somewhere to use the coupons = too much for little ‘ol me.

So there’s my two cents about couponing (ha! see what I did there? 🙂 ). I believe I can save just as much by planning simple meals and watching prices and only buying what I know we will use. 

I even took a course to learn how to do all of that better. I totally thought I knew almost everything there was to know about saving money on groceries, but after just a few lessons of The Grocery Budget Makeover, I had already saved more than the amount I paid for the course itself! If you want to reduce the amount of money that you spend on food, then you might want to check it out! 🙂

 
To coupon, or not to coupon? That is the question — to which I answer, “NO!” And there is NO GUILT if you want to join me! 🙂

About the author

Ann Karako

Ann has been homeschooling for 20+ years and has graduated four children (one more to go). She believes that EVERY mom can CONFIDENTLY, COMPETENTLY -- and even CONTENTEDLY -- provide the COMPLETE high school education that her teen needs. Ann's website, AnnieandEverything.com, offers information, resources, and virtual hugs to help homeschool moms do just that. 

Ann has written Cure the Fear of Homeschooling High School: A Step-by-Step Manual for Research & Planning and Save Your Sanity While Homeschooling High School: Practical Principles for a Firm Foundation. She also founded the popular Facebook group called It's Not that Hard to Homeschool High School, which now has over 27K members; and recently she started the It's Not That Hard to Homeschool High School Podcast.

She and her family, including two dogs and three cats, live in rural Missouri.

20 Comments

  • i was so happy to read this. After failing to find coupons for non-processed foods I gave it up. Plus, I make all my own cleaning products and toothpaste, so only a few digital coupons for me these days. Now I don’t feel so bad that I’m not clipping:-)

    • Yes, don’t feel bad, Jackie! These days it’s so easy to feel like we don’t measure up to all the ladies out there who do everything so well, isn’t it? I agree with you that the best foods don’t have coupons — haven’t seen any that I can apply in the produce aisle, lol. Non-couponers, unite! 🙂

  • I don’t do coupons because, like you said, they are for processed foods. I shop at Walmart. I look up the Aldi ads online and buy fruit and produce based on those sales with Walmart price matching. Then when I leave I scan the price in the Savings Catcher app and if there are any sales in local competitor’s ads the app catches them and I’m reimbursed the difference :). I like the idea of the price book. Do you have a picture of hour’s so we can see how it is set up?

    • Hi Mindy! I probably should do price matching more at my local Walmart, but I confess since everything else is also cheaper at Aldi, it’s less depressing for me to make the trip there. 🙂 I don’t have a price book set up right now — after you’ve used it for awhile you can kinda keep track of things in your head — but they are not difficult to put together. Here’s a great post I found: http://organizedhome.com/kitchen-tips/make-price-book-save-money. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  • I did couponing for a while during a very low period of my husband’s work, but I would have to basically concur with your thoughts. Too much work, too much clutter, too many processed yucky foods and not enough savings. It was REALLY stressful for me, but everyone is different. What I did learn from my “Couponing Classes”, was to stock up on sale items, the same that you do I never pay full price for some items. I always wait until they are BOGO. That’s a great way to save. Let’s face it, there was never a coupon available when that item had a BOGO. The companies caught on. Love the idea of the price book.

    • Yes, stressful is a good word for it. I think I only ever had ONE somewhat amazing deal — I got some jars of salsa for 35 cents apiece, or something, and thought I was really being successful at this couponing thing. But the planets didn’t ever really align again… thanks for the comment, Ms. Misfit! 🙂

  • I am so glad to come across this! My husband has been saying off-and-on for a while about how I should “do couponing” and I consistently reply something along the lines of “too much effort, not enough savings” and he always disagrees. But neither of us have actually bothered to seriously investigate “serious couponing” so we just keep disagreeing with one another and getting no where. This post has articulated my thoughts in a way that I was just unable to explain well before and I am so glad I can now show this to him!
    We live in a rural-ish area where the nearest grocery store is over 20 miles away. Often, my husband does the food shopping (based off of my lists) and he goes to Aldis also. We have decided to ban shopping at Walmart for our family and pretty much we only go to another grocery store when we need something we can’t get at Aldis- but to be honest, we really should be getting those items from local markets anyway (it’s usually produce, or honey, or cheeses that I want).

    • I totally understand wanting to ban shopping at W-Mart, even though we haven’t actually been able to completely do that yet. If you go to Aldi, then you are saving so much anyway that couponing wouldn’t do any better, I don’t think. I hope he’ll see reason if you show him this — but if he doesn’t, I absolve myself from all responsibility, lol! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  • I realize I’m replying to an older post, but I came across this and wanted to add my thoughts. I did couponing for a while and I absolutely loved it! I found things like toothpaste, deoderant, laundry soap, pasta, condiments, etc that my family used. I really didn’t care for the processed food, so I didn’t purchase it. It was really nice to have a few items on hand that I knew I paid very little for and my family would use. I think most of my couponing was with non edible items. I honestly saved a fortune. I mean, paying $.25 for a large tube of toothpaste was definitely worth my effort and when I could get 4 of them at a time, that was even more worth it to me. I found some really great deals and had a supply that I could go to and it felt good knowing that I had saved my family some hard earned money. That said, something happened that completely ruined my couponing experience. The coupon craze! TLC’s Extreme Couponing show, as well as couponing classes and other things like that made everyone in my area dive in. People became dishonest in their couponing. (Yes, that can and did happen.) Because of that, companies made their coupons worth less money and grocery stores tightened their couponing rules. It really became a rat race and to be honest, I stopped saving because the coupons were not worth enough to make it worth my while, even when I matched them to a sale price. It was really sad because people abused the system, and it ruined it for many others. I’m not alone in these thoughts. Many people have told me the same thing. So, yes at one point couponing was worth my time and effort. However, it’s not worth it now, but that’s alright. I just find myself shopping for items I will use that are on sale. That’s my two cents coupled with personal experience. Happy Shopping everyone!

    • I think I must have gotten started AFTER that shift, lol. Thanks for stopping by, Jamie! And it’s never too late to comment on a post!! 🙂

  • Personally, I love couponing, but I never successfully got started (aside from reading a book) on figuring it all out myself. I take the easy way out: I follow couponers who treat if like a job and share the deals they find on their blog (I’ve used krazy coupon lady and now couponaholic.net). I browse the deals they post, choose the ones that interest me and add them to my list for the week.
    I do have a couple of self-imposed limitations, e.g. I don’t buy the newspaper (although the price is justified even if I only use one or two coupons, I agree: too much clutter), so I only do deals with printable coupons.
    What I really wanted to mention, though, with all the talk about no coupons for fresh foods, are the rebate apps (relatively new to the couponing scene, I believe). Ibotta, checkout51, Shopmium, berrycart and shrink (these last two are new to me). The first two regularly have produce offers, although they’re not the high value of other product rebates, but I figure it adds up (and I do use some other rebates, too, so it’s worth it to me). Berrycart has a lot of organic products (which also don’t often have coupons). I think ibotta is the only one that only works at specific stores, but most stores are on the list; unfortunately, Aldi is not.

    • Ooo, great information, Whitney! I keep hearing about these apps but have not taken the plunge yet. Part of me is not happy with the whole tracking part of it — I just want to shop without the app dudes knowing what I buy, you know? But I’m beginning to think that’s just part of the world we live in now, and I could sure use the savings… Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  • I feel exactly the same way. I address a number of these same issues in my e-book about meal planning. (You can see it on amazon-it’s only 99 cents and it’s called Meal Plan for Life: The Almost Automatic Way to Create Menus That Fit YOUR Family and Lifestyle – http://amzn.to/1PbGwkq) Not only do the weekly newspapers cost money, but in order to really stock up, you need multiple papers. Just for a measly 3 papers, it would $21 here. That’s a waste in my mind.

    • A waste of more than just money — paper, too. I guess I could use it to start a fire in the woodstove… Thanks for stopping by, Christine! 🙂

  • Yes! Thank you for this great post! I use coupons occasionally, but only ones that I receive for free, only on items I normally buy, and only if I can’t get it for less at another time, brand or store. My favorite coupons are from Dollar General which you receive at the checkout. I will make a small regular purchase and receive a $5 off $25 on my receipt good for the next weekend. Then I can buy my regular DG stock up stuff there when the coupon is valid.

  • I was taught over a decade ago as a young mother how to coupon, but I learned after many attempts it was not for me and the reasons were so muc more logical than the coupons. My issue with coupons is that they never cover stuff we use or need, and if it is it’s once in a blue moon occurence. What I’ve learned is the coupons are usually for highly processed, highly fatty foods, or products with tons of chemicals. I am on a tight budget and on that budget I buy as little processed healthy food as possible with a little binge item like icecream or a baked good. I would rather use a sale or lower priced store it’s just far more logical than coupons. I have an MBA and my MBA side and college single mom side is very good at looking for deals in other ways. I love this article and I completely agree with everything you’ve stated.

    • I’m with you, Crystal! I’ve basically gotten away from highly processed foods. Money seems to go farther for produce, and it’s healthier! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

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