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Do you use coupons? Are you obsessed with it? Do you avoid coupons because they are more of a nuisance or are you embarrassed to use them?
If any of you have seen TLC’s Extreme Couponing, you’ve seen people buy hundreds of dollars in merchandise for pennies on the dollar. I’ve heard for years of people doing this but seeing it in action makes me crazy. First, the people literally spend hundreds of hours collecting and sorting coupons and then they have whole rooms dedicated to storing their treasures. Most all the stories I’ve seen, feature people that have stores that double the coupon value, enabling them to get items for free or close to it. I have yet to find any local stores that do this, making these kinds of savings in my neck of the woods, nearly impossible.
Does anyone really need 500 tubes of toothpaste or 700 rolls of paper towels? The people on the show call it stocking up but I call it hoarding. In their defense, many of the extreme couponers keep only what they need and donate much of what they buy to local food pantries, which I think is an excellent idea. My question is: Why can’t I find these bargains?
I actually helped a friend move a few years ago and they had tubs and bins of deodorant, soap, razors, etc. that were purchased with coupons. Most of those items have a long shelf life– but they also had an overstock of perishable items that had expired. I, of course, gave them a hard time about it and we had a good laugh over it– but seriously– when is a bargain really a bargain?
I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like to save money. The trick with coupons is knowing if you are really saving money. Coupons are a marketing gimmick. Manufacturers use coupons to entice you to either try a new product or switch brands. The questions you need to ask yourself are: 1) Do I need, or would I purchase this anyway? and 2) Is this brand a better value than my regular or store brand? Consumer confidence plays a big role in purchasing but many people don’t have the luxury of buying certain name brands. The bottom line is that people make purchases that they feel comfortable with. Another importance part of perception is quality vs. quantity. Are you really getting the same value?
Where Do You Shop?
There are many options out there when it comes to grocery shopping– and again, a lot of the choice has to do with people’s comfort and perception. Local chains, discount markets, buyers’ clubs and specialty markets all have their pros and cons. Most will accept manufacturer’s coupons and some will take coupons from other stores. You have to know the individual store’s policies ahead of time. I’m finding I can’t just go to one store anymore for a number of reasons. First, I might not like the quality of all their selections or they may not carry particular brands. Second, I’m trying to increase my fresh and healthy eating and the most convenient local grocery chain has serious issues with the freshness of their meat and produce. I can’t shop once for the week there because the fresh products will spoil. In fact, I won’t buy fresh meat unless I’m going to use it that day because too many times the meat has turned by the next day.
Another thing to consider is value. Buyers’ clubs are not always the cheapest. I think that is a misconception I’ve run in to on multiple occasions. You can save substantially buying some items in bulk but not others. Chances are individual items are the same price or slightly more expensive at buyers’ clubs than other stores because they believe you’ll pay the higher cost because of the convenience and savings on your overall bill.
My Coupon Experiment
So for the past six months I’ve been trying to be conscious of shopping sales, couponing and finding the best values. The best way to save is often by combining the store sales with the coupon discounts. Many times I’ll find a comparable product that is a better value than the sale, the coupon or both combined. The biggest mistake is to go and buy a product just because you have a coupon for it. Another thing I’ve found is that many items with coupons are not on sale the week the coupon comes out but might be on sale the following week. Most manufacturer coupons have an extended expiration date. So if an item isn’t on sale, you may want to save the coupon to use at a later date with the chance that it might go on sale, saving you more money.
I get most of my coupons online. There are various sites that offer weekly coupons from various manufacturers that you can print yourself. There are also a number of coupon groups on Facebook that will alert you to special saving opportunities. You can get coupons from manufacturers’ websites as well — but be aware that the price you pay is more advertising email in your inbox.
When I shop, I do try to shop the sales and stock up on non-perishable items to get me through to the next sale. Soup, for instance, is often on sale for $1 a can, so why would I pay $2.69 for it when it’s not on sale? This also goes for drinks. There is a lot of competition for water, ice tea, juices, coffee and sodas. They aren’t always on sale but when they are– I stock up on them because I know I’ll drink them. I also know soda will always be on sale around holidays, so that’s a great time to stock up.
I had several coupons for sunblock and suntan lotions and thought I’d check out the prices for my upcoming cruise in December. I was lucky to find one product ( a small tube) on clearance– regularly $9.99, clearance was $2.19 plus I had a $1 coupon saving me nearly 90%! I found another coupon for the same product but when I went back to the store it was back to regular price so I didn’t buy it. These are the kind of deals that you want to watch out for.
Last week, I bought 10 packages of shredded cheese, good until the end of the year, that was on clearance. (We are on a low carb diet so we eat a lot of cheese.) It so happened that the manufacturer was also running a deal that gave you a coupon for a future shopping trip. In this case, buy 10 items and save $10 on your next trip. So the cheese was marked clearance at $1.49 (reg. $2.79), I spent $14.90 and got a coupon for $10. Ten 8oz. packages of cheese for $4.90. That was a great deal.
I went shopping today with my fist full of manufacturers’ coupons, my $10 off coupon from last week, a $3 off store coupon and watched out for the sale items. I only used a fraction of the coupons I took with me but saved 47% on my entire purchase. $19.05 was from manufacturer’s coupons. Not bad for an amateur.
Remember a bargain is only a bargain if it’s something you can really use.