Couponing: Hobby or Lifestyle?
If you watch TLC, then you’ve probably heard of or watched "Extreme Couponing." It’s a TV show about people who spend countless hours per week going through coupon clippings, figuring out how to buy hundreds of dollars of goods for pennies on the dollar.
The practice of extreme couponing has become increasingly popular over the past few years as families look for more ways to be more frugal with their purchasing habits. But is there a such thing as being too frugal? (See also: Extreme Couponing? 5 Reasons Why I’ll Pass)
Saving money is obviously ideal, but if you’re spending hours per week just to save a few dollars at the supermarket, is it truly worth your time? Before you step into the couponing arena, it’s important to determine whether you want to be a hobbyist or an extreme couponer.
Anyone who has watched "Extreme Couponing" was probably dazzled by the potential savings the first time they saw the show, but in reality, saving tens or hundreds of dollars through couponing is a tricky task. It takes a lot of organization, not to mention a lot of math. You don’t want to be that person who miscalculated and either pays full price or returns all those items to the shelves, much to the annoyance of the cashier and people waiting in line behind you.
To avoid getting overwhelmed, take it slow. Even if you want couponing to be more than just a hobby, don’t fret about the deals you could be missing and squander several hours in pursuit of the most savings or free stuff. Instead, print or clip whatever coupons come your way and hold off on the more "extreme" aspects of couponing until you have more experience.
Newspaper ads and coupon leaflets used to be the most common places to find good deals, but in the past few years, couponing websites have grown in popularity. You may have to pay for the cost of printing, but it’s generally easier to find the types of coupons you’re looking for, not to mention deals (such as manufacturers’ coupons) you might not have heard about, had you stuck solely to local ads.
Couponing hobbyists tend to pick one or two sites they like and stick with those, while extreme couponers maximize their use of paper ads and surf through several couponing websites in search of hidden gems that could save them a lot of money at the store.
A few good websites for finding coupons and promotional deals include:
Regardless of whether this is just a hobby or a full-on lifestyle for you and your family, the key to succeeding at couponing is staying organized. You don’t want to be that person who holds up the line at a grocery store as you’re shuffling through a seemingly endless assortment of coupons. Instead, come up with a filing system to keep everything in order. For some couponers, this could be categorized envelopes (one for dairy products, one for toiletries, one for drinks, etc.) or an expandable folder in which you order coupons by expiration dates and stores where you can use them. Whatever works for you, as long as you can collect and organize them efficiently. Nobody wants to waste time looking around for a coupon they thought they clipped!
Understanding Wants vs. Needs
The intensity of couponing habits separates the hobbyists from the extreme couponers.
While hobbyists may spend an hour or so going through coupons, extreme couponers spend hours looking for coupons, clipping or printing coupons, and strategizing their next shopping excursion, so they can get the best deal possible. The problem here is that couponing, if not done in moderation, becomes less about saving money than it does about acquiring as much free stuff or the biggest savings possible.
Buying sixty cups of yogurt in one shopping trip just because you can get them for five cents each isn’t promoting a sustainable lifestyle unless you plan on eating all of it before it expires. Some couponers accumulate dozens of bottles of condiments, hundreds of common toiletry items, and countless drinks, simply because they were "such a good deal." While these are extreme examples, learn to differentiate between wants and needs early on in your couponing endeavors. You’ll save a lot of time, money, and space in the end.
Couponing in moderation is ultimately the best way to go about getting deals at the grocery store. Although you may miss out on some "amazing deals," you’ll have more time for other hobbies but still be able to save some money on your grocery bills.
Are you a hobbyist couponer or do you aspire to be a lifestyle couponer?