Couponing: Hobby or Lifestyle?

by Kelly Kehoe on 13 May 2013 4 comments

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.

Getting Started

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.

Finding Coupons

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:

Staying Organized

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.

The Verdict

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?

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Guest's picture

I only clip coupons that I use, and I haven't done the drugstores in a year because I built up a stockpile that was enough for my family for a long time. I think for most people, it's money- and time-efficient when it's done strategically. The full-on Krazy Coupon Lady way is NOT for me.

Guest's picture
Becca

I'm a hobbyist, but I do end up getting a lot of items for free or a few cents. At first, I wasn't that great at it and actually overspent a lot of the times. However, what I've learned is to not refer to the generic nationwide couponing blogs (krazycouponlady, etc...), but look at blogs of couponers in your area. Those are the ones that have an idea of the current deals and sales for your local stores and how you can stack coupons and sales to your benefit.

Guest's picture
C.j.

I agree with the article slow and steady saves the pennies when it comes to couponing these days. I do clip coupons as a hobby but definitely NOT extreme. I only get two newspapers since I buy a lot of basics I need in twos and that's it. With a lot of crack down on coupon policies and manufacture's lowering the redemption values these days on coupons, to me it seems like you're only saving pennies instead of dollars on items these days. About a year ago for example, I could save a $1 off 1 item like soap powder or tissue now its about .40 cents off one and $1 off 3 these days, which makes stretching dollars a bit harder these days. Not to mention, a lot of stores in my area no longer double coupons anymore either, there's only just 1 now that still does

I still think using coupons do help, but it takes a little longer to find bargains and good deals than it used too. For example, when it comes to things like paper goods and laundry detergents the dollar stores in my area offer better deals than some of the grocery stores do. For those that do extreme couponing I wish there were more articles on maintaining couponing etiquette that deals with how not to be that-couponer-the one's that are rude with an attitude We've all seen at some point or another LOL! That would surely be nice!

Guest's picture

I love coupons and I'm also a business owner. Coupons are a marketing strategy a business (store, restaurant or manufacturer) uses to promote their business or product. Taking advantage to an extreme is wrong. Stripping a business of their profitability is wrong. Good business is when EVERYBODY wins. Consumer meets product and a sale price, consumer tries product, consumer likes product,consumer repeats.

A relationship established around a good promotion (in this case,a coupon) is the idea. Not, "lets take advantage and buy stuff below cost so it hurts the business".

Good business is a 2-way street. Extremism is almost any form is negative.