Ever since TLC decided that it would make for good reality television to follow around a bunch of folks who use coupons and dub them “Extreme Couponers”, there’s been a ton of talk about the people on the show, and people like them. People who spend hours each day clipping coupons and then checking them against store fliers all so they can create spreadsheets and action plans on how to best use the coupons in order to pay the least amount of money for whatever it is that they are buying.
So far, I’ve avoided talking about these people. I figure it’s about time that I make my thoughts known. What kind of personal finance site would Beating Broke be if we didn’t talk about one of the hottest topics in the personal finance world. My immediate take upon watching an episode of the show was that the people on it are a bit OCD. I like my money, and I’d rather not part with it if I don’t have to, but not so badly that I’m going to buy several hundred tubes of toothpaste. Or several hundred of anything for that matter. I also don’t buy the “I saved $xxx” argument. If you hadn’t gone to the store in the first place, you would have saved every penny you spent.
Coupons can play a somewhat important role in your shopping. But, it doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as all that. My wife, for instance, is on a coupon train that she joined through Swapmamas. Every week or so, she gets a big envelope that’s bursting at the seam with coupons that the person who sent them to her just couldn’t use. She’ll sort through them while we’re watching T.V. or lying in bed at the end of the day. She carries the ones she keeps in a nice little accordion pocket organizer that she bought for that reason, then sends the rest off to the next person on the train. When we go shopping, we try to make a list and she’ll take 10-15 minutes to flip through the coupons to see if we have any that we can use. We don’t get results like the folks on that show, but it’s not out of the ordinary to save anywhere from 5% to 20% on any given trip. On stuff we were going to buy anyways.
Extreme couponing has become a bit of a fad. People are watching shows like the one on TLC and thinking they can do the same thing. Some of them are going to less than honest means to achieve those goals and are stealing papers from dispensers just to get to the valuable coupons in the inserts. When you have to steal to save your money, you really need to draw that line and get some help. Done right, couponing can be something that is hardly intrusive at all, and that can save you some money. Done right, it can become a bit of a lifestyle.
Some say they just don’t have the time to use coupons, but I think they have a somewhat distorted view of the time involved. It doesn’t have to be time consuming, and the returns can be rewarding. Give it a try. Next thing you know, you’ll be buying two of those Sunday papers.
Originally published on 8/15/2011