I wanted to continue with the series on learning how to effectively use coupons. Many of you may have seen the new television series called Extreme Couponing and I just wanted to share a little about my perspective on what a not so extreme person might expect to save at the store each week and what kind of time investment is required to get those savings.
First I do want to let you know the shoppers on those shows are doing Extreme trips. I personally don’t feel it is a realistic portrayal of what you can expect to save week after week. For one thing, many of the stores on the show broke their own coupon policies for the sake of sensationalism. A normal coupon shopper would most likely not be able to duplicate those transactions because most stores will not allow overage, many have limits on the number of items and coupons you can purchase and so on.
Many of us do not have double coupons in our areas so that also limits the amount of savings. Finally, the reason some of those shoppers were able to get the transactions so low was by using free item coupons obtained from various sources, catalina coupons from prior trips, and in one case they even used a gift card to partially pay. You also didn’t see the cost of the coupons added back into the final total and many of the shoppers did spend money to purchase coupons.
One last thing to consider is taxes vary by state as well. I saw a show where one shopper had something like 70 liters of soda. In California, the tax on the soda alone would have been $7.00 which can really cut into your savings. Another episode showed a shopper purchasing $236 in headache medicine. In my area, even if those items were free with coupons I would still be stuck paying $18.94 in sales tax on those products. My weekly grocery budget is $50 so that would be a big chunk of my budget to purchase headache medication alone.
So while the savings are impressive, I just want to be sure people aren’t feeling defeated because they can’t save 93-98% week after week at the stores.
So I am going to walk you through what I personally feel is realistic. You will of course want to adjust this to suit the needs of your family.
I don’t have a ton of time to dedicate to coupons. I would rather trade off a deal here and there and spend more time with my family and friends. Some of the couponers on that show spend 30-70 hours per week on couponing. I can’t even imagine that sort of time investment myself.
I spend roughly 90 minutes a week. Now that includes doing my menu plan and shopping list which takes the majority of the time. I do not personally use a coupon binder because I don’t have the time to commit to maintaining it and I don’t want to carry it around with me. I just have a small pouch that I keep some coupons in and then I cut the rest that I need when I am planning my shopping trips. Yes, I do miss out on some deals by not having lots of coupons with me but I look at it as a trade off on missing the occasional deal versus saving myself a considerable amount of time.
So I suppose you might want to consider determining how much time you want to commit each week to using coupons. If you have a razor thin budget or a very large family to shop for or you are interested in really going gangbusters with donations, you will probably need to invest a little more time.
Another thing to consider about stocking up on products is how much storage space you are willing to dedicate. I don’t like to have a lot of things myself so I just have a few small baskets under the sink in the bathroom that hold the toiletries. A small pantry in the kitchen that holds all our food and cupboards in the laundry room that hold cleaning products. I have found those small spaces allow me to keep enough products on hand for our family. But again if you live in an extreme climate or have a large family you might need to purchase storage shelving and dedicate space to your products. Remember it is still a time investment to manage all that stuff, to keep rotating products out, to find creative recipes to use the items etc…
The one thing I do have is a small freezer in the garage. Mine was $100 at Home Depot and I feel it was a good investment because it allows me to purchase extra proteins in particular when they are on sale.
::Give Me the Bottom Line.
And now for the bottom line about what you can realistically save from week to week. I try to save 50%-70% each week. Obviously it is possible to save significantly more- take one of the Shop for Free lists to your store and you can save 100% on your bill!
What I have found is that many new couponers get very caught up in how much they save. Many people want to come out of the gates saving 96% or more. While that is possible, I think you might also consider the quality of what you are purchasing. We do see coupons for produce, dairy items, meats etc… but not enough coupons to get those products for free week after week. So if you want to purchase a lot of fresh items for your family each week, the savings are significantly lower. To save 90%+ on quality meats and seafood, produce and dairy items is simply not realistic.
To be honest I really don’t even notice the percentage of savings on my bill each week. I tend to focus more on what I purchased and how far I stretched our budget. One of my favorite deals recently was Horizon Organic milk for $3.49 (regularly $6). That is only a 42% savings but let me tell you I was more excited about that deal than coming home with 10 bags of free pouches of cookie mix. (Although a cookie might have made that milk taste even better….)
So in general, I have found that a small time investment each week allows me to save a significant amount of money for our family. I have found that you can absolutely save money regardless of your diet or your location. While you might not walk out of the store week after week with a cart of groceries for pennies on the dollar, I do believe it is very realistic to save at least 50% on high quality items.
One argument I do hear frequently is that coupons are just for junk food. I have to tell you that is a very valid argument. I see a lot more coupons for cookies, processed foods, candy and other stuff that might not always be the best choice. I can tell you that coupons for organic, gluten free, non toxic, and natural items are becoming more and more prevalent and the only way we will continue to see these types of coupons is by redeeming them!
Now I’d love to hear what you guys think. What is your average savings each week? How much time do you invest to get those savings?