I just totaled our budget for 2010, and learned that we saved a little over $4000 in 2010 using coupons. This total is for our grocery budget in which we purchase food, toiletries, herbal supplements, vitamins, paper products, OTC medications (and some prescription meds), some dog food/treats, and cleaning products. This does not include freebies I received in the mail, rebates, or any coupons that we used on other shopping (restaurants, clothes, etc). This also does not include the shopping that I do for the church and the amount that we’ve saved there. We have a family of 3, and my dad was also staying with us for about a quarter of this year while he renovated his home.
Some couponers who are reading this are going to be disappointed-- yes, you read that correctly disappointed. Many hard core couponers can save $4000 in a quarter of the year, and only saving that amount in a year might look like small potatoes. For us, though, it works. I’m not one of those extreme couponers that are highlighted on news programs and TV shows. I hope that you look at the number and can gain some inspiration from it—you can save that much couponing with just a little bit of time each week.
A few things that I’ve learned from couponing:
1. In 2010, I didn’t coupon as heavily as I had in the two previous years. Once you “get the hang of it” I don’t think that couponing takes as long. I know which deals I want to buy, what coupons I want to take the time to cut, and I work it into my schedule. I spend a good amount of time blogging, but actually looking at deals, clipping coupons, making a grocery list, and shopping doesn’t occupy as much time as it once did.
2. While I once had a Sunday ritual of cutting out the coupons in the paper (and coupons donated from our church to our coupon ministry there), I now only cut out coupons when I’m looking at a matchup that has a specific deal reported to be free or cheap. I miss some of the deals and some of the freebies, but when you’ve been couponing for a while, you start to realize that the deals keep coming. If I miss free toothpaste this week because of spending time traveling and visiting with our family, there will be free toothpaste again in the future. I’d rather miss the toothpaste than miss time with the people we love.
3. Find a groove that works for you. I have morphed my coupon organization through just about every stage there is. I’ve done the binders, the accordion folders, the envelopes. Now, what do I do? I have a coupon bag. It has a binder in which I semi-organize what I’ve clipped. It has the little magazines and coupon booklets that I receive from Kroger, Mambo Sprouts, Earth Fare, and Three Rivers Market. It has a pair of scissors because I no longer cut out the printable coupons until I know that I’m going to use them. Too often I would cut out those coupons to find that the item was out on the store shelves, and I learned that keeping the coupon in full page was easier for me to find later. Yep, I don’t look as professional as some of you who read this blog or some who I see in the store aisles. Sometimes I’m a little jealous of the super-organized couponer, but as I’ve become busier in my life, this is what works right now for me. I suspect that this time next year I will have moved on to a new way of organizing them, adjusting it to our lifestyle as needed.
4. Just like I said in number 3, do what works for YOU. I can’t tell you how many friends talk to me about couponing with an apologetic tone in their voice, as if I will judge them for not couponing. I get excited about couponing. I want to share that with everyone I know. It is a rush to get a deal for free or even better to make money off of it. However, it doesn’t work for everyone. Some people save more money for their families by shopping in bulk, having a home garden, working more actively outside of the home, or doing a combination of all of the above. I have to admit something to you all. When I saw a preview of that extreme couponing show (not sure the exact name of it b/c we don’t have cable), I was a little jealous. I felt like I was failing a little because I wasn’t doing it like someone else. I’m not someone else, though. I’m Gabrielle Blake, and I coupon, shop, cook, and such in a way that fits our lifestyle. Once I reminded myself of that, I felt a lot better. Find ways to save your family money given the resources (time, energy, know-how, stores nearby, and even desire and interest) you have.
5. You don’t have to eat a bunch of packaged food to coupon. Last year, we made a good chunk of our food purchases at farmers markets, pick-your-own farms, and directly from farmers who have become our friends. None of those purchases counted in the “money saved from couponing” totals because there aren’t coupons for local farms (or at least not any I’ve found). You’ve seen our weekly menus. Yep, there is some packaged food in there, but there’s also a good amount of homemade foods, fresh vegetables and fruits, meats from local farmers, and foods that we preserved during the growing months. Because I save money in other areas of our budget through couponing, I’m better able to buy high quality foods that our family enjoys.
6. Couponing can be an avenue for giving. Each month as I look at our family’s budget totals, I realize that we are able to give because of couponing. There are donations to our church’s outreach programs and to our daughter’s school. There were meals that we brought to friends or family who were sick, mourning, or who had just had babies. We hosted family and friends for holidays, celebrations, birthdays, and play-dates and didn’t have to worry about having enough food to feed everyone. We gave freebies to friends and relatives who could use them and added goodies to gift bags and stocking stuffers. We were able to do all of these things because of couponing.
7. Couponing can change the way you look at things. Once you realize that you don’t really have to pay for shampoo or toothpaste, you won’t want to again. I don’t think that will change even if our annual income doubles or triples in the coming years.
What about you? How has couponing changed for you over the last few years? How do you fit it into your schedule? As always, I love to hear from readers!