Thursday, July 7, 2011

the problem with couponing

Have you watched Extreme Couponing on TLC? It's pretty much the same thing over and over and over, yet I get hooked when we turn it on.

It's fascinating for two reasons.

1) The ridiculous number of items people get just because they can get them free, even though they seemingly do nothing with it but add it to their "stockpile."

2) The ridiculous number of items people get for free because they plan to actually use it (either for their own family or donating it to those in need).

One is the biggest waste and borders on hoarding. The other is pure genius. Like the lady who buys enough peanut butter for the year when it goes on sale. Or the lady who has a room full of diapers (all acquired for free), because she plans to have kids in the near future and won't have to pay a penny for diapers.

But let's talk about the problems with couponing.

#1: It takes WAY too much time for us normal people.

I tried to get into couponing when I was on bed rest. Even with working part time from the couch, finding and printing and sorting and remembering to use coupons was a ton of work. And I was only dipping into it. Now that I'm back at work with two kids at home, there is no way I have time to be organized enough for using coupons. While I'd LOVE to save money and get stuff for free, our precious time at home needs to be allocated to playing with our kids, bathing our kids, scrounging up making dinner, getting the kids' stuff ready for day care, cleaning the house, exercising, and hanging out with each other. Not finding, printing, and sorting coupons.

To my friends who work full time: Do you manage to coupon on top of everything else? If so, HOW IN THE WORLD?

#2: You get suckered into getting things you don't normally use.

I almost signed up for a mailing that included a free Febreeze sample and coupons for a bunch of other cleaning products. Then I came to my senses. 1) What we need in this world is FEWER things printed on paper and mailed out, and 2) I don't even use those cleaning products. We use water, Fantastik, and Clorox Wipes (cheapo brand from Costco) for all our (few-and-far-between) cleaning efforts in my house. That's it. All these coupons for Glade products are no good to me. Who cares if I can get them for 50 cents? Normally I wouldn't get them at all. You know, free-ninety-free. In fact, in my ideal world I'd use lemon, vinegar, and baking soda for all my cleaning needs. Give me some coupons I can use, people.

#3: 90% of non-cleaning-product coupons are for junk food.

Have you noticed what kinds of things people piling into their carts on the Extreme Couponing show? Juice. Sports Drinks. Pasta Roni. Sugary cereals. Cake mixes. Candy. Frozen. Canned. Packaged. Boxed. Sure, they have some healthy things thrown in there, but it's mostly highly processed foods. My goal in life is to move toward fresh foods. Homemade foods. Things that are good for you. While I do enjoy an occasional Pasta Roni, I don't really need 20 in my cupboard. I need more fruits and vegetables and beans.

However, making things from scratch and eating delicious and healthy homemade takes a lot of time, too.

I just can't win, can I?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-couponing. People who can use coupons to their advantage (and only get the things they actually need) are WAY up there in my book. I'm seriously impressed. And I'd do it if I had the time (or the desire...or the organizational skills...).

So tell me. How do you cut down on your grocery bills? Or better yet--if you didn't have much time at home to be preparing things yourself, how would you cut down on your grocery bills?


LJ, DC and ML said...

I'm totally with you. My problem with coupons is that I have no idea what items cost on a regular basis anyway. Unless its free, then I wouldn't know if it was a good deal or not. I do couponing like this: if its free and something I use, I'll totally do it.

LJ, DC and ML said...

PS. my favorite coupon comes from Baskin Robbins birthday club. Not only do they send you a free cone for your birthday, but they also send you a bogo for your half birthday!

nicole said...

i had a similar conversation with my couponing aunt who claims to saves so much $$$$... but 2 other problems are due to living in the bay area. i don't think any stores double coupons around here? and WHERE would i put my stockpiles of free crap? i can barely fit in my apartment already!

The Bundys said...

I have tried couponing and failed bad. I am NOT an organized person for one and for two I am not smart enough to think straight at the store with three kids in tow, BUT for me coming up with meals that I can freeze for a second meal and planning a week or two at once helps me to limit my times at the store which in turn limits the extras I buy. I also found that most coupons are for named brands and if you get the store brand it is usually cheaper than the other one with the coupon (granted you can't beat free - but really my sanity is expensive).

jena wise said...

I totally agree that it's usually cheaper to just get the store brand on sale than novelty brand with coupon. And also about how no stores double coupons here. I wish I knew how to save money on groceries!! The prices are going up and up and up!

I agree with all your comments on couponing. Although about the woman with the diapers... you know how some babies are Huggies babies and some are Pampers babies? What if she has the wrong ones? She can donate (and that would be awesome), but she's not guaranteed that the diapers will work for her.

Hoarding. For SURE.

the Rowleys said...

I agree with you, my time with my family is worth more then the few $s saved from coupons. But as for dinners, I have found the pantry meals (mostly cans and few fresh ingredients) to be great for fast dinners, not as healthy as all fresh, but better then processed dinners.

Jenni said...

I have no desire to try couponing. I don't work at all and I still feel like I wouldn't have time. As I left the grocery store tonight, I thought to myself, "I'm not very good at being frugal at the grocery store." My efforts to cut down on my grocery bill include choosing brands or varieties that are on sale. For example, while looking at all the chips on the chip aisle, I saw that the Cheetos were buy one get one free. So, those were the chips I chose. Sometimes I buy the store brand of things. But, sometimes, it's just not as good. See? I'm really not good at being frugal. It's too much work and not tasty enough.

Molly said...

Lenessa--I have no idea what things cost, either. I don't have that kind of memory. And I signed up for the Baskin Robbins club. Yum!

Nicole--You'd be surprised where people hide their food storage. So creative. Although I'd forget where things were and find them years later. Like Easter candy. :)

Becky--I'm totally not organized enough either. Most of my coupons expire before I remember I have them. And I would have no idea where to start with frozen meals. I'd probably freeze things that would later turn to mush...

Jena--I had the same thought on the diapers. Although judging by her stockpile, she probably had enough in each brand. Ha!

Christina--Agreed. We normally do part pantry, part fresh. We're not organized enough to do all fresh.

Jenni--I had those same thoughts at the grocery store last night. I like Greek yogurt and I know I'll eat it, so I buy it even though it's more expensive than the cheap regular yogurt. I'd never end up eating those and they'd go bad. Waste of money. There are some areas where taste wins over bargain. For sure.

MKV said...

Tell me that isn't your garage in the picture! I only cut the coupons I'll use - which is only 1-2 each week. My husband is really good about if we're going to buy something online he goes on a hunt for online discount coupon codes.

Molly said...

Mara--Oh gosh, no. My garage is a huge, unorganized jumble of bikes and laundry (clean and dirty) and storage bins. Well, organized compared to what it looked like a few weeks ago, but a total mess compared to the garage in the photo. I got that shot from the Extreme Couponing site.

Julie Laughlin said...

I love coupons. I think I've saved a lot of money but I'm so used to doing it since I grew up doing it with my mom. I'm NOT an extreme couponer and do not have a stockpile, even though I'd have room for one now. If I worked out of the house - I would definately never have time to do it. I only coupon at Target and at the grocery store. Our grocery stores double coupons (a perk of leaving the bay area!!) and sometimes double $1 off coupons meaning I would get $2 off of a product using 1 coupon. Sometimes, those are amazing deals on things like cereal or household things like toothpaste, etc. I used to print off lots and try to organize them. Now I only do what I use and buy regularly - not just what is a good deal because 'it's a good deal'. Those just end up being a waste of time and money.

As for not knowing the prices of things, you can use your store receipt and jot down the prices of items that you bought when you have a moment and then you'll have that handy if you want to remember what you thought a good price for something was down the road.

I coupon because I actually enjoy it. If I didn't enjoy it, I definitely wouldn't do it. Plus, I feel like if I can save 3-4 dollars in a shopping trip, I'll buy my kids each a balloon. And that makes it worth it. :)

Ashley said...

Amen. I consider couponing a part- to full-time job, and the pay of course is in groceries. Props to those who do it. I also would feel shame walking out of the grocery store with 3 brimming carts having not paid a dime, even though intellectually I know it's fair, it just would be embarassing to me. But I'm sure I'd get over that if I was a couponer.

Tamra said...

My friend coupons and loves it. It's like a game (and he's probably addicted to it). His wife occasionally gives us free stuff because they don't actually eat a lot of what he gets. Free, cheap, or expensive, why get things you don't use?

We've changed our buying habits a lot. We buy a lot of fresh stuff, and in exchange (since it is more expensive), we just cut out the crap. Crackers are now a treat. Ice cream isn't every day. I love the change!

Molly said...

Julie--You were the one who introduced me to couponing blogs. I'm just not organized enough!

Ashley--I already have a full time job, which probably explains why I could never really get into couponing.

Tamra--I love the idea of buying fresh. However, we've been procrastinating grocery shopping and are living on potato flakes, frozen tater tots, and canned pears. Fancy, huh? (It has less to do with our budget and more to do with being lazy after work and not wanting to go to the grocery store...)