Exploring the World of Extreme Couponing

BlogHer Original Post

I'm a pretty thrifty woman and I don't particularly mind that my family makes fun of me for it. We do not throw away money on things we don't need. If we need it, and can afford it, we will buy it -- we'll look for a sale but if we don't find one, we still buy. Which pretty much explains why I've never been anything more than a sporadic coupon user. And that, my friends, is about to change. I have entered the world of the extreme couponer.

I'm fairly confident that I will never reach levels attained by those featured in TLC's Extreme Couponing. While I am looking forward to finding new ways to save money, I really don't think I will turn into a stockpiler. Then again, how awesome would it be to have that much stuff -- and give it away to those who are less fortunate. THAT kind of stockpiling, I could do.

I have always read blogs about frugal living, and over the last couple of years, those blogs have led me to add some couponing blogs to my feedreader. I've always found them interesting but I've rarely (never?) printed any of the coupons they've written about.

When I read this post about TLC's Extreme Couponing, I was intrigued and went looking for more posts about TLC's Extreme Couponing show. Then I looked for new couponing blogs to read. I was so fascinated by what I was seeing that one night, instead of picking up my book, I picked up my iPad just to see what kind of iPad apps were available for couponers, and I found the app for A Full Cup. Talk about fascinating. I'm a sucker for a good message board community.

All of these interesting blog posts, message board posts, and coupon databases would not normally have been enough to lure me in. I read awesomely interesting things all of the time and I generally just move along, but a couple more things happened to cause me to stop and think.

You know TW quit her job late last summer and that was good. It meant we had considerably less money to spend every month but we were fine. We created a new budget and TW found some jobs. We adjusted to the new budget and made it through Christmas. Only to discover we need another new budget, one that's another $500 less a month than we thought. And, for the month of January, we were $1500 shorter than we'd planned. (Long story, it's fine -- don't worry -- we'll just blame the patriarchy and move on!) We needed a plan, a really good plan.

First, we had to drastically cut our restaurant budget. We've already been working on that and doing pretty well. We cut it further and that's good on a lot of levels.

Next, I've been reading The Frugal Girl for a long time and her Food Waste Friday posts had been really getting to me. We have so much food waste -- either we cook too much and nobody eats the leftovers or we buy stuff we never use and have to throw out. Funny thing was, TW had also been thinking about how to cut our food waste. So we were on the same page there.

Speaking of TW, she'd been thinking about doing the Pantry Challenge which is awesome because I was thinking of suggesting it. I had very little idea about what was in our freezer but I was pretty sure there was plenty in there that we could use and I knew our cabinets were full of canned foods and pasta.

I thought I'd be extra diligent in coupon usage -- I might only save a few dollars but in January, a few dollars were going to be very important or we might actually have to stop going to Starbucks three times a week. (See, we're fine. If we were really in trouble, there would be no Starbucks!)

So the first week of January, we headed to the commissary as usual. We didn't go out for breakfast and we bought only what we needed, knowing we were going to use what was in our pantry. We spent $89.56 and had $7.50 in coupons, which was a good coupon day for us. I remember this because I mentioned it as we were leaving the store and TW said, "We can do better." and I laughed. I laughed loudly. Because I thought she was crazy.

But she wasn't crazy and I thought about the TLC Extreme Coupon posts and all of the other posts I'd read and I thought, "Maybe there's something there we should try." We went home and I kind of quietly started reading more posts in A Full Cup and learning about the couponing acronyms. I went looking for blog posts that specifically talk about how individuals are getting good deals. And then it happened, the final thing that pushed me into giving extreme couponing a serious try. I blame my brother.

My brother, Mike, called me with questions about browsers and viruses and somehow we found ourselves talking about my SIL, Christine, and her coupons. I've always known Christine is a couponer, I often tease my mom that she likes Christine more than she likes me because she sends HER coupons and she never sends ME coupons. I have even sent Christine some really amazing coupons that we picked up at BlogHer Food '10. So while I knew my SIL was a couponer, I didn't know she was an extreme couponer. It wasn't until I called my brother a few days later to ask him about the coffee table incident that I discovered just what kind of couponer she is. Mike and Christine had been shopping. He was going on and on about how Christine had just walked out of CVS with $50 worth of products that she didn't pay a single thing for -- in fact, CVS owed her $10. I laughed because while I am not a hardcore couponer, I do know how CVS Extra Care Rewards (ECB) work. He continued along, telling me that her couponing had literally cut their food budget in half.

Huh. Interesting.

My SIL, the extreme couponer. Huh.

That's when it hit me. I should give it a try. What could it hurt?

I clicked back into the blogs and the A Full Cup forums. I looked around the internets for other sites that might be helpful. I started printing coupons as I surfed.

We went to the commissary again and we spent $86.66 and had $8.50 in coupons. Again, a good coupon day but this time I was sure we could do better -- would do better, once we figure it all out.

We also went to CVS because TW needed to pick up a prescription. I had not quite grasped the whole "walk out with $50 of product without paying a dime" yet, but I scanned my card at the little kiosk and retrieved some CVS coupons and $10 ECB and smiled. I grabbed a bag of chocolate that was on sale and used one of those $1 coupons so my chocolate was $1.50. TW noticed that her liquid B12 was buy one get one free (BOGO) and that's awesome, (too bad it didn't have an ECB deal attached to it). We walked out with an RX, two bottles of liquid B12 and a bag of chocolate and spent $18.40 (with a savings of $16.98.) But we weren't done...

I had noticed Jewel-Osco was doing one of their special 4 for $20 meat deals. I'm not the meat buyer in the house and I literally have no idea how much meat costs in general, so I mentioned it to TW and she said, "We should go..." so we did. I loaded my preferred customer card with an e-coupon for shredded cheese that I thought we could use and I grabbed a printable for $2 off of bagged lettuce or baby spinach that wouldn't scan at the commissary. We ended up with our cheese, a bag of lettuce (the coupon wouldn't scan here, either, but the cashier nicely forced it through) and four packages of meat. We spent $26.78 (with a savings of $6.70) and we walked out with a Catalina coupon for $1 off Kleenex that I'm pretty sure we're going to stack... yep, this is when the extreme couponing fever really hit.

I decided that I'm really ready to dive into shopping at a regular grocery store and do that whole stacking thing, because I still believe that the military commissary is my best bet, even if they don't double coupons and you can't stack... I could be wrong and I plan to find out just as soon as I figure out what our local stores' coupon policies are. I looked through the sale papers for Walgreens and CVS. I read some blog posts that provide deal ideas for both stores and I created a plan for our next shopping excursion.

We went to the commissary and we spent $127.91 with $27.09 in coupons. (Whole chickens had $1 coupons attached and TW got ambushed by the awesome Ginny-the-coupon-lady who encouraged her to take some $1 off coupons for frozen appetizers for Super Bowl. Those were not on our list but who can resist Ginny? And poppers? And $1 off whole chickens?)

We went to CVS and grabbed the 5 for $10 Cokes, getting another $5 ECB and went back to CVS on Sunday where we picked up another 3 cartons of Cokes plus 4 bottles of HonestAde. I had HonestAde coupons so ended up spending $11.89 and getting another $5 ECB. Eight 12 packs of Cokes plus Four bottles of HonestAde for just over $20. Still not as good as Christine but that's a good deal for Cokes and juice for the kids' lunches.

Next stop, Walgreens (twice, which was an accident) -- on our first trip, TW went to fill a prescription while I grabbed two bottles of Advil, a tube of Arnica gel, and two Butterfinger Snackerz. I had $2 off coupons for both bottles of Advil and the Arnica gel and I had a $1 off 2 Snackerz coupon. At the register, I paid $11.06 and got back $11 in Register Rewards (RR). TW's RX wasn't ready for pick up so we left and went back the next day. While there, I had decided that the Melatonin was cheaper at Walgreens than at the commissary so I grabbed a bottle. I also got a bottle of Blink Eye Drops because TW's mom always asks for liquid tears. I used $6RR and paid $5.24 cash. I got another $11RR back again - I just wish I'd had the coupon that I didn't clip.

If you've stuck with me this long, you're probably saying, "So what, she bought sodas, vitamins and candy, what about the real food?" I hear you. Before I started looking closely at the coupon databases and blogs, I really didn't believe that most of the food we eat regularly had coupon possibilities. Now, I see that isn't quite true. There aren't as many coupons for organic products -- but there are some. There aren't as many coupons for veggies, fruit, milk, and eggs -- but there are some. And, if you've got a grocery store that doubles your coupons, you're golden. If you've got a grocery store that accepts competitor's coupons, you're even more golden because those CVS and Walgreens cash back programs are competitor's coupons. Think about that for a minute. If you shop at Safeway and your Safeway takes competitor coupons, you can use the RR and ECB $$ for regular food... There are even blogs and forums for people who shop at stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

You're probably also wondering just how much time I'm spending on this, I was worried about that too. I don't have any extra hours in my day. I'm a workaholic who has a bunch of kids and likes to read, a lot. Who has time for this? I wanted to know just how much time it would take so I am using Log My Task to track how much time I spend reading coupons sites, searching for and printing coupons, organizing them and planning my trips. In the last ten days, I've spent 2 hours and 26 minutes. Total. And most of that was spent in the first seven days of this adventure, trying to figure out what the heck I'm doing.

I'm a little freaked out by how enthusiastic I've become about searching for coupons and how annoyed I am when a coupon print run ends before I have a chance to get one. The clipping services kind of scare me and I'm a little obsessive about making sure that I don't buy stuff just because I can get it for free. I can see how couponing can take over your life and how you can get burnt out, (according to some of the threads at A Full Cup, burn out rates are high.)

I'll be blogging about this little experiment every week. I'll be taking some photos of the groceries I'm bringing home. I'm going to be hang out in the Coupon Lovers group, too.

If you're a beginner couponer and would like to join me, I'd love to have you share your stories. No deal is too small, if you ask me!

If you are a hardcore couponer, or an extreme couponer, I'd love it if you share your tips. (I wouldn't have those free eye drops and juice if it wasn't for the pros!)

How much did you save with coupons on your last grocery trip? Are you looking for any special coupons? Maybe we should start a BlogHer coupon train? Who's in?

~Denise
BlogHer Community Manager
Life. Flow. Fluctuate.

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