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A Lesson in Extreme Couponing From the Checkout Lane

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extreme couponing

I was rocking our weekly grocery shopping trip solo this past week. We have found out it is nearly impossible to get shopping done with our son in the cart. I have never seen so many things fly off the shelves or temper tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants.

My wife and I don’t even like grocery shopping much, but we do need to eat. Our latest strategy is to have one stay at home with our son and the other get their shop on. I have been the lucky one for the past two weeks. Yay!

I learned my lesson before shopping without a grocery list, so now I always have a list. This is especially true when I am buying our weekly meals. We plan out two large meals and then eat leftovers for the rest of the week. We have done it for years and it saves us a good amount of money and time.

In addition to the list, I like to get in and out relatively quickly.  I have better things to do than sit around grabbing produce to see if it is ripe. “Does this feel firm to you?”

Stuck in line watching Extreme Couponing

 

This week’s shopping experience was on pace for one of my records. I was whipping through the the aisles putting in my items. I always make sure to compare prices with the items I need, but I don’t sit around comparing every little item. As I turn the corner to the checkout lanes, I see they are filled with people. Dang! I look through to see where people are and how much are in their carts. I found a lane that looked promising. Oh, was I wrong.

Right after I pulled in, I noticed the lady in front of my was of the extreme couponing type. She had a binder full of coupons and a cart full of food. She definitely had a system in place for sure. She was relatively quick with her system, but it took the checkout cashier forever to get through all of her coupons. I have voiced my displeasure with the extreme coupon practice before and now I was behind someone doing it.

Before you rip me for being inconsiderate, I didn’t bother the lady in front of me or tap my foot in disgust. I sat there and looked at the items in my cart to see if I had everything. I also took the time to observe the process. I don’t fault this woman or anyone who wants to save money on groceries. There is nothing wrong there. As I compared our two carts, I noticed something which keeps me from ever couponing to the extreme.

What Food Did You Buy?

 

This lady’s cart was full of food. First world problem, I know. As I look at her items on the checkout belt, I noticed a trend. They were either frozen dishes or sugar-laden crap. Maybe she likes this stuff. I don’t know.

She did have some milk and a few fresh produce items. All of the rest of her cart and her son’s was just junk food. It was all brand name, which tends to be the way with coupons. Brands provide coupons to get people to buy their products. That is a great way to do it. Unfortunately, I don’t care to purchase this type of food.

My wife and I love eating fresh produce. Most of our grocery bill every week is on fruits and vegetables. We also have to purchase lactose-free milk for our son. He is guzzling that stuff down like it is candy. We can’t keep up.

Needless to say, this milk is expensive. It also rarely ever comes with a coupon. During the summer months, we get most of our produce from our local farmer’s market. We then only go to the grocery store for the dry goods and some frozen items.

Can You Coupon with Healthy Food?

 

I really don’t care to save money on my groceries if I have to buy frozen dinners, soda, and junk food. There is no point. While I do love to save money, I don’t want to sacrifice what I eat. This isn’t my first extreme couponer spotting either. I have seen quite a few and each one had similar items in their cart. The lady in front of me only had to pay for the produce she wanted, so her total was like $20 for nearly $175 worth of groceries. Not bad, right?

Unfortunately, it just isn’t for me. I don’t have to patience for it and when I go through the coupon clipping section, I never find anything we actually eat. There is no point in saving so much money if you don’t eat the food in the first place.

The stores in my area don’t have coupons for produce. Most coupons come from big brands and they don’t supply most of the produce. Unless we change our eating habits, extreme couponing and buying junk food will not have a place in our household. I encourage anyone to use coupons and we typically do, but I won’t waste my time searching for coupons just to save an extreme amount on frozen dinners and processed junk.

 

What do you think of Extreme Couponing? What’s the most you’ve ever saved in one trip to the grocery store? What types of food do you usually find yourself putting into your cart?

 

Photo courtesy of: rose3694

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Grayson is the owner of Debt Roundup and Empowered Shopper. He also co-owns Sprout Wealth and Eyes on the Dollar. After going to battle and winning against consumer debt, he decided it was time to learn how to use credit wisely and grow his wealth. He discusses all things personal finance and is not afraid of being controversial. He also is a freelance writer and blog manager.

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55 Comments

  • I’m with you, I don’t have the patience for it and I eat 95% whole, unprocessed foods- 75% of which is produce. Thank goodness we have Trader Joe’s here!

  • Kay says:

    I’m with you, Grayson. I’m not into he extreme couponing thing either. Like you point out, the coupons are usually for brand name items and I find I save more on the store brand or at Aldis than I would sigh coupons. Plus, I tend to buy “real” food, not the processed stuff.

  • I think you hit the nail on the head. First of all, many times coupons are for stuff I don’t buy, and the odd time I find a coupon for something I do buy does not give me a big payback for my time. At least that’s been my experience. I used to do it years ago when my kids were small, I had my little coupon wallet and all. Wasn’t a big thrill (only a little one) when I used coupons and it was very boring. Now I read about people couponing on PF sites and think I should give it a go again, especially since we want to work on bringing our grocery costs down. But then I get this sick feeling in my stomach, about the thought of doing it, so maybe I should just leave it as a fleeting idea. We don’t have to do everything, just what works for us!

  • For the time it takes someone to do the extreme couponing, they could just get a job an earn the money they “save.” couponing adheres to the law of diminishing returns – the more time you spend the bang for your buck decreases as time increases proportionately. I will spend a few minutes looking through the ads for coupons and save somewhere around 15% off my groceries on a good week. Good enough for me!

  • Sheila says:

    I agree that a lot of the food coupons are for unhealthy items. However, it is possible to coupon for healthy things sometimes. It just takes more effort which is sad. I don’t extreme coupon, but I definitely coupon. Most of the items that I buy are cleaning, personal care, beauty, and paper products and I save a ton of money.

  • I understand your frustration, but I think you would be surprised if you start looking for coupons for the brands and foods you buy — you will find them.

    For example, I buy fancy Land O Lakes eggs because they’re hormone free and I never buy them without a coupon, which doubles, so they’re almost the same price as the store’s eggs. I didn’t have a coupon for milk the other day, but I did have cereal coupons — and my store had a “buy 3 cereals and get free milk” promotion. So, I was able to get a good deal on the cereal we buy and our fancy milk for free. As for vegetables, we do buy a lot of fresh produce but I can get frozen veggies for free or $0.50/bag if I pair a coupon with a sale. And frozen veggies can be healthier than the produce section b/c they’re frozen fresher whereas the “fresh” produce spends time on a truck and on the shelves. 😉

    Now, I don’t get $150 worth of groceries for $20, but I do typically save 30 – 45% off of my total bill.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      Well, I buy store brands because they are much cheaper and taste just as good. I don’t have any brands that I love or will follow. I am price conscious and care about good food.

  • All I can say is….AMEN! 🙂

  • This is one of my issues with coupons, I usually find them for frozen, canned or crap goods that my family never eats anyway, so they would just force me to bring food into the house that we wouldn’t eat making the whole effort worthless. Instead of couponing, we use store discounts and menu planning as our keys for grocery savings. We pay more than $20, but at least we are eating healthy.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      I am with you there Shannon. I don’t need canned food or frozen food. While frozen vegetables do have good qualities, they can ruin a dish when they are filled with water.

  • I’ve noticed that as well with coupons…they’re mostly for junk. Sometimes I want to buy junk…but no I’m not going to stock up on it. For fresh produce/meat, I usually go to the supermarkets that I know have good prices, or I shop whatever is on sale that week.

  • Kathy says:

    Not every store doubles coupons and in my town, the one that does, is the most expensive store in town. Soooo, we can get something regular price with just the face value of the coupon just as cheaply as we can get at that store doubling coupons. I’ve also found that most coupons in our Sunday inserts are for hair care products etc. I do use coupons but not extremely. My best deal with for toilet paper or laundry detergent. Our Target store frequently has great sales on those items and if you buy 2 you get a $5 or $10 dollar Target gift card in return. So combine the sale with any coupon you have for that, then use the gift card you got from before and it ends up being a really great deal. Since those items don’t have “use by” dates, you can really stock up and get great deals.

  • Miriam Kearney says:

    I’m with most of the commenters and you, John. I don’t find coupons all that helpful. I do check the ones for non-food items such as cleaning supplies, toilet paper etc. Every once in a while toilet paper goes on sale at a ridiculously low price and once I also a coupon which made it practically free. When it’s less than 20 cents a double roll, I buy a years’ worth. Same with other things. The best way to save money is reduce the number of times you go into a store. Period.

  • 100% agree! What good is it to save money on groceries when you will be paying double that for the inevitable health care costs you are doing to be paying for your diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, etc.? Can you son drink almond milk? I get coupons for that all the time!

  • Grayson I’m with you. Couponing is only good if you actually need those products. Eating stuff because its on sale or you have a coupon is not a great way to eat healthy. We’re planning on growing a garden next year to help us reduce our food costs. We also like the idea that our fresh produce will be completely free of pesticides.

  • I can’t get into extreme couponing. Nor do I need to based on our budget. While I love to save money like you, at some point you have to balance the time it takes to do this with other family/work related matters. The most I’ve ever saved on one trip to the grocery was probably around $30. I’m fine with that.

  • Kipp says:

    Hey Grayson, I have been cutting back on that type of stuff alot in the last two years so I don’t see much of a benefit from the couponing. One plus is my normal store has digital coupons, where I could get 5% off my entire order including produce, and on RARE occasion there may be some cheese or produce items I can use. That is the exception though 🙂

  • Savvy says:

    Coupons are great if you are going to buy/use the item. I used to be a little excessive with the coupons – ’til my cupboards became over-loaded and wasn’t using the items in a reasonable amount of time. My husband drew the line when I bought hamburger helper – refusing to eat it. This coincided with me reading a book about hoarding. I decided I needed to stop my excessive buying. I gave what I didn’t think we’d use to the food pantry and I stopped buying items I didn’t need. Now I glance through the coupons each week; cut the ones I think I’ll use and throw the rest away. I use an average of two coupons a week.

    My co-worker on the other hand is also an extreme couponer. She also takes a handful of pills each day attributed to her diet and her lunch usually consists of noodles in a styrofoam cup. Doesn’t seem like a win to me.

  • We love watching that show, but like you noticed a trend with what they were purchasing. They have piles of items that either are unhealthy or not commonly used. Spending money on items you don’t use actually is a waste of time and money. Have to be smart about it and not just focused on saving. Eating unhealthy will cost you more in the long run in other ways. Good to save, but do it wisely and not just because you can save.

  • Nicola says:

    We don’t have the same system for coupons in the UK – there’s definitely nowhere near as many to get and they’re limited to one or two a customer. But, I don’t know if I’d have the patience or time to do it if we did have them, plus I think I’d hate to be behind someone in the queue who was using lots of them!

  • You hit the nail on the head, Grayson. While I am all for lowering grocery costs, it does seem the majority of coupons are for processed food. No disrespect to those who like those foods but I try to limit our intake. And unfortunately there are very few coupons for produce and fresh meat. I try to save money by watching what the stores have on sale and meal planning. I will admit to being somewhat fascinated when I do see an extreme couponer and how little they paid. I just wish they offered more coupons for the foods I do eat!

  • Gretchen says:

    I love couponing for toiletries and cleaning supplies, but couponing for groceries just isn’t for me! You’re absolutely right that the only food there are coupons for is crap, and fresh fruits and vegetables are best. But, you can’t beat free shampoo, razors, and cosmetics at CVS!

  • celeste says:

    I did the extreme couponing thing for a year. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so sick in my life. I always felt like I was bloated and ill.

    I have enough razors to last a few years. I make my own body wash and cleaning products.

    I hadn’t been in a conventional grocery store in a long while and went in the first time in I’d say over a year…and it was so dark in there.

    CSA’s, farmers markets and farms are the way to go. I spend a little more money on food but I spend a lot less money on stuff I don’t need and what I do need.

    I went in CVS for prescriptions and I felt relieved to just be going in for medication and not having to wait in line for “free” toiletries. Free really isn’t free if you ask me.

  • If only Amazon could deliver fresh produce and milk……

    I do use coupons for various things. The main ones are for things like toothpaste and laundry detergent. If you match those with a sale, it’s cheaper than Walmart. Kroger will also send coupons in the mail based on what you buy, so I use lots of those and many are for produce. I’m not extreme but usually save $5-$10 per shopping trip.

  • Michelle says:

    On the surface I really like the idea of being able to save a ton on food via extreme couponing. But, I actually try to eat food with ingredients that both I and my Grandmother can pronounce. Also, I like my food to occur in nature. That basically kills my ability to coupon. I shop mostly at Whole Foods/Albertson’s/and Farmers’ Markets so my food is yummy and I don’t think I spend a lot on it. Groceries usually range between $200-$275 a month. And I don’t buy lunches or eat out very often. When I do eat out I drop some cash. Then, I’ll look for a Groupon.

  • All the coupons I see are for things that I either don’t want or are way over priced to begin with. I don’t see the point in spending time with coupons for either situation. Besides, I’m not that organized.

  • Poor Student says:

    For me, couponing works best for non-edible items that I need daily such as toiletries or cleaning supplies. I too find foods that have coupons to be rather unhealthy and not something that I usually eat, so I don’t usually look for such coupons.

  • I’ve found the same thing with the extreme coupons, Grayson: 90% of it seems to be junk food!!! We get around our healthy food grocery costs by growing a big garden. We only bought lettuce once this summer, and have enough green beans in the deep freezer for a good six months!

  • Amy says:

    While I completely agree that most extreme couponers buy lots of processed foods, I do still save a good bit of money with coupons. Fortunately, our grocery store sends out monthly coupon books, which include coupons for produce items and store brand items. And apps like SavingStar and Checkout 51 also have produce offers (along with a lot of processed food).

    I definitely save a lot of money on paper products and household and personal care items with coupons. I often combine them with Target’s mobile coupons and Cartwheel app, which increases the savings.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      You can definitely save good money with coupons. That is a different thing compared to taking coupons to the extreme. The grocery stores in my area don’t like to send out too many coupons for produce, so I have to shop around.

  • Denise C says:

    A good extreme couponer is doing more than just redeeming coupons. You need to also check what’s on sale in the weekly grocery flyers. Items are very rarely free just by the coupon alone – you need to time your redemption with what’s on sale to do that. This is the one thing I’ve continued to do from my extreme-couponing days. I got sick of getting junk food myself, even though it was largely free! It is still worth planning your meals and purchases around what’s on sale that week.

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