A few weeks ago, I was lying wide awake in bed, well after midnight, flipping through the TV channels, when I came across a TLC show called “Extreme Couponing.”
The show highlighted the couponing adventures of a few super couponers – people who stockpiled merchandise by the roomful, clipped coupons like it was their career, and ended up paying little to nothing for dozens of shopping carts full of groceries.
While at first I thought, “This is crazy and impossible for the average person,” I then started thinking “Is this even fair?”, then finally came to the conclusion “I can do that too!!”
As a mother of two, reduced from teaching full-time to teaching part-time, my husband and I have been struggling to make ends meet. With all other ‘luxury expenses’ already reduced, saving on the cost of food would make a huge dent in our monthly expenses.
I didn’t know how I was going to do it, or where to even start, but I knew that if I set my mind to it, I too – someday – would become an expert in extreme couponing (that’s the good thing about being slightly obsessive-compulsive).
As a hopeful couponing noobie, I had never in my life used a coupon. In fact, as a clutter-free fanatic, I often threw away all my “junk mail” – Sunday newspaper inserts and weekly mail ads – without even looking at them (I despise paper clutter).
However, I began to realize that all this time I’ve been throwing away those inserts and ads, I’ve probably been throwing away tons of money.
So where could I start? I didn’t subscribe to any newspapers. I decided to start saving my Tuesday ads – the weekly supermarket and drugstore mailers that advertise next week’s sales.Sometimes, these Tuesday mailers came up with coupons, and I started to create a little coupon hoard.
TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” showed that professional couponers created binders, so I rummaged around and found an empty binder with plastic sleeves. I slid a piece of printer paper in each sleeve, so I could place coupons both on the front and back. I sectioned my binder into categories, such as “Refrigerated,” “Non-Perishable,” “Frozen,” “Cleaning Supplies,” and others.
By chance, I went online and typed in www.coupons.com, just to see what would happen (this shows how much of a noobie I was). Wouldn’t you know it actually was a real website, and contained the links to hundreds of printable manufacturer’s coupons. I began printing dozens upon dozens, hoping I could score some sweet deals.
I was hopeful at the beginning that I was going to find some crazy bargain, along the lines of the extreme shoppers on TV, who got nearly everything for free. However, I started small. My first couponing adventure took place at Super KMart. Combining the in-store sales with my coupons, I bought 10 Totino’s frozen pizzas for about 70 cents each. Not bad, but small beans compared to what I could have done if I’d put more time into research (like waiting for double coupon days).
Extreme couponing comes down to one simple thing: Combining (and doubling) coupons with items already on sale/clearance, then using store rewards. Okay, two things: And buying in bulk.
You see, buying one thing here or there doesn’t matter in the grand scheme. The adventure, and the thrill, of extreme couponing is to get as much as you can to build up your stockpile.
Getting one container of laundry detergent for free is awesome. Getting twenty for free is more awesome.
Since my humble noobie beginnings, I’ve learned a lot, but I have tons more to learn. I realized you need to set up an email account just for couponing, then sign up online with every brand name you can think of, and every drugstore and grocery store around (they all send manufacturer’s and store coupons right to your email box).
I learned there are some huge and overwhelming sites and forums for noobie couponers: www.afullcup.com and www.couponmom.com, to name a few.
I learned that you need to get a rewards card or loyal shopper card for every store you visit, to get the best deals you can (and get money back on your purchases).
I’ve also learned that extreme couponing can become a part-time job. If you spend enough time in the online forums, browsing weekly ads, and clipping coupons, you could devote your whole life to this hobby. The last two nights, I’ve been up past 2:00 am, all in the name of saving money! It’s becoming an addiction more than an adventure, and encompassing much of my thoughts (this is where the slight OCD is beginning to show).
However, I do have a few good noobie deals to show for it:
– 2 free boxes of Kellogg’s “SmartStart” cereal
– 2 containers of laundry detergent for $1.00 each
– 7 free cans of Campbell’s soup
By the way, according to this press release from the Discovery Channel , TLC is now picking up “Extreme Couponing” as a 12-episode series, set to premiere in spring. Just more fuel to feed the fire!