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I have a confession to make.
When I first started to use coupons, I ended up spending more money than I was saving. Every Sunday I would hear the thump of my Sunday papers getting thrown on my porch at 4 am, some days I would be so excited that I couldn't fall back asleep. I would get up, head outside in the dark of the early morning, and comb through the inserts with excitement. I was anxious to get home from church that day because I knew that I would be able to hit up a lot of great deals. After a couple years of being this way, I got tired and sick of dusting off all of the products in my basement that I didn't use, and wanted my time back to do other things. It was hard to pass up deals, knowing that I would be getting something for free after rebates. Having to pay $0.50 was HARD, knowing that I could have gotten it for free! (Nevermind that it might have taken me an extra 45 minutes of work and planning to get it for free).
Time Magazine posted an article from a Former ‘Extreme Couponer' who admitted after the fact that couponing was a waste of time. She goes on to say that she spend countless hours running from store to store to get the best deal. When she stopped couponing she looked in her basement full of 60 diabetes monitors and 50 jars of spaghetti sauce, and wondered why she had gone to such great lengths to acquire such unnecessary things. People often say that time is money, so how much time does it take for one to save money using coupons? In my experience, it shouldn't take you more than 3 hours per week to save on your grocery bill. I take around 1-2 hours per week to plan our my meals and grocery shop, but it used to be much much more.
After speaking with many other couponers I found that this was a common problem, people spending too much time and money on couponing. I have put together the top 5 ways that using coupons is making you broke:
1.) You buy items that you don't even want.
One year I donated 8 Air Wick air fresheners. I had gotten them for under $1.00 and it was a rush to see that I owed next to nothing at checkout. They sat in my dusty basement for 3 years. We don't use them because I don't like the smell – so why did I buy them? The answer is – the RUSH of a good deal. That rush cost me time and money in the long run.
In order to use coupons correctly, you need to have a plan. Meal Planning is an excellent way to make sure you are getting the most out of coupons. You buy only the exact items you need with your coupons, plan meals around those items and other sale items; then you don't have to go back to store again.
2.) You use coupons immediately.
Many people get so excited to see a good coupon that they rush out to the store and use it right away. What they may not know is that they actually didn't save any money because the item wasn't on sale. Often times we see a good coupon come out a week or two before the item goes on sale. This is my rule of thumb: if I don't normally use it and I can get it for close to free with a coupon, I will try it. If I know that I will never use the item, I don't even clip the coupon regardless of it I can get it for free.
3.) You go to multiple stores, spend a ton of money on gas to buy things that you don't need.
Simply put – buying something that you don’t need isn't a bargain. It can become a sort of addiction to get a good deal, but don't spend more money to fuel that addiction to saving money. Do not coupon yourself into debt.
4.) You are couponing to make yourself feel better about the other bad financial choices.
I was reading an article by Frugal Woods where she writes, “Every frugal tip in the world isn’t going to save as much money as simply not buying anything”. I love this quote! Many of you may be using couponing as an excuse to spend in other areas of your life and feel okay about it. Don't use couponing as a way to tell your spouse that you are contributing to your family, then turn around and blow $100 at Target. Those two actions are counter-productive and don't make sense (and believe me, I've been guilty of this!) Instead, use coupons as part of a lifestyle of simply spending less money. Think of all the hard work you just put into saving money, do you really want to blow that all in 15 minutes at a department store? You worked hard for that!
5.) You are buying foods with coupons that are affecting your health.
If using coupons is causing you to buy more unhealthy food than you otherwise would, that's an obvious problem. Not only can some of these foods make you sicker, but they can hit you in your wallet too. In the long-term, what effect will your health have on medical bills and insurance costs down the road? There are many healthy coupons out there, but it is well known that many coupons can be for unhealthy and processed foods. Are you spending so much time and effort to coupon and save money that you are forgetting about your health? It's crazy to think this… but its possible that couponing now might make you broke on doctor bills in the future.
Couponing helped me and my family get out of debt, but only because I allowed it to change my spending habits. I saw it as a way to help my family get out of the mess that we were in financially, and because of all the hard work I put into it I stopped splurging at other stores.
In order to be successful and actually save money with coupons, you need to:
1.) Buy only things that you need or will use.
2.) Buy things when they are on sale.
3.) Set a budget and stick to it (If you need help with that, you can check out my Financial Renovation Community)
4.) Reevaluate your spending in other areas of your life. Be honest with yourself and take inventory of the things that you can cut back on.
5.) Don't eat junk food just because you got it for free. Meal plan around the produce and meat sales of the week, then add in things that you get with coupons AFTER you have budgeted for the healthier foods.
Yes, I still use coupons and I still teach others to do the same. The difference is that I teach people to be smart consumers, and that as smart consumers we have a right to shop when and where we want. If you are feeling like you are spending too much money using coupons, you probably are – using the tips above should help you get back on track with your spending.