A few years ago I tried to get into couponing in order to trim some money off of our budget. I didn’t have the dedication or organization skills to be successful with it in the long run, but I did score quite a few deals at the grocery store and local pharmacies.
Even though I wasn’t successful, there are many people doing extreme couponing and having a ton of success in getting significantly reduced costs or even cart fulls of items for free.
What is Extreme Couponing?
Extreme couponing is just what it sounds like: taking cutting out coupons of the Sunday paper to an entirely new level. Extreme couponers track upcoming sales at multiple stores, buy coupons online from other people that have clipped them out of their own papers, and essentially work the system to get many items for free. Some items can be better than free — they’re called “money makers” — where you end up getting more back in discount than the item cost you, so your overall bill is reduced.
If you’ve ever seen someone buying 17 bottles of shampoo at the store with a stack full of coupons in their hand, you’ve probably just encountered an extreme couponer.
How to Successfully Become an Extreme Couponer
Being an extreme couponer will save you a ton of money on certain types of items, but it won’t be easy. Here are a few tips to get started.
To be a successful couponer you need time. It will take you a good bit of time to come up with a system that works for you (or find someone else’s system to copy). It takes time to track down all of the upcoming weekly sales at store, identify the items you need to buy or will be beneficial for a future coupon, and to clip them. There is a definite time element and I would estimate starting with at least 2 hours per week to get started.
A great problem to have with extreme couponing is where to store all of the free and discounted stuff you get. Yes, you can get 17 bottles of shampoo for 10 cents a pop… but now you have to have a place to store 17 bottles of shampoo. Having an extra closet or simply a shelf in a garage can help you keep all of your stuff organized and out of your way.
The key to being successful with couponing is organization. You need to know when the sales are, what items you need to buy in order to maximize your coupons (or register rewards or points that the drug stores offer for future discounts), what coupons you have, when your coupons expire, and what coupons you need. Most couponers have giant folders of organized coupons: either organized by type of item (grocery, pharmacy, etc.) or by expiration month.
In short, having a giant wad of coupons and no system to keep everything organized will likely result in you wasting a lot of your time and not getting the most benefit from your coupon cutting efforts.
Sometimes it takes a little bit of money to get started. You need to buy a couple of Sunday newspapers one week or purchase specific coupons off of the internet. You might need to buy $10 worth of hair products and $15 worth of grocery products this week in order to get a $20 drug store reward to use next week (which then coincides with a coupon you have for next week). In the long run you end up saving a ton of money, but in most cases you can’t get started for absolutely free.
Is Extreme Couponing Worth the Time and Money Invested?
Ah, the million dollar question. Whether or not extreme couponing makes sense for you and your family is really dependent upon your situation.
However, I will say extreme couponing takes a lot of time and energy. At least it did for me. And many times I couldn’t see the value in buying an item I would never use just to get a reward to use the next week. I felt like I was cluttering up my house and contributing to wastefulness. Also, some companies have reacted to extreme couponing (and the TLC show of the same name) by drastically reducing how their coupons work. The companies argue that coupons are to entice you to try a new product for a discount, and getting 17 of them for free is an abuse of the system.
On the other hand, there are crazy stories out there where families have been able to drop their grocery and drug store costs from $600 per month to $70 per month through extreme couponing. If you’re living on a tight budget that can literally be a financial lifesaver. If you are able to successfully extreme coupon, you could cut your costs dramatically and use the money you saved on building up savings or paying down debt.