Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hand Me the Scissors....I See a Coupon

Coupon usage seems to fall into two categories. First, there is the couponer who goes through the store methodically searching through a large 3-ring binder, carefully matching coupons to sales and promotions. This is the person who can purchase two grocery carts filled to the hilt and only spend about 14 cents. Then, there are those, like my friend Annabelle, who is tempted by too many coupons. 'I can't use them because they make me overspend. I just start buying everything I have a coupon for and end up spending more than expected.'  They are extreme opposites and  most of us would be better suited if we fell somewhere in the middle.

For the Extremist, coupon clipping is like a military maneuver. It is carefully planned and executed with the precision of a Supreme Allied Commander.  It is impressive to see all the freebies they can score and I often strive to be a little bit more like that. But, I think, you can go too far. I once saw a segment on t.v. about an Extreme Couponer and, to be honest, I think she belonged on one of those programs for hoarders. It is one thing to provide for your family or perhaps take your extras to the food bank and local shelter. It is quite another to be stepping over boxes of ink pens, deodorant, and peanut butter while claiming, 'I don't know what to do with all this. I love the challenge and just can't stop.' Honey, I think you love the challenge just a little too much.

For the HyperClipper, the art of saving money gets replaced with the compulsion to clip every coupon in the free world and shop nonstop. Annabelle has been known to bring home hot dogs and tortillas (among other things) for a family who would rather eat tree bark than that stuff.  It leaves her wondering what to cook and why there's nothing good to eat in the cupboard.

I live in the world of The Happy Medium.  I will never get rich with coupon savings but I do manage to save a little and that always seems to come in handy.  My mom didn't use coupons so it was an acquired skill I picked up as a college student trying to make ends meet without living on bologna sandwiches.  I remember how mortified my soon-to-be husband looked the first time we shopped together. 'You're not going to use those, are you? Here? Where everybody can see you?'  I most certainly was. He turned pale and made a quick exit to the magazine section. He almost had the vapors. I thought about it for a while and asked if I could keep the savings after we got married. He laughed a little and agreed because 'it probably will only add up to a few dollars.'  Actually, it was a few hundred dollars. Five hundred dollars that we saved for our Baby Fund.

I have a few simple rules I follow that allow me to stay in the Happy Medium.  Mostly, I just use coupons for trusted products, and I do try to stock up on non perishables. Occasionally, I'll clip them for a new product. If I'm going to try something new I might as well get a good deal. New products often have really low introdutory prices you can combine with a coupon for a steal.  The coupons are organized in a way that makes sense to me so that they are easy to use. I'm not interested in wasting my time looking for an air freshener coupon. I'm too busy. I need it to be a quick and easy no-brainer. I will shop at several stores but I'm not going to go out of my way  so I will try to bundle shopping with my errands if possible.

The most important thing I do with my coupon savings is actually SAVE it. I have a budget binder and I simply write down the savings. I will periodically add it all up and send that amount to a savings account. If you do not have an emergency fund this is a painless way to get one going. You could just as easily 'snowflake' the money to your debt reduction plan. (Snowflakes are the little bits of money you add immediately to your debt snowball).

I think coupons are a great component to your budgeting  as long as you keep it in perspective and are mindful of how you shop. Do you use coupons?  How successful have you been?

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