Apr 082011

That title is a joke – I never really was a “coupon queen.” But, I did experiment with hardcore couponing for a few months, back in 2009. It didn’t last, and I’d like to explain why. Not because I have anything against coupons or “coupon royalty” – quite the opposite, actually – but I find that people who have an intense love affair with coupons are always trying to convert me, and I want to explain my position.

I also think that coupon enthusiasts sometimes try to make people who don’t clip coupons feel bad or guilty, as if they’re lazy or don’t care enough to put forth the effort. In some cases that may be true, but the majority have legitimate reasons for their choice, and it’s time that someone spoke up in support of them.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I sincerely believe in being a good steward of resources, and doing the best I can for my family in all areas of our life. And I’m here to tell you that it is possible to give your family a happy, abundant life without extreme couponing which, for me, isn’t practical (or even economical, sometimes). If you’re an extreme couponer, or you’re thinking of becoming one, that’s up to you, and it’s none of my business. I just want to explain why I’m not, and give you some factors to consider:

1) The cost of obtaining coupons. If you purchase or subscribe to a newspaper in order to get the inserts, make sure that you’re saving more than you’re spending. The same goes for coupon “services,” such as The Grocery Game, or clipping sites. Personally, I’ve never subscribed to, or even regularly purchased a newspaper in all of my adult life. I can get all the news I need to know for free from our local news station, or online.

2) Gas is expensive. One of my biggest problems with couponing was distance. The nearest chain grocery store/Wal-Mart/Target/Walgreens is approximately 15 miles from my house, and special sales/Register Rewards/ECBs have expiration dates. In spite of my planning and strategizing, I found that I often had to scramble to get my “deals” before expiration, and this meant extra trips to the city that I would not ordinarily have made. Our van gets 19 miles to the gallon, and with gas at $3.59/gallon, it costs me $5.70 for each round trip. If I make a special trip every week, that’s $23 that I must deduct from my coupon savings every month. So, make sure to factor in the cost of gasoline.

3) Your time is worth something. In fact, it’s worth more than anything else because on this earth, time is the most valuable and precious commodity we have. There’s a little blurb on TLC every time they advertise Extreme Couponing (which is A LOT). A woman says, “Couponing is definitely a job. I’ve spent 4-6 hours a day preparing for a shopping trip.” She’s not kidding. My second biggest complaint about couponing is that it was very time consuming. Even with services like CouponMom, which match coupons to sales for you, I still found that couponing took more time than I wanted to spend. There’s no way I could spend 4 hours a day on it – not without letting all of my other responsibilities slide.

4) Don’t let it become a false idol. For some of the real, hardcore couponers I know, getting free stuff is an obsession, and a real, dominating force in their lives. I will admit that it did become a slight obsession for me, and comparing inserts to sale flyers in order to find “deals” was like a compulsion. But, it’s important to remember 1 Corinthians 9:25:

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

Temperance means moderation and balance, and the crown we strive to obtain is our eternal reward in heaven with God. Remember to “seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33.

5) Couponing contributes to clutter. I just threw away two boxes of allergy medicine that were expired. 2 years ago, I got them for free with coupons, but guess what? No one in my house has allergies (I think I intended to give them to someone who could use them. Obviously that never happened). But they were FREE, and therefore worth getting, right? Nope. Just because something is free, doesn’t mean you need it, and bringing home unnecessary stuff just serves to feed the clutter monster (as do coupons themselves, if you’re not organized). Which brings me to…

6) There’s a difference between stockpiling and hoarding. It’s smart and frugal to have a stockpile of frequently used goods, purchased at the lowest sale prices. But don’t cross the line! I know you’ve heard me say this before, but it’s worth repeating – buy only what you can neatly and properly store, and use before expiration. And yes, this applies even to toothpaste and deodorant, which do expire. OTC medicines and personal care products become less effective over time, and honestly, do you really need 100 sticks of deodorant? If so, why? Are you stockpiling in anticipation of need? Or, greed?

7) Educate yourself about how coupons work, and use them ethically. It’s important for all of us who use coupons to follow the rules and be honest, because it only takes a few frauds to crash the party for everyone. Don’t be one of them. (See The Importance of Ethical Couponing).

Please don’t misunderstand…I do like and use coupons. I have a friend who sometimes saves her inserts for me, and I appreciate it. But I take a very relaxed approach to couponing. When I make my grocery list, I visit CouponMom’s list of printable coupons, and print those for items I’m planning to buy, or will buy in the future, and I keep them organized in my Savings Notebook. When coupons save me $10 on a $40-dollar purchase, I’m happy and thankful.

I’m also thankful that I still have time to prepare healthy meals, keep a clean and orderly house, actively manage our finances, spend time with my family, and write this blog, because these things are important to me as well. I’m happy to have found an appropriate balance.