I do use coupons to help with the cost of my supermarket shop but I’m not an extreme couponer and don’t think couponing is a reliable way to save money.
We love saving money in any way shape or form that we can. Over the last few years we have experimented with saving money in very extreme ways (we really didn’t try all of them) and we have learnt to cut our bills, save money shopping and cut out any unnecessary spending. We’ve even learnt to cut our supermarket shop in half.
As part of the way we cut down our food bill, we DO use coupons. Now don’t get me wrong, I really think that they are useful in bringing our food bill down – provided we do everything else as well.
In my opinion, coupons are not an option to use on their own to save money.
In the USA, using coupons from sites such as JCPenney coupons and doubling them up is a done deal. People seem to quite easily get a shopping bill of $500 and pay just a few cents or even have the store owe them money.
It could very well just be TV shows over glamorising how the coupon industry works – in which case, it confirms that using coupons as a sole way to pay for your groceries is not a way to save money.
I sneeze and suddenly a new coupon queen or king appears in the UK – how many of them are there now?! Popping up over the country are money saving savvy people who use coupons to lower the cost of their supermarket bill. Many of them do well and are saving loads of money on their grocery shop but I don’t think coupons on their own can be the magic secret weapon to lower your food bill.
I do believe that these people can do it though. They search for months high and low, get themselves a folder full of coupons and do a massive shop for next to nothing.
Problem is, I don’t think it’s possible for the everyday shopper to achieve it.
What I would like to point out is that I genuinely want to say well done to them. They get the coupons, use them well, make huge savings and many of them make massive donations of their excess food and stock to charity.
However, just because they can do it, and make it look easy, can anyone?
The thing I always think; if it’s too good to be true then it probably is.
Does extreme couponing actually work?
Well, yes extreme couponing can work but the clue is in the name – it’s extreme.
While there are some people who are able to make the savings, the well known US TV show all about extreme couponing seems to be a bit of a lie.
In 2011, a 16 year old boy managed to use loads of coupons to get loads of toilet rolls for free but a while later it was found that the coupons were fakes and his mum had to repay the total cash value for the loo roll. None of that got aired on the show, surprise, surprise!
So even when put in front of the public as a great way of saving money at the supermarket, under the scrutiny of the cameras, it appears that extreme couponing doesn’t actually work.
And here is Joel in the flesh telling the world how much her loves his coupons – you can even watch him selecting the toilet roll that he has to eventually pay for!
Why I’m NOT an extreme couponer
So there are lots of reasons why, although I am an active user of coupons, I don’t consider myself to be an extreme couponer.
I don’t have the time
It’s a simple thing – time equals money – and I don’t have much spare time. What with working full time while balancing being a stay at home dad, my time is precious! Right now, I really can’t fit anything new that will take up a large amount of my time.
You can’t clip a few coupons on Sunday and expect your next shopping bill to be 90% less. If that were the case, everyone would clip coupons and most manufacturers and retailers would go out of business very quickly by giving away too many of their products.
Extreme couponing is about going that one step further and I just don’t have time to dedicate to collecting discounted bits of paper.
On top of the clipping, there’s the sheer organisation and planning that goes into couponing as well. Not only do you need to have a way to store and file your coupons, but you have to carry out research to know which shop is selling what on offer, every week, so your coupons can get the best value.
There are other ways to make savings
We already plan out what we are going to eat for the next week but, with extreme couponing, we’d need to do so much more. I’d have to find out which stores have the best prices for the coupons we have and make sure I collect all the coupons in the first place.
In the last few years, we have already cut our supermarket spend in half through smart shopping and good meal planning. We take time before we head to the shop to check cupboards and do a stock check. When we know what we have at home, we then write a list and make sure that we only leave the shop with what we’re meant to, instead of adding extra things to the trolley.
Sure, by doing this you won’t come out spending 24p on a £200 shop but it is a realistic and simple way for anyone to go shopping, and not spend over the odds.
Instead of using cut out coupons, take advantage of supermarket loyalty cards too. With each spend you can add points to your account and can either get money off your future trolley or use them for a day out. Again, it’s not extreme but it’s an easy way that everyone can save money on shopping, without having to do it in a potentially impossible way.
We don’t have the room
We rent our home and storage is quite limited. Every cupboard we have is already full and any spare space is taken with our stuff. If we could somehow afford more rent (in an already massively over-priced rental market) then we could get a larger home with a garage for storage but it’s not going to happen.
Although we could probably move some things around, potentially throw some things away, or buy a cupboard to store all these extra items, it’s not an option I want to take.
The last thing I want to do is make my bedroom look like a supermarket (that’s the only place that has enough room to store anything else).
If I managed to find a loop hole with a coupon to bulk buy, say, tomato purée then they’d end up sitting on a shelf in my bedroom for months. It’s very well and good getting loads of tubes of tomato purée but we only get through one tube every two to three weeks so they’ll end up staying there for much longer than I’d prefer!
We eat fresh food
Pretty much everything we eat is cooked from scratch – why buy a ready meal when you can make it for a fraction of the price?
Our store cupboards don’t usually have crisps or processed snacks but instead have basic essential ingredients and fresh food.
The majority (please note I said majority, not all) of coupons are for processed foods, snacks or cleaning products. There is rarely a coupon for fresh meat or vegetables and when there is one the discount is not very high.
The only real exception I have found to this are Tesco Clubcard coupons we get through the post every few months. These vouchers are based on our shopping habits so they send them out in the hope we’ll head back to one of their store to buy the things that we actually like (and it usually works).
The coupons you can clip from a magazine or get from online for a decent discount are generally for pre-packaged foods. There is rarely a coupon for carrots, new potatoes, a loaf of bread or four pints of milk – everyday essential food that most people would need as standard in a weekly shop.
We can’t get a proper food shop
Thinking about what coupons are actually out there to get a discount on, we’d end up eating a lot of convenience or pre-packaged foods.
If the coupons are for a freebie then I probably wouldn’t say no and it would make it’s way back home with us, even if it’s not overly healthy. However, because of how the coupons work it doesn’t actually mean we can get a week’s worth of food shopping to feed our family properly for any great space of time.
With extreme couponing, you could have 20 bottles of shampoo, 15 toothbrushes, 12 packs of jumbo hot dogs and 6 frozen pizzas but that’s not going to feed your family for long. You will still need to do a top up shop for store cupboard essentials.
We buy basic brands and make higher savings
When you get a coupon don’t just swap your usual brand straight away because you think you’re getting a bargain.
If, like me, your trolley is usually filled with “no name” supermarket own brands then the’ll still usually work out cheaper versus a named brand, even with a coupon for 50% off.
It always pays to do a little research before you use the coupon to make sure that you won’t end up having to pay out more than you would if you didn’t use it.
Free coupons aren’t actually “free”
We clip coupons out of magazines we’re given, pick up free magazines in the supermarket and use coupons apps like ClickSnap to make our coupon savings because they’re free but other ways to get them do have a cost.
If you write to a manufacturer (you could email, sure) there’ll be the cost of the stamp to take into account and if you print coupons from somewhere like Supersavvyme then you need to own a printer and spend more money keeping the ink topped up.
Now some of these costs aren’t exactly massive but the costs soon add up over time, and if you save money on your shop in all other ways then it could just work out cheaper doing that, instead of printing coupons.
Other things to think about
The reason coupons are issued is not for us, the consumer, to save any money. Brands and supermarkets issue the coupons to get us to spend more money and to start buying the brands they want us to.
They hope that after eating or drinking or using the new product a few times that we’ll like it more and switch, or even start buying something that never used to be on your shopping list. You’ll end up spending more money than you used to, just because you tried a coupon.
But what about a coupon for a product that you just don’t need or would never use. Would you bother using it? I’ve had coupons for free dog food before and we don’t have a dog. Usually I would just not bother using them but my neighbour had dogs so I used the voucher for them – I think they liked it!
If you will not use the product or give it away to someone else then you may just end up having an item at home that will just get thrown out – it’s wasteful.
Really, don’t get me wrong; I do use coupons and they do save me money – but I don’t use them as the only way to save money on my supermarket shop.
Some people can use coupons in an extreme way to save money and get hundreds of pounds worth of groceries very cheaply, but I don’t think it’s realistic that every household in the country can do this.
If you do use coupons to save a huge pile of cash on your supermarket shop then please do share them with me, and convince me to start using them more pro-actively rather than an add on to save money.
Likewise, if you think extreme couponing is just too much hassle, let me know that as well.
Ricky Willis is the original Skint Dad. A money-making enthusiast, father, and husband to Naomi. He is always looking for unique ways to earn a little extra.