There’s a saying that goes something like this: “mistakes are our greatest teachers.”
As I was reflecting on my couponing journey a few days ago, it occurred to me that so much of what I do now that’s RIGHT was the direct result of getting it WRONG somewhere earlier along the way. It can be so easy to get caught up in the excitement of couponing that you miss the bigger picture – and the subtle pitfalls that’ll get you if you’re not paying attention. In an effort to
amuse you spare you some of the same mistakes, I thought I’d share a few pitfalls I’ve encountered.
Pitfall #1: Overspending.
Sure those coupons save you money on this transaction or that shopping trip, but guess what happens if you don’t mind your overall grocery budget? Yes, you can overspend! This may seem counter intuitive, but it is entirely possible to spend more than you were before coupons if you don’t pay attention. You are particularly susceptible to this when just starting out, getting gung-ho about snatching up every deal and building your stockpile.
How to avoid this pitfall: Make sure you set and stick to your grocery budget! Consider using my free Savings Tracker to see exactly how much you spend and save in a given month. Try to focus most (if not all) of your shopping on one day a week, and limit the number of small deal gathering trips you do each week. Those $5 and $7 trips can really add up if you don’t pay attention.
Pitfall #2: Letting coupons tell you what to buy.
One of the advantages of using coupons is that you may get to try products you wouldn’t have otherwise – for free and sometimes, better than free. But be careful thinking that you must use every coupon. It’s not a deal if it’s going to sit in your pantry and no one in your family will touch it.
How to avoid this pitfall: Plan your meals weekly and look for stock-up deals that truly matter to you and your family. Don’t feel bad letting coupons expire – even high value coupons. You can share them with friends or send them to overseas military who can use them up to 6 months past expiration dates.
Pitfall #3: Spending hours clipping coupons each week.
I don’t know about you, but I for one do not want to spend 2 or 3 hours each week cutting, sorting, and organizing coupons. I just don’t have that kind of time! If your method for coupon organization has grown cumbersome, find a new way of doing things. Don’t let your coupons pile up.
How to avoid this pitfall: Here’s what I found works for me. I clip only the coupons I know I’ll want to use, or will be likely to use. This is often anywhere from 20-30% of the total coupons in my inserts. I file them immediately in my binders. The rest of the coupons go in folders in case a deal pops up on a coupon I didn’t clip (and this DOES happen!). I also have recruited my 5-year old son to help with the cutting. (He loves it.) I also get just four copies of the Tacoma News Tribune – it’s the perfect amount for me. (You can watch this YouTube video for more on how I organize coupons.)
Pitfall #4: Couponstipation.
I came across this term recently and I think it pretty much sums up the mindset we can fall into after couponing for awhile. Simply put, couponstipation is the inability to buy an item now because there might be a coupon out there for it. Or maybe you’ve purchased the item before on a hot sale with a coupon and so you KNOW a better deal is theoretically possible. Or you’ve made up some ridiculous rule for yourself that you only buy items with coupons.
How to avoid this pitfall: C’mon. Get over yourself already. If the box of crackers your family likes to eat is normally $2.99 and is on sale for $0.99, just do us a favor, and buy it already, OK? Even worse, the people who drive home and go get the $0.50 off coupon so they can come back and pay $0.49 for the crackers, and spend at least $1.21 in gas driving back home and back to the store, not to mention the time involved.
Learn ways of saving without using a coupon, and cut yourself some slack. Recognize that most of your savings will come from store sales (not coupons). Remember that it’s always more important to stick to your budget than achieve a particular savings percentage rate.
Pitfall #5: Chasing the Deal.
There’s no way to frustrate yourself more with couponing than to head to store after store after store to try to chase down every last freebie, money-maker, or hot deal. You will burn out, you could potentially overspend, and you’ll be generally hating life after a few short weeks. Is it worth your life’s precious energy and time for some cheap Advil and cat food? I think not.
We typically think of coupon burnout as being a newbie phenomenon, but every now and then I’m reminded that ANY couponer can fall prey to this behavior if not kept in check.
Case in point: a couple weeks ago there was a deal at Safeway I really wanted to take advantage of – free POM juice. I don’t normally shop at Safeway, but yes, I made a special trip for this one deal. I should’ve known better than to waste my time and pack my kids up. Of course the store was out. I was given a raincheck but also warned that many rainchecks had been passed out for the said deal. In other words, I’d have competition for the next month or so as others would be attempting to redeem their rainchecks. Silly me, I made ANOTHER trip to the store last week in hopes of finding the POM. NOPE. Last weekend, I decided to phone the store to see if it was in. NOPE.
At this point, I’ll hang onto my coupons and raincheck if I just so happened to be shopping at Safeway, but I’ve learned it’s rarely worth my time and effort to chase down a single HOT deal.
How to avoid this pitfall: Be mindful. Pay attention to how much time and energy you’re spending saving all that money. Tell yourself it’s OK to sit out deals that aren’t really going to benefit your family. In spite of what any TV show would have you believe, couponing is not a game.
Is couponing working for you, or are you working for it?
Every few months I like to evaluate how my system of shopping and saving is working for me. Here are some of the questions I ask myself:
- How much time am I spending per week on cutting and organizing coupons? Is it easy and quick to do, or do I dread it?
- How many trips am I making to the store each week? Do I feel like they are excessive? Can I consolidate my shopping?
- Is my meal planning coinciding well with my grocery list making?
- Most of the time, do I leave the store feeling like I got the deals I wanted?
- Is my spending on track?
If you’ve not done so in awhile, consider going through a similar exercise. When I’ve stopped and realized that I could eliminate little middle-of-the-week trips, take a break from shopping the drugstores, or change up my organization in some way – it felt freeing. Give yourself permission to change things up if it’s not working for you. There is not one “right” way to coupon, but chances are there is one way that’s more right for you.
Have you fallen for one of these couponing pitfalls? Or can you think of another one you’ve fallen for before?