Over the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing an uptick of emails from people frustrated, confused, or curious about how couponing can work. These people are watching shows on TV about couponing and left with far more questions than answers. I felt it was time to address this today.
Unrealistic Portrayals of Couponing
The other night I was watching a PBS special on couponing. I thought, “finally! A show NOT on TLC. Maybe this PBS special will show people how to actually do this.” I was quickly disappointed. The couponer featured on the special announced her food budget was…. $4 a week. FOUR DOLLARS. On the special, she worked to help a young family learn how to use coupons, and then hopefully teach the viewers out there the same thing. The poor couple had this deer in the headlights look about them.
Last week, my mother-in-law texted me saying she someone on TV pay $6 for $600 worth of food.
Someone else recently emailed me wishing they could be as good as the extreme couponing folks on TV.
Another person emailed discouraged because they don’t double coupons in her area, like the people on TV.
See the problem yet?
People are being fed the idea that unless you save hundreds of dollars you’re somehow not “doing it right.” And then these frustrated or confused folks end up emailing people like me, looking for real answers.
To me it’s no different than a pretty, average sized woman looking at the photoshopped body of a 5’11” supermodel in a magazine. It’s just not realistic for most people, most of the time.
Couponing is not a competition
One of the things that bothers me most about the couponing shows is they have turned a smart method of grocery shopping into a game. (Extreme Couponing All-Stars, anyone? Sigh.)
I don’t know about you, but when I’m shopping, I’m not thinking “wow, I better save more money than that coupon blogger, or that friend who had a crazy shopping trip at Rite Aid last week.” When it comes down to it here’s why I use coupons:
- To save money on things my family actually uses.
- To avoid paying full price by keeping a stocked up pantry.
- To help manage my household better.
When I see the couponing shows, it seems that the exact opposite is at play. Here’s what the shows like to depict:
- A high number of dollars saved without any regard to the items purchased.
- Obnoxious behavior such as shelf clearing and hoarding.
- Unclear couponing tactics (i.e., HOW they did that transaction).
- A focus on “winning” (people applauding, showing off long receipts, etc).
If you are thinking about starting to use coupons, ask yourself why you want to use coupons. Is it to really help your family save money, or are you more interested in being like the people on a TV show?
Couponing you can Sustain
My goal here at The Coupon Project is to help you learn to do this in a sustainable way. That means taking the time to share how store sales cycles work, talking about a wide variety of stores, and giving you other ideas for frugal living besides just coupons. It also means ENOUGH ALREADY about “my area doesn’t double coupons so I can’t save.” (Seriously, can we please be done with that one? Please?)
What are the tactics of couponing for the long haul?
- Stockpiling for the things your family actually uses.
- Getting your coupons (ethically!) each week.
- Leveraging coupons on top of sales for reduced out of pocket expense.
- Working to minimize your time and effort involved as your skills and stockpile increase.
So if you’ve emailed me and wondered about couponing, now you know how I like to do things around here. I believe you can have success even if you spend more than $4 per week on your groceries. (Right now my budget is $325/month.) I believe you can have success even if you don’t save $600 at Walmart. (By buying things you don’t need in large quantities just so you can get the overage.) I believe you can have success even if you don’t do it exactly how Jane Doe Couponer does it down the street.
If I’ve piqued your curiosity and you’d like to learn how to do this in a realistic and sustainable way, I have some resources for you here at the blog:
Four Secrets of Couponing Success. This would be a great post to start with.
Coupons 101 Page. This page has coupon lessons and posts on ALL things related to getting started with couponing. I’ve had folks work through these posts and go on to hit the stores with great success.
Recorded Webcasts. So often people want to go to a class and hear someone speak. Guess what. I have over 20 recorded coupon lessons that you can watch for FREE. I put the same amount of gusto and effort into these as I do a coupon class. Topics including where to find coupons, how to organize coupons, how to make the leap into coupons, coupon ethics, stockpiling, and much more. Each webcast runs about 30 minutes. A good place to start too.
YouTube Channel. If you don’t have a lot of time, consider watching some of my YouTube shorts. I’ve tackled many of the same topics as the webcasts, but in 3-4 minute form.
Easier Couponing. This is my ebook where the emphasis is on time saved, over money. Good for the busy person that would like to save about 30-40% on their grocery bill.
My goal around here is to not just make this “another coupon site.” My goal is for you to find the tools and resources you need to learn to do this for yourself in a realistic, long term way.
If you’ve been watching these shows and wondering what you’ve been doing wrong, I hope I’ve put your mind at ease a bit.
I hope you’ll continue to coupon and stop thinking that you’re failing if you’re spending more than $4 a week. If couponing could shave $20 a week off your family’s grocery bill, that’d be $1,040 in a year’s time. And that’s nothing to sneeze at, my friends.