Extreme Couponing: To the Brink of Insanity and Back

Extreme Couponing - picture of lots of coupons

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Today, I have a confession to make.

By the time my youngest daughter was born, I had a full year’s worth of Similac formula stockpiled. I also had almost 100 packs of various brands and sizes of diapers. Of course, I had no idea if my baby would be allergic to Similac or not, and I didn’t know if she would be able to use a particular diaper brand.

I also didn’t care. I had been sucked into the world of extreme couponing.

The Lure of Extreme Couponing

Over the years, I had been a casual coupon user, but I really stepped it up a notch while pregnant with my second daughter. While it’s true that most women “nest” during pregnancy, I became a woman possessed.

I was consumed with having anything and everything that I could possibly need for my baby. I wanted mass quantities. Nay, I needed them! I even bought extra shelving units to keep up with my new obsession.

During this pregnancy, I even did a lot of coupon trading. I traded at a few different internet sites, which is how I got over 300 coupons for Similac formula. Each $5 coupon would almost pay for a quart of Similac at most stores. We spent our evenings and weekends going to Wal-Mart, CVS, Walgreens, and Target. These stores only allowed us to buy small quantities at a time, so we had to spread our purchases out over days and weeks.

Time Equals Savings

Extreme Couponing: To the Brink of Insanity and Back
My coupon binder

I also amassed large quantities of other items during this time – body wash, soap, cereal, razors, shampoo, and toilet paper. At the time, it didn’t seem excessive at all. Each coupon purchase became a chance to spend as little as possible for as many items as possible. It didn’t seem to matter what I was getting – or how many I was getting – as long as they were free or nearly free. Hours were spent cutting and organizing the coupons. I even got one of those coupon binders to organize them all.

My husband would often find me organizing and reorganizing baby supplies for hours on end. Stacking things up… lining my items in neat rows… I lived for this. I loved it, and I couldn’t get enough.

My husband played along because – well – he was scared not to. I had a mission in mind, and he was wise not to interfere. Who could blame him? What man would be brave enough to get between a pregnant hoarder’s diapers and formula? No man that I know.

Couponing Regrets

Once my second daughter was born, things began to change. Luckily, she was able to drink Similac and use any brand of diapers. But, I began to notice that I didn’t have time to cut, organize, and plan these intricate coupon purchases. I began to lose interest and got back to my casual coupon roots.

When I look back at that time, I feel horrified and proud at the same time. I am proud that I paid approximately $75 for a year’s worth of formula for my baby. I am also proud that I didn’t have to buy diapers over her entire first year of life. At the same time, I am horrified at the excessive hours I spent planning my coupon binges, relentlessly scouring blogs for upcoming sale tips.

These days, I typically use a few coupons on each shopping trip. Sometimes I forget to cut them out or bring them with me, but I no longer lose sleep over it. There are still plenty of ways to save money on groceries and personal care items that don’t involve cutting and using coupons. Here’s my list of easy and universal ways to save:

Easy Ways to Save on Groceries Without Coupons

Buy What is On Sale

If chicken is on sale and you eat it often, buy a few extra packs for meals in between sales cycles. If certain kinds of produce are on sale, buy them and incorporate them into your meals. If what you want is not on sale, don’t buy it.  Wait until it goes on sale to indulge.

Eat Leftovers

When you cook, make enough so you have leftovers for at least another dinner at home. Then be sure to eat them! Throwing good food away is wasteful and is definitely not frugal.

Be Creative

Leftover chicken from last night would go great on a salad for tomorrow’s dinner. Use your leftover pot roast to make beef vegetable soup the next day. There are websites all over the internet with helpful advice on how to use leftovers.  Use them! Or, try subscribing to a cheap meal plan like this one.

Go Meatless, at Least Part of the Time

Vegetarian spaghetti is a cheap and easy meal that most families enjoy. Salads and pizzas taste great without meat. If you insist on eating meat, eat smaller portions and you will save money.

Eat Breakfast for Dinner

My kids love scrambled eggs, toast, and pancakes. Not only are these things easy to make, but they are also cheap.

Keep it Simple

Sometimes it can be impractical to make a fancy dinner if you have worked all day. While I don’t think meal delivery services are worth it, don’t be afraid to keep it simple, especially with little kids. Have peanut butter and jelly with fruit, crackers and cheese, or macaroni for dinner.

Final Thoughts

I have to admit, I benefited from my days of extreme couponing for quite a while. I didn’t buy toilet paper for over a year. I had over 50 containers of laundry detergent stashed in my stockpile. At one time, I even had enough floss to span the entire United States.

And although I have finally had to start buying razors and soap again, I’m now shopping in moderation. I have learned that you can save plenty of money just by buying things when they are on sale… and avoiding them when they are not. Yes, using coupons is still fun, but I’ve learned that saving time is often as important as saving money. After all, I’m still a girl who loves to save – in every way possible.

Have you ever been into extreme couponing? Was it worth it to you? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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  1. Great post Holly! I can see where people get obsessed with coupons. We used to use a few each week and then it began to just be a time suck for us. It ended up costing more time and energy to buy the paper and cut the coupons then it did to use them. We do a lot of what you suggest instead! We rarely through anything away and we keep meals simple. We’ve learned unit pricing for a lot of the products we use on a regular basis too – and that helps keep costs down. Shopping when the stores aren’t busy makes a huge difference to us too. No need to just grab a few things to get out of the rush of people!

  2. Well is been goos that you’ve spent only $75 for a year of newborn items but glad to know that you have other tips to save without them…in Italy just arrived couppons and usually I tend to use only when I really need but is sporadic thing!!!

  3. Holly,
    Sorry I just had to freakin laugh. I can totally picture this. But you had a good excuse, you were pregnant! It’s with examples like this that the saying “time is money” really makes so much sense to me.

    1. Ha! Yep, I was huge into nesting both pregnancies. I would wash, dry, fold, wash, dry, and refold the baby’s clothes multiple times! I was nuts!

  4. I understand the draw. Saving money and scoring free items can be addictive. I did it for about two months before throwing in the towel. I started to feel like I was spending hours trying to find the next deal/coupon so I could score something for “free”. I was also buying items I wouldn’t have purchased if I hadn’t had a coupon…and items we didn’t really need. I’m able to keep my groceries for my family of 4 around $300/month without using coupons. And I use all the tips listed here!

  5. In 2009, when we got serious about paying off debt, I went through a 9 month period of intense couponing. I would hit 6-8 stores every weekend. I spent $9 buying razors for my husband and we are just now getting to the end of those this year, in 2016. (To be fair, he grew a beard and his razor needs diminished too). I still do a little couponing for household items, but our food budget is lower than it was then, and it’s mostly thanks to managing food waste and cooking from scratch.

  6. We love rice and beans. Beans are so cheap, they are almost free! We love the taste. I do put onions and cheese on them sometimes, so that raises the cost. Sometimes I also redeem credit card rewards for CVS gift cards and Wal-Mart and get groceries with them.

  7. For what it’s worth, I have some of the same feelings about travel hacking. It’s a cool game that, if you enjoy playing as I do, really seems like a fantastic way to get free travel. But it can get to be pretty nuts if taken to the extreme, too. Everything has a cost, time or money or both, so you better enjoy whatever you’re doing.

    If people like the game of collecting coupons, getting stuff for nearly free, then I say go for it. If it feels like drudgery though, there are probably other & better ways to buy all the stuff you need. In the end, it’s all about having enough and doing things you like doing in the process. Cover those bases, and the rest is gravy.

  8. I was close to getting sucked into extreme couponing by those shows on TV. But I learned from a couple of couponing web sites that most of those episodes were fake at best and fraudulent at worst. I do try to use coupons when it makes sense and even try to double their effect by using a coupon with a sale item. I do still have quite a stock pile of toilet paper but since it doesn’t ever expire, I’m ok with that. Our Target store frequently runs a sale on toilet paper and I use a coupon, plus if you get like 2 packages of a certain size they give you a $5 gift card which I save to use for the next time. For that, I’ll maintain a stockpile.

  9. Thanks for sharing your experience with this. Formula is a expensive so it makes sense to try to save on that. Everything I’ve heard about extreme couponing is that it’s very time consuming. I’m sure you could make more writing in that same time than you would save by couponing! We have an ALDI 3 miles from us so the normal prices on staples are really good. I rarely use coupons because of that.

  10. I can relate to this. I wouldn’t say I’ve been as extreme as you but I have beat myself up over forgetting a coupon at home or set myself into a panic over buying something full price. I’ve tried printing coupons but for the most part I find it inconvenient so I’m trying to set some couponing rules and limits for myself. I typically only use coupons cut from the circulars now. I also limit the stores I shop at. I’ve tried couponing at 3-4 stores and it becomes overwhelming.

  11. This post made me laugh. I did try couponing for awhile, had the binder & everything and quit once I found saving apps like Flipp and Ibotta. I also shop when stuff goes on sale & most things almost always do.

    1. Yeah, I mostly shop sales to save money. That seems to be the key for us. Like, if apples and grapes are on sale, that’s the fruit I buy for the week. Know what I mean?

      1. You’ve heard of the “locavore” movement, right? Eating only what’s grown locally? For MSN Money I wrote a column suggesting that we all be “frugalvores” — focusing mostly or completely on what’s on sale that week.

        Of course, that’s the way my mom always shopped and it’s the way I always shopped. But it’s a new concept for some.

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