Following the Great Recession, it seemed like extreme couponing was a competitive sport. You could watch on TV as shoppers, armed with binders full of clipped coupons and an in-depth knowledge of stores’ policies, would get incredible discounts at the checkout counter.
Extreme couponing may not be as popular today, but the Recession gave many people an appreciation for living a frugal lifestyle. That’s a good thing. Living within one’s means is a core tenet of practicing good financial habits and couponing can help you achieve this goal. However, as with most things in life, you want to try and find a healthy balance and look for ways to coupon without the extreme.
Make the most out of your couponing. Whether you’re on your weekly grocery run or making a major purchase, a discount can always be helpful. However, be wary of buying products you don’t regularly need or use simply because you have a coupon or there’s a sale.
Some people might choose to avoid temptation by looking for coupons after the items are in their cart. With a smartphone in hand, you can use a savings app to look for savings while you’re waiting to check out.
Another option, that might require a bit more time and strategy, is to plan your meals for the week ahead of time. You can write down your shopping list and spend five or ten minutes looking for applicable coupons before heading to the store. You might also choose to look at the coupons available and plan your meals for the week based off of what’s on sale.
No matter what tactics you use, the point is to save money on items that you will use, not to purchase merchandise simply because it’s discounted.
Invest your time proportionately to the potential savings. The time investment that an attempt at extreme couponing can require doesn’t always match the potential savings. Spending hours couponing and winding up saving $1.50 probably isn’t worth the time commitment.
A less extreme method is to consider the potential savings and spend a proportional amount of time researching products and looking for savings opportunities. But many people don’t take this approach. A survey conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Zillow in 2016 found that on average, people spent eight hours researching mortgages or mortgage refinancing; 11 hours researching a new car or truck; and four hours researching a new phone, tablet or TV. Almost a fifth of those surveyed spent an hour or less shopping for their home mortgage.
Learning about and comparing options before making major purchases, such as a home or car, makes sense. A small change in your mortgage’s interest rate could save or cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Comparing two new phones could save a few hundred dollars when it comes time to purchase.
Smaller recurring savings, such as the previously mentioned grocery runs, can certainly add up in the long run. If you’ve got a tried-and-true method that’s working for you, go for it. Just make sure you get a good return on the time and effort you put in.
If you find joy in the hunt that’s okay too. There are always exceptions and there are times when putting the extreme in couponing makes perfect sense. For example, there are extreme couponers who view their interest and practice as a hobby, and coupon because it can be enjoyable to hunt for deals. While most hobbies cost money — this is one that could actually lead to savings.
There are also extreme couponers who figure out ways to get free products and then donate them to a local charity. It’s a win-win for the couponer and those in need.
Bottom line: While saving money is important, and can be fun, try not to become so enthralled by potential savings that you lose sight of the purpose — to spend less money on what you want or need. If you are going to invest your time in money-saving endeavors, make sure you can potentially get a good return on your investment.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney