This will be the final installment of my foray into coupon tutorials. I’ll leave the rest to the experts. This, however, might be the most important lesson I can offer and it’s not something you’ll read about in most couponing guides.
Be a good person.
You should probably be a good person whether or not you use coupons, but when you get knee-deep in the crazy scissor-wielding paper-cut ridden realm of extreme couponing, sometimes you lose sight of why you’re clipping up newspapers and carrying a notebook full of tiny slips of paper in the first place: to save you and your family money. This is not a sport, so do not try to “win” by scoring the best deal possible if the items you purchase are not things that you truly need and will use. You’re not saving money if you’re buying dumb crap that will go to waste in your home. In fact, you’re being a bad person if that’s what you’re doing.
This post is not about the crazy people who elbow other couponers in the face to snatch a good buy. Those people need more than just my advice. I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that I think couponing should be done in a socially responsible manner and honestly, I’m still figuring out how to master and delineate such a code. I’m not sure that I believe in karma, but saving >50% seems like something you need to pay forward.
This is my rough sketch:
1. Take only what you need.
That free Just For Men gel might be a fabulous deal but if neither you nor anyone you know is going gray, you should probably walk away from the offer. Why take a product that someone else might actually need? Just for the rush of getting a deal? At what cost? A house full of products that you’ll never use and your very own episode of Hoarders?
The only exception to this rule: money makers. Those items I mentioned before that offer overages ($$ taken off of your total at the register) are some people’s income. I understand that. But for those of us who work and have other means of survival, be cautious and considerate. Take only one or two of these money makers, and only if you can use or donate the item.
2. Donate what you don’t use/get for free.
If you’re a skilled coupon wizard whose savings abound, why not share that good fortune with people who really need it? Many grocery stores have carts/bins at their entrances with lists of needed products at local food banks. See if you can score some deals for the needy! This is an especially good option for small families and couples who end up with a closet full of B1G1 goods when the one really would have sufficed.
If you get off on the rush of couponing but find yourself overwhelmed with product at the end of a good haul, consider boxing up your extras and passing it on to someone who cannot afford to coupon. It will free up some cabinet space, make someone’s day (or week), and make you feel a little better about your over-buying.
Prime example: Walgreen’s is currently running a semi-secret $2 Register Reward when you buy 2 Suave shampoo or conditioner products. This means that when you buy two 99 cent shampoo/conditioners you get both FREE. Why not buy a few of these and let your savvy enrich the lives of others, at no cost to you?
3. Be vigilant about your recycling.
Coupon-clipping makes for a sea of unused paper. I was shocked at the amount of paper I had accumulated after just one week of couponing! I kept it all together in a reusuable bag and at the end of the week, I drove it to the local recycling center. Unfortunately recycling is not an easy option in the tiny town I live in, so I have to drive two towns over to Moscow, ID in order to properly recycle my paper scraps. The nice thing about getting into this routine, is that it keeps me more aware of other recycling (paper, cardboard, glass) that I often tend to neglect. When being environmentally aware is inconvenient or expensive, it becomes extremely hard to keep it a priority. When I’m using so much more paper than the average person in order to save money (by printing coupons, picking up flyers, buying and discarding multiple newspapers every week), I feel like I can’t afford not to recycle.
4. Try to continue buying local/organic/[insert thing you care about here] when you can.
Not all coupons are for big name companies. Most of the good ones are for larger corporations, but some smaller companies put out coupons too. These are rarely as high-dollar, but they will help you more affordably adhere to your values. One source for such coupons is Common Kindness, a website dedicated to providing coupons for more environmentally/socially aware products, and for making couponing benefit charitable organizations. According to their FAQs, this is how it works:
1.Sign-up / Sign-in and select your favorite Non-Profit
2. Print and redeem grocery coupons
3. CommonKindness provides funds to your favorite Non-Profit
Companies pay an advertising fee to CommonKindness and we share 20% of funds received with the non-profits you select.
I’ve found some excellent coupons for things I’ve only found at the Moscow Food Co-Op, making shopping there a little more manageable on my budget. This way I can put my money back into the community without totally breaking the bank. In a perfect world, I would only buy local high quality foods from independent co-ops like ours in Moscow. In the real world I barely make enough money to fuel my commute and make rent, which is the reason I started couponing altogether.
Personal Story Time:
I’m a bit embarrassed by my newfound coupon hobby. It’s another factor contributing to my feeling old and irrelevant. It’s extremely time consuming for sometimes little savings. And it stresses to everyone around me that I’m poor. I don’t like any of these things. What I do like, however, is feeling like I can make purchases that will better prepare me for financial uncertainty, without cutting into savings or dipping too deep into my recent paycheck. Another thing I like is leaving the store knowing that I made do with what I had instead of pandering to the credit card companies to spend what I haven’t earned. If I try to follow these rules more carefully, I think I can make it fulfilling on another level as well.
I wish it were easy to reconcile my need to stay on a strict budget and my desire to invest in my community. Unfortunately, social interests come at a price. This flimsy set of guidelines is my best effort at keeping the two categories within reach. Do you have any suggestions or perhaps your own code of couponing? I would love to hear thoughts and ideas from others.