Saturday, April 16, 2011

Couponing for Beginners Part 1: Why Life Does Not Reflect Extreme Couponing on TLC

Thanks to Google for the use of the picture!

Now a days when I get a newbie couponer contacting me about getting started, some of the first words out of their mouths/out of their keyboards tend to be, "Well, I saw Extreme Couponing on TLC and..."

Those words ALWAYS make me flinch because I know the questions that are coming like,

"How do I buy 1600.00 worth of groceries for 100.00 like they do on that show?"
"What stores in Alaska double and triple coupons?"
"What papers should I get to get the most coupons?"
"How do I get up a stockpile like the people on that show do?"
"No, seriously, how do I get 1600.00 worth of groceries for 100.00 like they do on that show?!?"

And the poor souls honestly don't like the answers I have to give them in some cases, so I thought I'd share some of those answers here today and just try to show realistically what you can expect coupons to do for you.

Point one, and this is important so if you have a pen and paper ready, now would be a good time to take notes.  Ready?

You will NEVER be able to save as much money living in Alaska as they do on Extreme Couponing.  Okay, never is a long time, but I'll say it's highly improbable you are going to be able to pull off a shopping trip like the people on the show.

Sorry guys and gals, but it's true.  Why?  Well, the reasons are numbered, but a good one is because we do not have any stores in our state that double and triple coupons.  Period.  Call and ask any given store in this state when they'll double coupons and you'll be lucky if they don't laugh at you when you ask.

First, let me explain what double coupons are.  No, it is not using 2 coupons on one item, although that is a common misconception, although really in the end it has the same effect.  Double coupons means that when you go and scan a coupon at a register, like say a .50/1 coupon for Pillsbury biscuits, the store will "double" your coupon savings automatically in the computer and "double" your coupon value to 1.00.  Think of it sort of like a store discount that kicks in as soon as you scan a coupon to double your savings. 

It's a nifty system, but one that, alas, I fear is doomed to coupon extinction the longer the economy suffers.  Why?  Well, the longer the economy does badly, the more people are using coupons to save money, so the more cost the store is eating on the doubling coupon end.  So, a lot of stores are deciding that the cost is just too high to continue double coupons in different areas of the country and doing away with the doubling coupon system (which is a shame because it really IS an incentive to shop at a store and I think the stores will suffer in the end for doing away with it).   I'm wondering if nationwide we're going to see double and triple coupons go the way of Elvis.  Not that it really effects us at all because we never had those perks to begin with, but the next time your cashier mistakes "stacking" (like using a B1G1 coupon and a 1.00/1 coupon on the items you are buying) vs. "doubling", please feel free to take them to school on the term.

Another reason you are not going to be able to duplicate what people are doing on Extreme Couponing is that we have one of the highest costs of living in the country in Alaska and well...we're just going to pay more to live in this state.  The cost of shipping items is figured into the price of the item when it hits our shelves.  Basically, we pay between .10 more per travel sized item, up to 1.00 more per product for things like clothing, etc.  So, the next time you have a dream of being the next Extreme Couponing star, figure if you even add on .75 more per item to the things you have in your grocery cart and then subtract double coupons that don't exist.  Things start to nickle and dime their way up there don't they?

Do not get me wrong.  You CAN and WILL save money with coupons.  Occasionally you will be able to get items for free, or better than free (in the case of overage) with coupons (which is always a great feeling) and if not you can score items darn cheap.  How much money you are going to save depends on your circumstances.  If you, say, are brand loyal, you can save money, but you are not going to save as much money as someone who is open to using any brand at any time so long as it is cheap.  For the people living the organic lifestyle you TOO can save money with coupons.  You can still get toiletries downright cheap with coupons (and occasionally toilet paper and paper towels), no matter your lifestyle, and we all know how much that stuff normally costs.  If you save money in these areas and build a stockpile up of those items, trust me you'll still save enough money to make organic purchases more affordable for you.

I was able to shave off 2/3 of my grocery budget by finding coupons, and no I'm not kidding.  BUT (just in case you're getting terribly excited at the idea of shaving that much off your grocery budget), I was a terrible shopper before finding coupons, I kid you not.  I would pick up the weekly ad for the store once in a while when I'd go to the store.  I never picked up a Sunday paper to see if there were coupons.  I did compare prices, but only by shopping at the stores and going off the regular price on the item (if it was on sale all the better), but I never looked at the ads to see.  I'd go to two stores, compare prices on items and get the items I'd need there, but I never thought to track prices or use coupons on items to get their cost lower.

I didn't live high on the hog or anything, but there came a point where what I was paying a week in groceries made me want to crawl under a rock.  When my son ended up on a specialty formula that was VERY expensive, I knew I had to do something or we were going to end up declaring bankruptcy.  When I found coupons, it taught me to be a responsible steward of my money and I learned to be frugal in my shopping habits.  It wasn't just coupons, it was the education that went along WITH the couponing that made my grocery budget shrink so much.  Luckily for you guys, you don't have to sit there and do weekly match-ups for the stores on your own (well not always anyway *laugh*) because we have coupon blogs up and in existence to help.  When I got into couponing, we didn't have any blogs for Alaska...that's why I started this one (and Jessica started hers and the Coupon Divas started theirs...all within months of each other, but hey I proudly state I was first ;).  So, step one on figuring out what is on sale every week is a lot easier than when I started couponing.

Realistically and without any type of exaggeration, I can safely say that by using coupons you can shave 50% off your grocery budget every week with coupons and I rarely go below 1/3 off of my grocery bill when I use coupons.   Since finding Amazon Grocery my grocery budget has shrunk even further (which is great since the price on things keeps going up and my grocery budget starts to creep up again).  So, in short, coupons are awesome, no we're not living the "Extreme Couponing" dream, but some of us don't really want to, and saving money all the way around ROCKS!

So, stick with me won't you as I try to work my way through how coupons work and what you can do to make your quality of life awesome while on a budget.  Let's discover, or in my case re-discover, the greatness of coupons and saving money together!


Coupon said...

Thank you for starting at the beginning. I am trying to get started, but it is so frustrating knowing where to start. Alaska is so DIFFERENT from the lower 48! I finally called and got a subscription for the Newsminer, so I can start getting the coupons. Thanks again for taking the time to do this blog, it helps me learn, as well as motivates me! :)

Jayme said...

This is a great post about couponing in Alaska. I actually live up here too, but I'm creating a nationwide site and I linked to your post as an Alaskan source. You can view it here:

Also, you may be interested in the community area. Thanks for the great post!!