I'm all done with it. It was fun for awhile and I was an advocate for awhile, but I've changed my mind about it.
It was too stressful. It took loads of time to hunt the coupons down, to print them off, and, most of all, to plan the shopping trip out. When I was couponing weekly at Publix, it would take me about an hour to plan out a trip and I would go when Tucker was at preschool (to be slightly more focused on the job by only having one "helper"). An hour a week doesn't sound like much, but, that was just the planning, not the execution. I went on Wednesdays because that is the day that Publix has their penny item. So, I would either have to plan the trip on Tuesday night after the kids were down (Southern Savers always posted the new ad on Tuesday nights), or I'd have to drop Tucker off at school, come home, plan it out, and then either let Calvin do his nap, or try to squeeze the shopping in before nap time. I would have to be home by 1:00 to greet Tucker from preschool, so if you work it all out, it made for crap Wednesdays. I could have gone on Mondays or Fridays, but I would have missed one of the biggest savings (the penny item) and risked the on-sale items being sold out because all the other local couponers shopped before me (closer to Wednesday when the ad came out). Doesn't that all sound crazy? I can't even re-read this paragraph fully because my mind turns to mush as I relive it. I have post-traumatic couponing disorder.
For me, all that ca-raziness was a steep price to pay in the name of saving money. When I did well at the store, I saved maybe 40%. It was a decent amount, totaling up to $40 or $50 a week, but only on the really good weeks. On regular weeks, I'd save $30-$35.
Last spring my Sunday newspaper subscription recently ran out and that's when I stopped regularly couponing. I had a cheap deal for a Wednesday and Sunday subscription to the Birmingham News ($52 for the year), but even still that $52 is a "hidden" cost of couponing. Nothing is free, including the ink and paper to print out online coupons.
One morning since then, while drinking one of my thrice-weekly Starbucks (talk about frugal), I was thinking about the cost to coupon. The irony slowly revealed itself ... I could save a good portion of potential-coupon-savings by changing my coffee habits. Dang! Sounds so stupid and obvious now that I am writing about it. But, yes, coffee savings are about $150 in the last couple of months, thanks to this. I love you, Ree.
I am not against couponing in general and have no problem with people who do it. My sister regularly gets amazing deals, especially at CVS. If I were to somehow get ahold of the Sunday coupon inserts in the future (hint, hint, Dad), I could see myself doing an occasional CVS run for household staples like toilet paper and razors. But for now, with my given situation in life (a husband, two young kids, working on an international adoption, maintaining/improving my home, blogging, traveling, being a friend, etc.), I choose not to regularly coupon.
What I *do* do (doo-doo.... heh, reminds me of the "duty" episode of Friends where Chandler blows an interview by making a poo joke), is shop the weekly sale for snack items, cereal, etc. and then buy store-brand for necessities that are not on sale. For example, in general, I will buy the fruit that is on sale that week, while foregoing the fruit that is full price. That's not to say I will ever pass an avocado up, sale or not. But, I still internally cringe when I have to buy deodorant for $4 a stick, when I could have gotten it for free. I have this internal dialogue that goes something like, "Ugh! Don't buy it at full price, you could get this way cheaper!" "Yes, you could have gotten it for "free" but at what cost! Stop being a freak, freak."
When I buy the on-sale bread, frozen veggies, and other on-sale items, as well as inexpensive store-brand staples, I still end up saving $20-$25 a week. Between that, not paying for a newspaper, and not buying coffee treats all the time, I figure I am kind of ahead of where I was a year ago. Anyhow, I reserve the right to change my mind in the future, but this is where I am at for now. Couponing is big in Birmingham, but I am finding more and more people here who are ex-couponers these days. It is a matter of stewarding resources, to put it another way.
So, I actually wrote the material above several weeks ago and am just now getting around to posting it. Since then, I read a book about food called "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. In the book, Kingsolver documents a year where she and her family raised and ate their own food... virtually nothing was store-bought or non-local (exceptions were made for coffee and spices). I loved reading about the food, farming, and cooking journey (though the first few chapters were rough to get through... she basically rants against America, politicians, petroleum-addicts, and in general sounds accusatory during those chapters). Kingsolver talks about many positive fruits (pun intended) of eating food grown/raised at home (or at least, nearby), and cost-savings was one of those fruits. She saved thousands of dollars in that year (though that really wasn't the point for her).
What a great idea for the frugal-minded, yet coupon-avoidant... food grown in the back yard to save money. I, for one, have gardened for the "fun" of it, not for the cost-savings. And, of course, my garden has been a near-complete failure the last two summers, but I count it towards experience. Maybe next spring will be more profitable. If I could get enough experience and confidence, maybe I would save some money with a garden.
And one last thought... sometimes getting something as cheaply as possible may not be the point... maybe quality matters. Kingsolver railed about the strange things called tomatoes that show up at the grocery store and how they cannot possibly compare to home grown tomatoes, freshly picked and turned into a salad, or a sauce. She made the point that if you can't grow your own, maybe it's worth it to spend a little more to buy a locally grown 'mater, full of flavor. Seriously, cheap isn't always the highest value. Is cheap the highest value when considering what car to buy? What clothes to purchase? What hotel to book?