September is National Coupon Month, and in honor of this auspicious occasion, I am going to try to use coupons every time I make a purchase this month.
I'll admit, I'm not a good coupon clipper. Or, in the case of online purchases, coupon clicker. I have a multitude of excuses. Too time-consuming, too much planning involved, too much stuff to carry around.
I think the real reason is too lazy.
I am envious of people I see on Facebook or in magazines who, through careful use of coupons, get, say, $98.30 worth of merchandise for $23.75. I know, I know, some of you can do much better than that. But I also don't want to be the crazy lady who turns into a hoarder with a basement full of toilet paper, 800 spiral-bound notebooks (purchased at 1 cent apiece!), and an entire pantry filled with canned fruit and vegetables purchased with coupons.
I also don't want to end up with a bunch of weird crap I'll never use because I felt compelled to use a coupon.
Nor do I want to waste a bunch of time trying to organize, manage and use coupons. Life's too short for that, IMHO.
So here are some guidelines for using coupons, gleaned from websites as well as from my own and others' experiences. If you have your own coupon stories to share, please call me or email me via the methods listed at the end of the column.
•Sometimes it's just not worth it. True story: Two women walked into a local women's clothing store recently, hellbent on redeeming coupons for 50 percent off one item when you spent $100. They fixated on jeans that were $99 (and promised to make you look a size slimmer) but were on sale for $69. “Problem was that the jeans didn't fit either one of us very well,” she says. “So we spent way too long trying to find jeans that looked good. We finally settled on two pair and bought them. They ended up costing us around $51 each and we weren't even that thrilled with them.”
And the best/worst part of the story? The next day they returned them. “We got home and realized that we had each spent over $50 on red (hers) and bright turquoise (mine) jeans that didn't fit us exactly right and that we would wear … well, we weren't sure where we would wear them! All because we had coupons.”
•Beware of fundraiser coupon books. You know what's nice about having your kids out of school? Being done with fundraisers. Over the years, we peddled candy, cookies, popcorn and lord knows what else, but the one item I particularly hated was a local coupon book. On the surface it looked great, but when you looked at the coupons inside, not so great.
Many of the coupons were buy-one-get-one-free deals at fast-food joints — not too appealing to singles. Others, when you read the fine print, just really weren't offering that good of a deal. I felt guilty trying to sell them. Not to mention, it has never made sense to me to spend money (i.e., buy a coupon book) to save money. I'm not telling you not to buy them. I'm just suggesting you look them over first.
•Stack your coupons. Using two or more different coupons — for example, a store coupon and a manufacturer's coupon — on one item is called “stacking,” according to www.couponing.com. You can really maximize your purchase when you stack coupons on an item that's on sale at a store. That's how couponers end up getting stuff for free.
So remember to look at the store circulars and see what's on sale, and then look for coupons, either in the paper or online, to get additional money off those products.
•Have a special email account for coupons and special offers. I actually thought up this one myself, out of desperation when my email became so clogged with daily offers from stores. This works great … if you remember to check it! (I don't.) This is a good way to get exclusive discounts, free shipping offers and advance notice of sales.
•Cook according to what's on sale. Doing this actually solves two problems. It (sort of) eliminates the age-old dilemma of what am I going to fix to eat tonight, because if you follow this tenet of couponing, you will know what you're going to fix based on what's on sale at the grocery store and what coupons you have. And if you've shopped in advance, you have the ingredients. It also eliminates impulse buying at the store or swinging through the drive-through for fast food.
Those are just a few ideas; for more check out the thousands of coupon sites online. It's become such a popular activity its has spawned a subgenre called “extreme couponing,” which of course has led to a TLC TV show, “Extreme Couponing,” which features people who have stockpiles of coupon purchases in their homes. And by stockpiles, I mean they have what looks like mini stores in their homes — all neatly inventoried and stacked on shelves.
I think I'll stick to trying to use just a few coupons the next time I go to the store.