I used to be an extreme couponer. I was good at it. I had envelopes of CVS receipts showing totals of $0.00 for people who didn’t believe me. I stopped in 2014 and I just opened my last package of Venus razors that I got for free. (December of 2012 the good times were really rolling on the Venus razor deals.)
I regularly took home free toiletries, medicine, snacks, cereal, and candy. I would only get toothpaste if it was a moneymaker because I had so much. (That means your coupon is more than you are paying, and you end up getting store credit for purchasing it.).
But after about six years of it, I stopped.
I didn’t have any ethical issues with it, which a lot of people bring up. You are just combining sales, store coupons, and manufacturers coupons. The store gets reimbursed from the manufacturer. People are getting compensated.
I also didn’t have the problem that there are no coupons for real foods. I stuck to drugstores and mostly came home with toiletries, and the occasional packaged snack.
But extreme couponing is very aptly named. It is extreme.
There is no way to get stuff for free by casually couponing. It involves researching, keeping a binder, rolling over deals, and always, always, planning. There is writing to companies asking for coupons, and even buying coupons when you were planning a huge buy of something. Checking ads and websites constantly. I would be up late at night, reading forums. Topics like “when will the March finish dish tabs coupon date be announced?”, and “CVS Trip Report, $18 Moneymaker!”. I posted too. (My favorite sub forum was Kmart. They doubled coupons up to and including one full dollar and ran very good promotions on top of that.)
There is also no way to do it without keeping a stockpile. The way it works, especially with drugstores, is you are rolling over your store credit (“extra bucks” and similarly named things) to get more things that also generate credit. They expire. You have to keep doing it. Even if there is nothing you want that week.
The best deals were cleared out unless you went to the drugstores on Sunday mornings. As it turns out, going to CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens at 7 on a Sunday morning to buy a bunch of junk does not exactly align with my vision for our family.
After the Sunday buying-fest early in the morning, you get to look at store ads and coupons in the Sunday paper for the next week. I remember Maddie, as a baby, being so interested in those shiny little rectangles I had put in piles, and me pushing her away so I could plan my shopping trip. It makes me quite seriously want to cry.
Now I am not opposed to working a bit to save money, but this was weird. I got really obsessed with it. I lived for the reaction of the cashiers, who I’m sure hated me. I talked about it. A lot. I loved showing off my stockpile and my receipts. Also it, was not like cooking or gardening, things that you can do with the kids and teach them about. It was just shopping.
As someone who loves to spend money, it was a way to indulge my consumerism without paying the dollars and cents price. But I was still paying the price. I was obsessed with getting things, arranging my things, talking about my things. I had so much excess I would throw out unfinished body wash bottles because I wanted to move on to a new scent. Hey why not, I would think. It was free. It was like quitting smoking and constantly chewing nicotine gum for the rest of your life.
I did not make a conscious decision to quit, I just stopped little by little. My reasons were practical, not moral. I had my second baby and it was harder to get out of the house. Our Kmart closed. I got pickier about products I wanted to buy, only liking certain brands. We moved to a very small house without rooms to store cubic yards of free shampoo. It is only now, looking back, that I see how silly and sad it was.
I still enjoy a good deal at the store, and will stock up within reason when there is a sale. But thinking about couponing feels gross to me now. An obsession with acquiring a bunch of stuff. Things stored in weird places, like cereal under the bed. The time that my children were babies that I will never get back. The huge binder. The rush of walking out of a store, laden with bags. Like a never ending Black Friday sale. Did I really need all this that badly?
I don’t know what deals are out there any more. I just buy the Kirkland brand of everything at Costco. There is a lot of new body wash I will never smell, and weird, new candy I will never taste, and I’m okay with that.
My husband is running low on shampoo, so while I was at the grocery store I spent $5.99 on a full priced bottle of Head and Shoulders. I would regularly get this for pennies back in the day. I just put it in my cart and moved on with my life. And that part didn’t seem like such a bad deal.