What I Know
What a rush it creates when you purchase a new outfit, pair of shoes, electronic gadget, decorative item, accessory, even a favorite snack or personal hygiene product. Expensive, cheap, big, small, retail, on sale, for you, for someone else – doesn’t matter. Buying stuff can make a person feel really good, both physically and mentally. Until, of course, you feel the pang of buyer’s remorse in your gut.
Shopping is one of my absolute most favorite things to do in life. It always has been. Except now, and for the past year (almost), I have been living in the exciting universe that is extreme couponing. Doing so has completely altered and redefined the entire shopping experience for me.
My new perspective on what it means to get a truly good deal has taught me never to pay retail for anything, and that I can get many of the basic necessities for free. These days, paying more than a dollar for nearly anything actually gives me minor anxiety. Saving 50, 75, 90, 100 percent on grocery, personal care, and household items? Oh, it’s possible. And it creates an adrenaline rush unlike any other.
There’s nothing bad about getting something for free (or close to it), right? Not necessarily. Extreme couponing can come with its own form of buyer’s remorse if performed irresponsibly.
How I Know
I have an obsessive personality. When I get really excited about something, it’s like I have tunnel vision. And that’s what happened when I started my couponing adventures.
I spent hours upon hours researching deals, clipping coupons, making detailed shopping lists, and navigating the aisles of multiple stores. Before I knew it – I’m talking a couple weeks – I had a stockpile of toothpaste, deodorant, and men’s body wash (which I don’t even use) to last me two or three years. And I’d only paid pennies for all of it. Needless to say, I. Was. Hooked.
And unfortunately, it was to the detriment of my sweet baby boy’s happiness. After a few months, he would literally start crying at the sight of my coupon binder. He knew that seeing it meant he’d be spending the next couple hours sitting in a shopping cart, bored to death. And this was like five days per week.
Initially, I’d essentially just put a Band-aid over a bullet wound by taking out the coupons I knew I’d need before we left, and putting them in my purse. So he didn’t freak out over having to see my binder, but instead would experience his anxiety upon entering any store. I wasn’t fooling him. And snacks and toys only kept him distracted for a few short minutes, if at all. How unfair I was being to him!
So then I started squeezing my extreme couponing extravaganzas into lunch breaks and during the hour between getting off work and his daycare closing. I thought I had it all figured out. I could save money and not upset my son. I was proud of myself.
Until one day late last fall, when my electric was disconnected. I had become so obsessed with couponing, that I completely forgot about having to spend money in any other way. (I wish I were kidding.) Fortunately, I had more than enough money for the light bill in my bank account; so it only took a phone call, and everything was up and running again within a couple of hours.
All’s well that ends well, I suppose. But that’s not the point! The purpose of extreme couponing is to save money while providing for one’s family and community. To become a better and more responsible steward of one’s financial resources in order to maximize quality time with loved ones. And I had ultimately failed at doing so by wasting precious time with my son and neglecting to pay a basic utility bill.
How You Can Avoid this Kind of Buyer’s Remorse
As I said, the world of extreme couponing is an exciting place. Once you know what you’re doing, it’s easy for it to become an obsession. And it can overwhelm you, taking over your life and your home, if you let it. You must always remember to prioritize and to maintain balance.
- Be sure the savings are worth your time and effort.
- You can save $10,000-plus per year by using coupons. Of course, you’d have to use a lot of them, and you’ve already read that you won’t actually use the vast majority of your stash. But you likely will still save several thousands of dollars by using only the ones you need (just depends on your family’s needs and buying habits). That kind of money may be a big deal to some, yet would not be missed by others. It’s up to you to decide.
- In The Money Saving Mom’s Budget, Crystal Paine quantifies the value of her time. She wrote: “…if I’m not saving at least$20 per hour by implementing a particular frugal practice, then I’d rather invest my time elsewhere… my time is more valuable than saving less than minimum wage per hour.”
- Note: Clipping coupons shouldn’t take you more than about two hours per week. Planning shopping trips can take just as long. And then, you actually have to do the shopping. Here is where you calculate your savings per hour.
- If you’re a parent, try to only clip coupons, create store match-ups and shopping lists, and shop when your children are sleeping or away from home. If you’re a student, don’t do these things until you’ve finished studying or completed your homework. And so on…
- Stick to your budget. Just because your favorite body wash is on sale this week does not necessarily mean that you can afford it. If money’s tight, and you have enough of what you need to last you until the next sale, then wait.
- If you’re not going to use it, gift it, or donate it, don’t buy it!!
- Pace yourself.
- Shop only once or twice per week, for a predetermined amount of time, if possible. (And try to get a sitter or at least a shopping helper for that allotment).
- Build your stockpile slowly. There will be another sale on that item again soon. You do not have to take advantage of every good deal!
Because in reality, it’s not really that great a deal when more important parts of your life – like spending time with your children or paying your (read: my) utility bills – suffer because of couponing tunnel vision. I can almost guarantee that when you are on your deathbed, you won’t be thinking, “I wish I had spent more time extreme couponing.” You’ll more likely be wishing you’d had more time with your family inside a happy home (where the lights were always on).