extreme couponing savings receipt

[Happy Friday! Here’s a little ditty on Mrs. Picky Pincher‘s love/hate relationship with extreme couponing – something I’m sure we’ve all thought about and/or tried at some point ourselves! Let us know where you stand in the comments at the end :)]


I am not an extreme person. If given the choice between couch-lounging and base jumping, I will always pick my couch and sweatpants. Always.

Predictability is a good trait to have, especially since I’m dumping $225,000 of debt to the curb. And that includes credit cards, student loans, and even my mortgage. It’s a lot to pay off and I’ll try just about anything to eliminate it.

In my quest to vanquish debt, I became a Savings Extremist. A year ago you would have caught me lounging on my couch as usual, manically clipping coupons and reading sale papers.

Somewhere along my journey I became a crazy extreme couponer.  For the six months I couponed, every Sunday was like Christmas morning when the newspapers (plural) arrived with the next batch of coupons. I had accordion folders filled to the brim, bursting with meticulously-labeled Red Plums and Smart Source coupons.

I was this close to digging through the trash looking for coupons.

I was a little obsessive, but there were many upsides to extreme couponing.

It was fun: There was nothing like the thrill of scoring $60-worth of swag at CVS for a paltry $10! I salivated over my three-foot-long receipts with a $5 total. Math has never been my strong suit, but I really enjoyed planning my couponing hauls. I stuck it to The Man by swiping products off shelves for rock bottom prices. I did my fair share of happy dances.

There were good deals: I once scored a giant jug of Dr. Bronner’s soap for $10 – which normally retailed at $20. I also bought $4 bottles of shampoo for a mere $1 apiece, and cold medicine for $1 per pack. I won’t lie: you can find great deals with couponing!

I was always stocked up: Toothpaste? Check. Shampoo? Check. Hair gel? What brand do you want? I have 13. Extreme couponing is most effective when you stack coupons and buy multiple products at a time. Which meant I always had a treasure trove of household products and snacks at my disposal. It’s been over a year since I quit couponing and I still haven’t finished our stock of shampoo! It’s a great way to stock up on lots of items at once, and on the cheap.

Although extreme couponing was a blast in many ways, I decided it ultimately wasn’t for me. After saving over $300 by couponing, I called it quits.

Here’s why I stopped extreme couponing.

It was a time-sucker.

I spent an average of 15 hours a week couponing, and this was below the average (hardcore couponers spend upwards of 30 hours a week couponing!).

I spent hours scouring sales papers, company websites, and handfuls of coupon books to match deals. I carefully planned my weekly trips to CVS and Walgreens with precision math. I knew exactly how much money I needed to spend for each trip, taxes included. I memorized the rewards points balance on both mine and Mr. Picky Pincher’s store rewards cards.

It took for-freakin’-ever. Extreme couponing required an insane amount of planning that didn’t fit into my schedule. I already worked a full-time job and barely had the time to plan the shopping trips, let alone complete the act of the actual shopping.

I grew weary of extreme couponing after realizing it was my main hobby. I had video games to play and cats to pet, after all. I didn’t want to spend half of my waking free time at a drug store!

Bye-bye money

I’ve always been a big fan of spending more money on quality things. Whether that means buying sheets with a higher thread count, dropping more cheddar for good shoes, or buying in bulk. Couponing seemed like a natural way to use today’s money to pay for tomorrow’s bills – I dug it.

As it turns out, extreme couponing still costs money, even if you do it with care. I justified my addiction with the old adage, “You gotta spend money to make money!” and felt that, even though a CVS run cost $15, I was saving money in the long run.

Mr. Picky Pincher mercifully pulled my head out of the clouds. I was spending at least $15 a week between my couponing runs to Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart which added up to an extra $60 a month that we didn’t plan on spending.

I was spending more money on things we didn’t really need—which meant we put less money towards our debts.

At first that didn’t sound so bad. “So what?” I thought, “Those costs will even themselves out in our budget.” But they didn’t. Our expenses increased. The sixteen bottles of $1 nail polish weren’t saving us money—they were costing us money.

I lost my sense of practicality with extreme couponing. I bought hair gel, brushes, and crates of toothpaste that I didn’t need at all. I would buy items just because they were on sale. I was overspending every week and it added up quickly.

Finding cheaper alternatives

Even after realizing how resource-intensive couponing was, I still couldn’t kick my obsession.

I stocked up on makeup remover wipes, fancy lotions, packages of pizza-flavored chips, and bronzer – which is ridiculous when you’re vampire-white like me.

I cluttered our extra cabinets with this extraneous stuff, confident I’d use it all eventually.

But after watching the bills stack up, I wondered if there was a cheaper way to enjoy the same items? After snooping around, I found several cheap and easy alternatives for things I already bought.

Here are just a few items I make now to save money:

  • Instead of buying Neutrogena makeup wipes, I started using coconut oil to remove my waterproof mascara. Works like a charm!
  • We fry our own chips instead of buying 3 for $1 Pringles at Walgreens. I’ve also started opting for healthier whole food snacks, like almonds.
  • I bought a safety razor handle and a pack of safety razors. It cost the same as a new pack of razor cartridges with a coupon. The upside is the safety razors cost pennies compared to disposable cartridges and I get a better shave.
  • I love sugar scrub, so I started making it myself out of coconut oil, sugar, spices, and essential oils.
  • I use homemade dry shampoo instead of store bought. I add essential oils to corn starch and run a small amount through any greasy parts of my head.

The result with these are actual savings. By opting for a DIY approach, I got the same (or even better) result as store bought products. Couponing encouraged consumption of products that I found out I could make cheaply at home.

I know people hear “DIY” and think “Oh man, it’s so much faster just to buy it at the store,” but this didn’t happen in our case. After factoring in the time it took to hunt for coupons, match deals, and do the actual shopping, DIY always came out ahead.

This was the nail in the coffin. I canceled my multiple newspaper subscriptions, recycled my coupon books, and gave up extreme couponing.

The Bottom Line

I still love to use coupons, I just use them more judiciously now. By focusing on non-consumption and producing a few household items myself, I’m able to save more money than I ever saved with extreme couponing. I still think it’s great if you don’t get carried away, but in the end it just didn’t work out for me. This experience has made me realize that there isn’t a right way to save money, though. It’s all about doing what’s right for you!

How about you? Have you tried extreme couponing before? How did it go?

Mrs. Picky Pincher is the blogger and resident money maven at www.PickyPinchers.com. She blogs about paying off debt while living the good life.

[Photo cred: YouthfulHomemaker]