I've come to a rather uncomfortable conclusion that no one, especially the people who run TLC want you to admit. It isn't just the extreme couponers who are crazycakes. Pretty much anyone who has more than a passing interest in the fine art of couponing or sale shopping is likely off their rocker and out of their mind. And quite frankly, they probably spend more than the rest of us do, certainly more than they need to.
It's all starts out innocently enough. You say dude, I'm gonna save me some money and lookit here, this little stack of newspapers will show me how. That newspaper leads you to the interweb where you sign up with some wide eyed chick who looks like she's been hitting the dexatrim circa 1986 who promises you that you can cut your grocery bill in half, IN HALF I SAY if you only sign up for this free newsletter/RSS feed. You get on the Facebook pages, you find couponing message boards and you see all the money people are saving, saving, I tell you by
switching their car insurance to Geico adding just a few easy steps to their weekly routine.
Once upon a time, my mama gave me some really good advice that I rolled my eyes (when she wasn't looking of course) and promptly ignored: If you don't need to spend the money, you didn't save anything. Clearly someone should have shared this with a woman on one of the Facebook pages I liked last week. Homegirl was elated to share that she bought eight bottles of shampoo you guys for like $2 each. Isn't that amazing???
No, honey, actually it's not. Who is using eight bottles of shampoo? Granted, I don't wash my hair daily or even every other day so perhaps I don't have the proper perspective on this but exactly how long will it take the average person to use that much shampoo and what other items could I have purchased on my grocery list had I gone with another brand or that brand at the regular price?
Don't get me wrong. I love me some coupons. I buy a paper along with my weekly coffee on my way to church every Sunday and gleefully clip clip away with my trusty coupons only scissors once I get home. I also plan my weekly shopping trip around the store's weekly ad and load up on digital coupons on the store's sight. But at the end of the day, or shopping trip as it were, my goal is to get what I need for the week for the least amount of scratch, not to score the most impressive deal.
I know conventional wisdom says you shop wherever you need to to get a good deal but look, your time is just as valuable as your money and unless you live in a teeny little town where everything is located on two blocks, your time is money, aka your gas money. So sure, I can buy milk and bread at Kroger, steak and eggs at Food Lion, toothbrushes at walmart, and Pantene at CVS with my little rewards card but I'm just too much of a lazy heifer like that. And honestly, you should be too.
You should also be careful with store gimmicks. I tend to shop at Kroger where they have this kind of cool little deal where if you buy ten items off a list, you get $5 off your entire purchase.
So far, I've identified two problems with this campaign. The first is that often times, you really aren't saving much. For instance, Mr Man drinks powerade/gatorade at work every day with his lunch so I'm forever searching for the best deal. Last week, Kroger pulled me in Michael Corleone style by suggesting that with this nifty little dealio, I could get his gatorade this week for $5.49 for a six pack, which is actually not a bad price. His brand of coffee also fell under this promotion, again at a pretty good price, as well as the Fuze drinks I like if they are on sale. By the time I got to the end, I realized that to get that nifty price, I would not only have to buy three items I didn't need but that I could get a six pack of powerade for $4.99. When added all up, I would have to spend almost ten dollars in order to save $5.
The other issue I've run into with this promotion is that the items included often changes. Remember that aforementioned Fuze I love so much? Yeah, on the list sometimes, and sometimes not. So I chirp my happy behind up to the front under the assumption that I'm getting my precious Slenderize Fruit Punch for $.79 a pop and what do you know? Not included. And so not only am I paying $1.29 a bottle for something I don't even need but now I only have six items instead of the ten required and lose the savings on the rest of the listed items.
Big fat boo!
However, it can be a good deal so just pay attention to the ads and the fine print as well as keeping an eye on what you actually need verses what your store ad tries to lure you into purchasing. Ice cream is delicious but even at half off, you'll save that money if you don't buy it at all.
While we're on the topic, am I the only person who ends up with more in their cart than they planned but buys it anyway because by the time you realize it, you honestly can't recall what the crap you meant to buy anyway? Well if I am, feel free to point and laugh. If you've done the same thing, here's how to solve it. You know that grocery list you walked in with? That pencil you brought to mark off all those items? Yeah, use that to write down each impulse/previously forgotten/didn't know I needed it until I saw it item you chuck in the cart. Then, when you look up and realize you're trying to buy the entire frozen food section because you made the mistake of shopping while your stomach was gnawing at your small intestines, you'll know what to put back.
But how do you know you've gone over? Alright, here's where I share my own couponing/sales shopping neurosis. When I'm being extra thrifty heifer, I actually keep track of how much money I'm adding to my cart. My mom used to use a calculator sometimes but I'm sure you recall by now my extreme laziness. I just use tally marks and round out. So $3.49 for cereal? Three tally marks. $1.79 for pita bread? Two tally marks. When I'm feeling less harried I actually write down the prices of each item as I mark them off in addition to the tally makes so I have some sort of idea of how much I'm going to spend when I make my next shopping list.
At the end of the trip, before I get to check out, I add them up and if I'm too close or even ::gasp:: over my budget, I start pulling out the extra crap that wasn't on my list but looked good. As an added bonus, you might even find extra room to accomodate those items, like the fudge striped cookies I was able to slip in when I found that my zukes and squash cost $1 instead of the $4 I assumed they would cost.
So, just to reiterate (and maybe even add):
1. Consult your preferred circular first. I find this is the most important way to save on the cost of meat. They just don't put out any coupons for stew beef, mmkay?
2. Don't trust a sale offer just because it's written in bold print and features overuse of exclamation points.
3. Coupons usually work on sale prices too.
4. Some brands are still cheaper than a sale/after coupon price on other brands. This is especially true on cereal.
5. Don't buy things just because they are on sale, especially if they aren't on your list this week. I can pretty much guarantee you there will be another sale/coupon later.
6. Keep track of what your putting in your cart.
7. Note the real price of items for future reference.
8. Incorporate some but not all of the items already in your kitchen.
9. Try to use items for more than one meal.
10. Decide how much time and energy is worth devoting to shopping around.