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Why I Don’t Always Use Coupons

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Why I don't always use coupons--one extreme couponing expert's explanation of why sometimes coupons just aren't worth the effort

I love saving money with coupons.  I don’t always love using coupons.  Because, let’s face it, clipping coupons—enough to really save a LOT on groceries—is a lot of work. Yes, the payoff is often impressive—I mean, who wouldn’t want to bring home $127 worth of groceries for less than $0.25—but the truth is that using coupons is not always feasible.

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I know many of you first found this blog by searching for help on how to start using coupons.  You stumbled upon my Beginner’s Guide to Coupons, mastered the 8 week baby steps program, and are now coupon geniuses.  Please don’t worry—this is still a good thing!  Everything in that guide is still relevant and valid, and if you still love using coupons (or still really want to learn), this post is not intended to dissuade you from using them in any way.

In fact, this post is not meant to discourage those who do use coupons, but rather to encourage and relieve a little guilt for those of you who don’t.  We all go through seasons, and right now, in this season of my life, I simply don’t use that many coupons.  These are my main reasons why:

Clipping coupons takes time I don’t have

Extreme couponing—the kind that really saves a significant amount of money—takes a lot of time.  It literally takes hours to plan one really successful shopping trip, first studying the ad, then making a list and printing and clipping all the correct coupons.  I know I’ve played the “I’m so busy” card a lot lately, and I don’t mean to imply that my life is busier than anyone else’s, but I’ve found that right now between working and homeschooling, I am stretched about as far as I can go.   There just isn’t a lot of time left for planning elaborate shopping trips.  Most weeks we are often lucky if we make it to the store at all, and for my own sanity, I have to be okay with that.

I can still save money on groceries without using coupons

My philosophy on groceries has always been this: Any savings is better than none.  Just because I don’t spend a lot of time clipping coupons doesn’t mean I’m not trying to keep my grocery bill to a minimum.  As I explained in this earlier post about how to cut your grocery bill in half, the main savings from extreme couponing come not from the coupons, but from the store sales.

Why I don't always use coupons--one extreme couponing expert's explanation of why sometimes coupons just aren't worth the effort

I make a point to shop only for what is on sale, and to stock up on the items I know my family will eat.  With the exception of milk and eggs, if it is not on sale, it does not go in our cart.  Even without coupons, I generally still save between 30 and 40 percent on my grocery bill each week, and generally still only spend about $70 a week on groceries.  (With coupons it was about $50 a week)

I’ve also been experimenting a little more with digital coupons including the new Publix digital coupon system and coupon apps such as Ibotta and Endorse, which pay you cash back for buying participating items and are quick & simple to use.

Our pantry is plenty full

When I first started using coupons I was so excited at the thought of getting so much for so little that I bought a LOT of food, often without really considering how much my family was capable of eating or weather we even liked what I was buying.  As a recovering shopaholic, couponing fulfilled my need to consume.

Why I don't always use coupons--one extreme couponing expert's explanation of why sometimes coupons just aren't worth the effort

Last fall, when we did our two-month spending freeze and pantry challenge, we were faced with the reality of a pantry full of food we didn’t really want, some of which was no longer even edible.  We ate as much as we could but we also had to throw away a lot, which felt incredibly wasteful.

Since then I have made a much bigger effort to stock up only on food I know we will eat, and to buy smaller quantities that are more appropriate for our family of four.

We are eating fewer processed foods

While there are still coupons available for healthier foods, many of the available coupons—and most of the super hot deals and freebies–are for heavily processed or junk food.  While my family still eats our fair share of junk food (and probably always will), we have been trying to get at least a little more wholesome in the foods we eat, sticking more to fresh fruits & vegetables, dairy products, and whole grains rather than a lot of the pre-packaged convenience foods we ate when I was using a lot more coupons.

We participate in a local farm co-op

This is the second year we have bought a membership to Worden Farm, our local organic farm co-op.  Every week we bring home a huge pile of fresh vegetables which means we need a lot less food from the grocery store.

Why I don't always use coupons--one extreme couponing expert's explanation of why sometimes coupons just aren't worth the effort

I can’t say enough good things about the experience!  Not only does it mean healthier, greener meals and less time spent at the grocery store, it completely changed my kids.  They literally went from crying and screaming at the sight of anything green to vegetable lovers whose favorite food is now veggie frittata, and will happily eat almost anything.

Our local season is almost over (new memberships will be available soon) but those of you in other areas of the country may want to check out LocalHarvest.org to find a co-op in your area.

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Ultimately the decision to use (or not use) coupons is a personal choice, one you have to weigh against other important factors in your life such as budget, time, and dietary needs.  Hopefully in the future I will have more time to devote to coupons again, but for now this is what is fits our season of life.  My ultimate goal for this blog is not to shove coupons–or any other way of saving money–down your throat, but rather to inspire you to find what works best for you and your family while being honest about my own ups and downs.  Because at the end of the day–say it with me–any savings is better than none!

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Do you use coupons?  Why or why not?

25 Comments

  1. Amanda
    April 5 at 09:06AM

    Thank you so much for writing this post and for your honesty. I had been feeling so guilty about not using coupons lately but it is just so hard sometimes! I feel so much better now.

    • Ruth Soukup
      April 5 at 06:30PM

      Hey Amanda, I’m so glad you found this post helpful! Life is far too short to feel guilty about coupons! 🙂

  2. Jan
    April 5 at 09:18AM

    I learned how to extreme coupon by watching all your youtube videos and I still use coupons every time I go to the store. To me the money saved is well worth the time it takes and now I can’t imagine ever NOT using them. I have taught my two sisters and we have a lot of fun doing it together, and I love having a big stockpile filled with everything I need. I appreciate your honesty but I am a little disappointed to hear the person who taught me so much doesn’t even use coupons anymore. I love your videos. Does this mean you won’t do any more?

    • Ruth Soukup
      April 5 at 06:30PM

      I’m not saying I will never do another video but I don’t have any plans to do one anytime soon. Maybe someday! 🙂

  3. Juli
    April 5 at 09:47AM

    Love! I extreme couponed (6 newspaper subscription) for a year when my husband was unemployed. It was GREAT for my family. Now life is better and I don’t coupon anymore, but I do garden, cook a lot of things from scratch and make some of my own cleaning and health and beauty products so I save money that way. I appreciate this post very much. We can’t expect to do the same things through every stage of life and have them work the same way. Thank you for helping so many people when they’re in the stage that they HAVE to coupon, but I agree that most coupon items are highly processed and that was my reason for looking for other means of savings. = )

    • Ruth Soukup
      April 5 at 06:31PM

      It sounds like you are doing great! Thanks Juli!

  4. April 5 at 09:47AM

    I agree, I started couponing but it’s only the husband and I…so the things I was purchasing, we rarely consumed it all. I canceled my newpaper subscription because it was costing me more then what I would actually use the coupons. I still print them off when finding gifts for others baby showers, weddings, etc. But it’s gone way down and helped us save money and food we don’t eat.
    -wHiT

    • Ruth Soukup
      April 5 at 06:33PM

      It sounds like you have figured out what works best for your family which is the most important thing! 🙂

  5. Taylor
    April 5 at 10:34AM

    Hey Ruth! Great post! When I first started couponing, I would spend hours preparing as well, and I had an incredible stockpile. Now that I’ve been couponing for three years, I have told myself that it is MORE THAN OK to go to the store without coupons (or coupons for every item). I still spend a small amount of time preparing for each trip (I still make a list), but like you said, I shop the sales. When the holidays are near, and the deals are fantastic, I may spend more time planning. But overall, I have learned that any money I am saving is better than NO money, and I need to keep my sanity. Great reminder for all of us!

    • Ruth Soukup
      April 5 at 06:34PM

      Thanks Taylor! I still think I am incapable of buying something if it is not on sale–but yes, there is something to be said for maintaining your sanity when life gets busy! 🙂

  6. April 5 at 12:06PM

    Thank you! Thank you, thank you. I am so glad someone finally said it! Couponing is time consuming!! I feel so guilty when I read couponer’s blogs…they make extreme saving sound like such a breeze and takes zero time so everyone should be doing it. You are right. The truth is it takes time…to extreme coupon takes a lot of time!

    We all go through phases. Once queen of CVS, I have taken a step back and reduced my coupon clipping. I still bring coupons to the store with me, I still only shop for whats on sale etc. But right now, at this time in my life I just don’t have the hours to dedicate to planning extensive shopping trips. Maybe I will again someday, maybe I won’t. But just like you say…”any saving is better than no saving”

    Thanks for your honesty!

    • Ruth Soukup
      April 5 at 06:36PM

      It is definitely not a breeze! I used to do a lot of CVS shopping too but we have literally been living off that drugstore stockpile for 2 years now and I still have enough shampoo, body wash, and razors to keep us clean and hairless for years. 🙂

  7. Anonymous
    April 5 at 05:47PM

    I agree whole heartedly – when you reach that level of stock where you only need to “back fill”, then the need to obsessively, constantly be clipping organizing, etc is greatly diminished. I did an analysis of one month and found that my major savings was the sale price/store rewards (30-40% off my total grocery costs) and the coupons were the “gravy”, saving me around 17%. I am finding I can seriously coupon 2-3 months per year, when the seasonal sales are the greatest (Super Bowl presales for exmaple), or Easter for baking, stock up and then step back from it again and buy very little. Thanks so much for words of wisdom! Joann

    • Ruth Soukup
      April 5 at 06:37PM

      Great point! Thanks Joann!

  8. Lest anyone else feel any disappointment in reading this post… You know that we found your blog over two years ago through your videos. Your couponing tips taught us a TON and we will never shop the same way. Having said that, the last 6 months has been EXTREMELY busy for me and I passed the “couponing torch” to the Hubs (who is the one who first found your blog to begin with). He does the weekly grocery list now and we ALWAYS shop the sales but use coupons whenever available on an item we are buying. We now consistently spend between $60-70 dollars a week on groceries for our family of five (as opposed to $150+). Aside from dairy and meat, our (mini) stockpile could get us by for a couple of months (in case of a Zombie apocalypse) 😉 but we’ve never bought more than we can eat. So, yes. I wholeheartedly agree. Yes, couponing takes time (and even a bit more for the first 3-6 months). If you have the extra 2-3 hours to hit it hard every week, great. If you don’t… “any savings is {indeed} better than none”. Thanks for all of the tips along the way, Ruth.
    xo, Claire

    • Ruth Soukup
      April 5 at 06:38PM

      Lucky you Claire, to have a husband willing to do the grocery shopping! That is one thing mine REFUSES to do, though he does often comment that he wishes I would go back to using coupons again! 🙂 Maybe someday!

      • I could suggest a couple of sites to make it easier for him… lol The Hubs has it down to about 2 hours prep each week. 🙂 Totally going to look into the farm co-op thing though. Just need to weigh the shipping as opposed to driving to the farm like you guys do in So. FL. because I KNOW Mama “ain’t got time” for that right now. Yet. Hope there is one close to Central FL.

        • Jen
          January 4 at 08:17PM

          At least in MN a lot of the co-0ps drive to a central location and then you pick it up there. I’m getting a half share from one and I just have to walk 2 blocks to get it.

  9. April 7 at 04:57PM

    Great post, Ruth, and I agree! I still use coupons, but due to some policy changes recently in Fort Wayne, I am unsure of how my coupon use will change in the future. I completely agree that “Any savings is better than none” and like you, am a firm believer in shopping the sales. My CVS shopping has decreased this year, but I believe that is due in part to the sales that aren’t as frequent as they used to be. My stockpile is being replenished with the deals that we use – and need. It is still a source of savings, as are coupons – for me in this season of my life.

  10. April 10 at 07:13AM

    I hate myself that I just let two $100 coupons go to waste. I need to start making a list of my coupons and their expiry dates

  11. Anonymous
    June 4 at 07:27PM

    We, too, are in a season of little coupon use. We moved to an area that does not offer double coupons, there is no Publix, and we have a tiny kitchen and pantry. No guilt here. LOVE your blog!

  12. September 25 at 10:56AM

    I feel a little awkward responding to this post since it was April when you wrote it and here it is nearing October, but…I’m spend the whole summer experiencing the same experience. I actually stopped my newspapers recently and we’ve been doing the farm fresh vegetable and buying grass fed meats. Sometimes, we shop at Whole Foods, but I’m not buying a lot of processed anything.

    As a matter of fact, I recently cleaned out my pantry of processed foods for my husbands food drive at work. I just don’t really want it in my home anymore. As a matter of fact, I even feel better. I can’t remember the last time I was in a store other than Whole Foods….it’s been a while. I did discover I could use coupons at Whole Foods and so far I’ve only used one and that was for creamer in my coffee.

    Funny thing is, I have to learn to shop differently after researching how to coupon so intently, I feel like a fish out of water. And your post really helped me feel “normal.”

    Thanks Ruth! I really appreciate your honest nature. It’s so refreshing.

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