Friday, July 2, 2010

The Coupon Made Me Do It!

About two years ago, as our business was dwindling during the economic downturn and Jason decided to go back to school, I began to give serious consideration to any and all ways of saving money. That was when I discovered couponing. And I mean COUPONING. By buying only those loss leaders I had coupons for, I could shop with the best of them, always saving at least 70-75% off retail. Shopping trips of 90-95% off were common. I made numerous visits per week to both CVS and Walgreens. I would head out first thing Sunday morning before church so I could be assured of getting the best deals. I’m not going to lie, there was a definite thrill in having a great shopping excursion. I took pictures of my hauls occasionally (even though I didn’t have a blog at the time) just because it was so amazing the stores would actually let me walk out paying only pennies for the bags and bags I brought home. Being able to feed our family of 5 on only $150-$200 per month really did help us out during the leaner times.

But for me, while couponing did save us money, it was not without an environmental (and overall personal well-being) cost. When I first started out, I acquired the coupon inserts by buying numerous Sunday newspapers. It always killed me to immediately turn around and have to recycle all of the papers, but I never found anyone who wanted them. Then I was “fortunate” to find a source in my area that delivered only the inserts to me every week. For the rock-bottom price of just $6 a week I got anywhere between 14-20 packs of inserts. It was awesome. But then there was the time involved in processing 20 inserts (actually usually 40-60 per week, depending on how many inserts per pack). I’ve read about people who say they only spend 30 minutes per week organizing their coupons, but I could never do it. It usually took me at least 2 hours, often more. Time spent away from things I would rather be doing. Then there was the time involved actually shopping – going from store to store (with a toddler no less!), driving many miles, all in the hopes of getting a good deal.

The other issue with couponing is that the majority of the coupons are for items that I no longer want. As we try to buy more fresh and local foods, the free boxes of excessively processed and packaged “dinner” helpers, fruit rollups, single use juice boxes, and cookie dough (to name a few) just aren’t doing it for me anymore. And while more natural and organic products are starting to come out with coupons, in general these are still few and far between. And those that do offer coupons are usually the much larger companies that have issues of their own.

So, a few days ago I said “Enough!” I cancelled future insert deliveries. And I processed all that had been piling up in my bedroom for the last 8 weeks. This picture shows the aftermath of that processing. TWENTY FIVE POUNDS of half-used inserts slated for the recycling bin. The fact that my actions have created this much needless waste almost makes me sick to my stomach. I will work through these last coupons (though at a far slower rate than I would have previously). Just last night I stopped by the store on my way home. I ended up buying a carton of ice cream, mainly just because I had a coupon. Driving home I started rationalizing to myself “Well, the coupon MADE me do it!” I’ll tell you what - buying the $4.59 jar of natural peanut butter (JUST peanuts!) without a coupon about killed my sensibilities (previously I would have never spent more than $0.75 for a more-processed jar of equivalent size). But upon leaving the store I felt much better about this purchase than its preservative-filled neighbor left sitting on the shelf. And the taste of the natural stuff blows the lesser version out of the water! I know it will take time to overcome the “allure” of the coupons, but I am confident that I am guiding my family down a healthier, more sustainable path. – Carrie


  1. Geez, I am enjoying your posts so much! I wish were neighbors and could share our journeys over a cup of fair trade, organic coffee from the local roaster. :-)

  2. What Pigs Don't KnowJuly 2, 2010 at 8:22 PM

    Thanks Karen! We're enjoying writing them, too.

  3. You have a skill that many don't - instead of giving up on it, I would encourage you to redirect it toward helping others in your local community. This should address many of the issues that you have while helping out a lot of people who really do need the help these days. Of course, do what is ultimately best for you, but there are tons of organizations that would love to have you helping them out.

  4. What Pigs Don't KnowJuly 25, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    This is a really good point and one that I do struggle with sometimes. I have given TONS of surplus finds to the Salvation Army, families in need that come to my attention through the Mom's Group that I belong to, and Operation Christmas Child through church, among many other charities. We also have some close relatives that are currently going through a pretty rough patch. So I still find myself using the coupons to do the deals so I can give the spoils to them. And I know they need it and appreciate it. But at the same time do I really need to get a bunch of (insert almost anything here) Colgate Wisps for free from CVS that are just going to be used once and put out in the trash and end up in the ocean or an already overcrowded landfill? (Really great post here - - it's over a year old, and includes language I don't usually use, but I really agree with what he's saying). That's the dilemma.

    On another note, I checked out your website and it's very intriguing. I wish you luck. I thought it was pretty inventive to raise money by doing the penny art. Great idea. -Carrie