Just a few days ago I shared why I quit couponing. Many more people contacted me about and shared this post than I expected. While some of you are pleased with your couponing experience, others of you acknowledge it can become a form of attempting to control things. You might fear not having enough money, so having 10 boxes of Mac & Cheese in the pantry provides false security. I can tell that a lot of you want to break free from the drudgery of clipping coupons, but you feel trapped. When I used to coupon, I remember going so far as to feel anxious or frustrated when the items I wanted to buy weren’t in stock or arrive home from a shopping trip to realize I’d forgotten to take advantage of some limited time “savings”. It truly can be a vicious cycle if you feel trapped trying to “save” money.
My heart goes out to you because your motive is to be a good steward of your income, yet couponing drives you crazy. This is not an attack on couponing or the people who do it, rather it’s an attack on the accumulation practices that can accompany couponing. To help, I’d like to answer some of the questions that came my way and give you some very specific alternatives (some of which I’ve personally done) to couponing.
Q) Dana, do you go so far as to keep only one of your everyday household items or food on hand?
A) Not at all. I sincerely discourage the practice of buying 10 ketchup bottles for $10, but because my husband travels every other week and I’m committed to avoiding the need to shop during the work week, our family keeps 2-3 of our basic toiletries on hand at all times. If we run out of something, we get a replacement off the shelf and I add the item to my smart phone Notes app for next weekend’s grocery list.
Q) Is “Buy 2 Get 1 Free” a good option?
A) It is if you’ll use all three of the items up in less than a month. I’ve discovered that cleaning items, toiletries, or pantry goods that sit around on my shelves longer than 3-4 weeks are rarely used.
Q) I understand your opinion on couponing but feel there’s no other way for me to make ends meet.
A) That could be true. But isn’t it possible that your valuable time could be used in such a way that brings in as much as (or more!) money than you’re trying to scrimp and save out of clipping dozens of coupons for items or brands you truly don’t want?
Here are some specific ways you can stop the frustration of couponing and enjoy making ends meet for your family:
- If you’re crafty, enjoy the hours you spend on your craft (instead of clipping stacks of coupons and roaming the store looking for just the right brand your coupon demands while placating the cranky toddler in your cart). Sell the goods you create on Etsy or give them as gifts instead of buying new items.
- Do you love photography? I know people who schedule 1 event per month and make as much as I was able to save couponing every week of the month combined!
- If you’re a blogger, consider monetizing your blog. Michael Hyatt’s post can get you started on the right track.
- Self-publish a book. This is truly rewarding because what you write can help others! When I self-published my first book in 2011, I found the process so rewarding in itself that I have it away free for a year then began selling it on Amazon a few months ago. It’s now earning passive income for our family.
- Babysit 1 night each month to earn money. Or swap 1 night a month with friends to watch their kids and they can watch yours. This won’t affect your grocery budget directly, but it will save you a lot of money in babysitter costs.
- Schedule 2 garage sales each year: I suggest Summer and Fall. A well-planned yet simple preparation process will not take much time and can bring in a great amount of money. (Read about our family’s most recent garage sale here.)
- Create a firm meal plan and use either grocery delivery or stick to the list when you shop. This will truly keep you from going overboard on the grocery budget and can save you a surprising amount of money.
- Limit eating out. Just last week our family returned to eating out only once a week (which is a practice I’m sorry to say we’d failed to continue after our cross-country move in July). Chris and I were shocked to discover that we had $200 extra dollars when we were intentional about where our food money was going. We don’t spend that much money on eating out, but being more mindful of this habit helped us take notice of other “leaks” in our spending.