Katy Sez: My friend, Sarah, doesn’t look like someone who clips coupons, right?
I mean she’s cute, blonde, and outgoing! She’s also really great at cooking, crafts, and throwing wicked awesome parties. So, why does clipping coupons have such a stereotype attached? Well, let me have her explain how she got started doing something that normally you think cheap old ladies do.
I’ll come right out and admit it: I am a coupon clipper. I carefully cut them out of newspapers and magazines, I print them out from the Internet, sometimes I get them in the mail. Go ahead and chuckle, roll your eyes at me, have your vision of a shuffling old woman in a housecoat and let me know when you’re finished… Now think of the money that I have in my wallet that you don’t! I don’t claim to be an expert clipper, but I’m happy to share a little bit about what works for me.
My coupon use didn’t start with the recession; I’ve been doing it for years. I didn’t inherit the habit from my parents either, although I come from a family of bargain hunters. My mother was only an occasional coupon user during my childhood. However she is/was frugal and fastidious about knowing which grocery store had the best produce prices and which one had lower prices on dairy, etc. Once a week we would zip from store to store for the different bargains to stock the fridge and pantry. My father wasn’t a devoted coupon clipper either, although he was quite the deal hound. He loved a store called “Canned Goods Plus,” which sold – canned good, plus some other stuff. It was a dimly lit building next to an Ames department store and most of the goods were dented or on the verge of expiration (Christmas candy in July, anyone?). For him it was not about stocking the pantry, it was finding odd items for cheap. He ended up cluttering the house with things that we didn’t need – which didn’t actually save money at all, but what I learned from his spending habits is a whole different ball of wax.
During college I wasn’t much of a clipper either, you don’t find that many coupons for ramen or macaroni and cheese in the USC student newspaper. It was post-graduation, when I found myself jobless and completely confused that I started clipping coupons. I needed a task that made me feel like I was contributing to the household beyond cooking and cleaning as my roommate kept us afloat financially. Buying the Sunday Los Angeles Times and poring over the deals offered by manufacturers and local stores was like a research project, figuring out how to stack weekly specials with coupons that were good for months in order to get the most bang for our buck.
Now that I’m employed and more secure, I still savor the weekly clipping ritual. About once a week, usually on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, I will settle in at the kitchen table with the newspaper, my scissors and beaten-up purple plastic coupon organizer (gotta get a new one) and go to work. Flipping through the circulars, I’ll cut out coupons for products that we use regularly, both familiar and unfamiliar brands. Sometimes I’ll clip a coupon for a new product, if it sounds really interesting or useful to me. I try to avoid clipping a coupon just because it seems like such a good deal! I learned that lesson when I found myself tempted to buy things just because I would save money on them – not because we needed or really wanted them. It’s easy to fall prey to that temptation, whether it’s for a high tech cleaning gadget or fancy gourmet chocolate. I’m not against splurges, but doing that regularly cancels out any concept of frugality. Saving $2 is great, but if you weren’t going to buy the product originally aren’t you still spending more money than you need to?
I learned to be open to different brands as well. Just because your mother always used Best Foods mayonnaise, that doesn’t mean you might like something else for which you have a coupon. You’ll never know unless you try and since you’re trying to save money, it’s the perfect time! However, if you find a brand that you love, don’t force yourself to buy an alternative just because you have a coupon. We always buy Cottonelle because that’s what my roommate prefers and I’m not about to argue about it. I just check around to see which store sells it for the best price and stock up when we’re there. Similarly, I prefer Fair Trade coffee, for which there are rarely coupons, so I’m sure to get it when I’m at Trader Joe’s because it’s consistently cheapest there.
Tomorrow: Now that you’ve got all these coupons, what do you do with them?