4 Reasons Why Extreme Couponing Just Isn't Worth it
Coupons are awesome. I'm a big fan of the little jolt I get when I paste coupon code into the "Have a promo code?" section of the shopping cart of any given online retailer. Paper coupons are awesome, too, although I use them less often.
Saving money is great, and the feeling that you outsmarted the system doing it is even better. Here's a pretty obvious revelation: If you're spending dozens of hours a weeks to find, compile, and use coupons, you're doing it wrong. Time is money, and spending 30 hours a week to earn ridiculous savings on 62 bottles of mustard is not exactly efficient.
Without further ado, here are four reasons that substantiate the claim that extreme couponing is not a profitable venture.
Couponing is not a full-time job.
Most extreme couponers echo a similar sentiment - if you're looking to "beat the system" and get hundreds of dollars' worth of groceries for pennies, a serious time commitment is needed.
Josette Redwolf, a former couponer living in Key Largo, FL, said the process generally took a full week.
"My best all-time receipt was $976 worth of food for $38.11," said Redwolf, who noted the process consisted of "a week of cutting coupons and figuring out what to get, and then shopping was about 6 hours."
Now, $976 is merchandise for under $40 is impressive, but the time commitment is basically equal to a full time job. If you're able to actually work a full time job, well, that's probably a better use of time than couponing... unless you prefer being paid in condiments and boxes of cereal.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for workers in the U.S. is $786 per week, which doesn't quite measure up to Redwolf's net worth of $937.89 in groceries. Of course, when comparing value between working and couponing, you must consider that working a median-wage job gets you an actual paycheck and not an overstock of groceries.
The opportunity cost of spending time couponing isn't the only cost to consider. There's the actual monetary cost which typically involves printer paper and ink required to print online coupons, multiple newspaper subscriptions to obtain traditional coupons, and the cost to store the massive stockpiles of items bought with coupons.
Some stores don't allow it.
Walking out of a store with $500 in groceries for $15 takes serious strategy. A common strategy used by couponers is stacking, the process of using multiple coupons on the same item to achieve a maximum discount.
This usually involves using a both a manufacturer coupon and store coupon on an item. If, for example, a bottle of hot sauce costs $1.80, a store coupon for 50% of stacked with a manufacturer coupon for 80 cents off results in a 10-cent bottle of hot sauce.
Stacking is a time-intensive process that is likely to lose money for a store, and for those reasons, some retailers have created coupon policies that discourage against stacking. Walmart's policy requires supervisor approval on any transaction with over 40 coupons or $50 in total coupon discount. Other stores take it further.
"I stopped couponing due to moving to an area where stores don't accept double coupons," said Redwolf, who moved to Key Largo from Georgia. "I miss living in Georgia where more stores allowed double and triple coupons... I miss those days so much."
Stacking policies can vary by region, too. By Redwolf's account, none of the major grocery stores in Southern Florida permit stacking, including Walmart, Kmart, Publix,and Winn-Dixie.
Think you'll make money reselling? Think again.
Invariably, extreme couponers wind up with an overstock of items. Whether it's 170 bottles of mouthwash or 96 cans of tomato soup, there's no possible way to justify personally needing that much of any one thing. Some couponers donate their stockpiles to charity, which is certainly admirable. Others sell surplus items at flea markets, swap meets, or on eBay.
Unless you're running a huge operation and can systemize shipping, you're never going to make much money selling online. Think about it - the items commonly bought with coupons are things like condiments and toiletries. If you couponed and got a 32-ounce bottle of ketchup for free, that's fantastic, but you're not going to resell it for more than $1.50. Then consider the fact that you've got two pounds of ketchup to ship, which will easily cost more than the $1.50 you're getting for it.
Unless you own and operated a shipping business, it's best to leave selling toiletries online to Amazon and big-box retailers. Besides, if you operate a resale business and don't collect any sales tax, you might be breaking the law.
It's potentially unhealthy.
Fresh produce and meats do go on sale, but there generally aren't manufacturer-issued coupons available for strawberries and lettuce. There are TONS of coupons available for non-perishable items, like boxed macaroni and cheese and soft drinks. Will an occasional bowl of macaroni and cheese with a can of cola ruin your diet? Of course not. Will having an abundance of packaged foods around the house lead to you eating unhealthily?
When asked if her family's eating habits were altered by couponing, Redwolf said not too much. Her family took advantage of buy one, get one free deals to stay stocked on healthier items.
Still, for coupon stackers who are so used to getting food for free or almost free, it can be tough to bite the bullet and pay close to full price for fresh food.
What would a diet based solely on processed, couponed food look like? According to Authority Nutrition, processed foods are often high in refined carbs (harder for the body to burn), low in fiber, filled with trans fat, and generally lower in nutrients than good ol' fashioned real food.
The bottom line: Is extreme couponing worth it? No, not for the average, practical person. Strategically using coupons in a less time consuming matter, though, is something everyone should do.
The one exception is that if going on a massive coupon-fueled shopping extravaganza truly makes you happy -- and there's no shame in being a deal addict -- go for it. Just don't blame me when your kid's bedroom becomes a repository for your 900 cans of cream of mushroom soup.