What is 'Extreme Couponing?'
Contrary to what the popular TV program suggests, 'Extreme Couponing' is rarely about buying 400 of any one item or turning all of your spare bedroom and garage space into mini-marts. Nor is it a euphemism for 'hoarding!' In practical terms, you are an 'extreme couponer' any time you use coupons, rewards programs, or rebates to significantly lower your monthly food and household bills. It's easier than you think!
What ISN'T 'Extreme Couponing?'
Firstly, it is NOT hoarding. If you don't use it, want it, or can't donate it, leave it at the store!
Most importantly, however, it is not the typical way of couponing. Instead of looking through cupboards to see what they are low on, Extreme Couponers 'shop' from their pantries and stockpiles for the most part, and only head to the stores for fresh produce, milk, and any items that are at rock-bottom sales prices. If you buy when things are cheap or free, and avoid ever having to buy items at full price, after a few months of couponing, you will see your overall grocery and household bills sharply decline.
After a year of couponing, my stockpile is now at the point that I only ever shop for fresh foods during the week unless I see a great deal on something and get it to add to the stockpile. Recently, when my husband had a break between jobs, we ate well for three months from my stockpile while hardly spending anything out of pocket the entire time. And, at the end of that period, my stockpile was still quite full. It was a HUGE blessing to know that we can live quite nicely for some time without going to a store. When you have a family of six to feed, a well stocked stockpile gives you a whole lot of peace of mind.
How much time do you need?
Like exercise, you can put in just about any amount of effort and see a benefit. Whether you have only 2 hours per week or can spend up to 30, you can make a significant impact on your monthly food and sundries budget. I am now up to 'well oiled machine' level, and spend about 15-20 hours per week to save $1500-2000 per month. Totally worth it for me.
No matter what amount of time you have, though, you can see a benefit, and it can be significant. A friend of mine recently stated that she would give couponing no more than 2 hours per week . . . and ended up saving about $50 on her regular weekly bill, plus got hold of a lot of freebies. By the third week, she was willing to invest 10 hours, and her overall budget has plummeted by over half.
Where do you get your coupons from?
A TON of places . . . the majority do come from Sunday paper inserts, but there are many, many other places you can get coupons, too. You can print from the internet (usually you can print two coupons PER COMPUTER), get coupons sent to your smartphone, find them right on the product, get them directly from the manufacturer, in coupon-based magazines, on tear pads in the aisles of stores, and even inside the products, themselves!
You can often get screaming deals on the Sunday papers from various places if you order multiple copies. I currently get five Sunday papers delivered each week for the same cost as one Sunday paper at the store. Bargain.
If you are an early riser and can catch your newspaper delivery guy, you might politely ask what he does with his extra papers/inserts. He might be willing to let you have them for free!
How do you organize your coupons?
This is a matter of personal preference. For the hard-core couponer, the 'binder method' is often used. A large, 3 ringed binder holds plastic pages (baseball card holders work great!) into which coupons can be slotted. Others choose to have a small accordion wallet or other small folder holding just those coupons to be used on the current trip to the store. Some keep all inserts whole and in a portable file, only cutting out coupons when the need arises.
Choose a system that is easy for you to use and maintain. I prefer the binder method . . . it keeps all my coupons visible and when I see a markdown or unadvertised sale at the store, I never get frustrated that a coupon I KNOW I have is back at home. In fact, I have two binders now . . . one for food and one for everything else. Keeps things all in one handy spot!
How do you get the really big deals?
The key is when more than one thing in your couponing arsenal lines up. We all know that stores have sales. When those sales align with a great coupon you have, serious savings appear. When you add in a store reward (Register Rewards from Walgreens, +Up Rewards from Rite Aid, Extra Care Bucks from CVS, or gift cards from Target, etc.), you can get AMAZING deals . . . many items for FREE or even ones that EARN you money!
For example: Rite Aid recently had a $4.99 toothpaste on sale for $3.00. Already, it was a great deal! They added a $3.00 register reward into the mix, which essentially made the product free. But there was also a .50 coupon available, so it ended up being a 50 cent moneymaker on each tube (limit was 2) AND you got the toothpaste to boot!