One fun little experience: I scored a ton of Healthy Life 100% whole wheat bread, thinking that I could offer some to friends at church. I forgot that it was stake conferance weekend, so I needed to figure out what to do with the bread before its expiration date. I froze a few loaves, then started scouring craigslist. I didn't want to post an ad for free anything, since I know that just yields a million responses from people who never really pick up. So I checked out the barter section and quickly found someone who lives close by who was offering their cleaning/organizing services in exchange for things like clothes, furniture, and "even food". I emailed her to ask if she could use some bread. She responded withh the most grateful email that she really appreciated my offer, though she was out of town and won't be able to pick up until next Monday. She told me that they had been struggling financially and when you're scraping by, you really miss good, healthy foods- since the super processed fillers are so much cheaper. She recommended a shelter for me to donate items to in the future and was just overall really kind and thankful. It made me feel grateful to recognize that, despite living on what some might consider to be "low income", we haven't really had to scape by too badly. We spend between $200 and $300 a month on all of our groceries- food, as well as household items, diapers, etc. Someone without much consumer sense could easily spend that much on diapers alone! Even without couponing, paying attention and having an interest in getting good deals can really stretch your money and help you eat better.
A lot of other women from church are in the same shoes that we are- husbands getting advanced degrees, young kids, trying to live well on a limited budget. They are very good at it and are able to eat very healthfully. They get produce from the DeKalb Farmer's Market and make their own bread and really do great without breaking the bank. A lot of them talk to me about how they want to get into couponing, then once I explain what it entails, they don't think they could do it. Or else they tried it for a while and it wasn't worth it. Then I had an experience Thursday morning that made me realize that I have a few attributes that really lend themselves well to couponing.
That morning, I went to Publix before taking Natalie to a playdate. I wanted to shop the first morning of the new sales cycle so that they would still have granola bars in stock, since my high-value coupon for them expired in just a few days. So, I bought the following items:
4x South Beach Diet Granola Bars
6x Barilla Veggie Noodles
6x Seasoned Green Giant Frozen Vegetables
1x Breyer's Ice Cream (to go with my birthday cake!)
1/3 lb Deli Turkey (gonna make bagels again. Yummmm)
Shelf Price Total:$45.94 (i.e., price you would pay if you walked in any time to buy these products)
Sales Pirce Total: $29.94 (Not so bad, though it might be cheaper to just buy everything generic)
Price After Coupons: $.51 (Less then the tax. Subtotal was negative)
I'm familiar with most of the afternoon cashiers and know which ones are good at putting in coupons, but since I usually don't go in the morning I didn't know which cashier to go to! I went with the younger cashier, since they tend to be quicker with details. So at the end of checkout, my total was $2.57, and I was a little bit surprised. I had counted up all my expected post-coupon prices against my expected post-coupon overages, and I should have been negative. He was very nice, complimented my savings, so I thanked him and left. I had the bags all packed up and Natalie in the car seat with my key in the ignition, when I pulled out the receipt and quickly counted up my total prices against my coupon total, looking for my mistake. I spotted the error- there was a store coupon for $1 off a deli item and the cashier had accidentally entered it as a $1 miscellaneous deli item. So, I ran back in and got my $2.06 refund from customer service.
As I was driving away, I was thinking about how, if Micah had been there (my pure speculation), he probably wouldn't have worried about it. He would have told me to just be grateful that I only spent $2.57 and not to bother going back into the store. But to me, $2.06 is a big deal. That's 1% of our monthly budget! That could pay for 14 boxes of instant potatoes (on sale @ Kroger, w/ a $.50 coupon that doubles!), or 7 bags of frozen veggies, or another carton of ice cream! $2.06 could help us pay off our mortgage 5 hours faster! $2.06 could buy an international stamp to send a letter to Blake on his mission in Brasil! In short, $2.06 is an absolute matter of life or death because I am a detail-obsessed control freak!
Usually this is a bad thing. For example, it's less than helpful in marriage. If I were a superhero, I would be Super Nagging Woman. But when it comes to couponing, my neurotic attention to detail and my need to be in control work out to my benefit. I'm driven to look for ways to save every last penny that I can. And I derive a great deal of satisfaction when, by following sales cycles, I get to decide how much I am willing to pay for a lot of things, rather than just paying the shelf price that the stores set because I need an item right now. It doesn't bother me to spend a little time gathering more coupons each week, sorting out expired coupons and lining up my coupons with weekly sales because it all of these things feed me tons of little bits of information that I can hang on to and remember and obsess over at 3AM when I can't fall asleep.
So, I'm pretty lucky. Couponing is not worth it for everyone. But for me, it totally is.