The Day I Threw Away My Coupons, And Other Adventures in Frugality

The Day I Threw Away My Coupons, And Other Adventures in Frugality

The day I threw my coupons away, and other adventures in frugality

Today I’m happy to share a guest post from my bloggy friend Carrie Willard

One lovely Sunday morning, I had an epiphany. It happened in the car, on the way to the drugstore to buy razor blades. But truly, it wasn’t about razor blades. It was about finding the sweet spot with practical frugality while having a simpler, more peaceful life. It was also about valuing my time.

Razor blades are one of those things I really hate buying. I’m a classic under-buyer, and so I tend to put off these necessary purchases. And the cheapskate in me hates how pricey razors can be! So, on Sunday morning I spent about half an hour searching one of those coupon aggregator (more like aggravator) websites to find a “deal” so I could save a couple of bucks. And I did find a deal, but in order to be a true deal, I had to combine the coupon with the sale, which necessitated my searching through my coupon file. (I never did find the coupon.) Then, once I purchased said razors, I had to remember to actually USE the “bucks” printed on the receipt. (Which I often forget to do, or because I don’t need anything, the coupon expires.)

I’m a frugal type of gal, to be sure. But driving to the drugstore that day, I began grumbling to my husband. (Something I rarely do, so when I do it, I try to pay attention!) I realized that I had spent about 30 minutes of my life to save around $5.

Now–I’m not knocking couponing. I used coupons and played the “drugstore game” when I paid off my credit card debt several years ago. Back then I squirreled every bit of extra money I could nickel and dime out of my budget into paying my debts. But I’m no longer in that situation.  At this stage of life, simplicity and creating routines that save time are more important to me.

Another fact struck me as I continued grumbling to my husband: He had no idea how much time I spent on this particular chore, and I wasn’t even buying the type of razors he prefers! Ostensibly I was going through this periodic hassle to be a good steward of our money, and (in my mind) a good homemaker. But as you know if you’ve ever done couponing, you can’t be loyal to a particular brand. You have to chase the sales in order to do it right. We rarely bought the razors my husband prefers, the ones that (in 20 years of shaving experience) are best on his very sensitive skin, because they rarely went on sale!

This onerous chore I had taken upon myself wasn’t really making anyone happy.

At that very moment, I decided to fire myself. I got on Amazon, set up a subscribe and save for razors (hubby’s preferred brand, for once), and I’ll never have to think about it again. Then I threw my coupon file in the trash can.

My takeaway points from this experience:

 There are many things I could have done with that 30 minutes that would have brought me more happiness, as well as save or make me money.

• Some frugal activities are based on faulty assumptions. If nobody really appreciates it and it doesn’t make you happy, drop it!

Amazon Prime (which, based on previous purchases I have calculated actually does save me money each year) and Subscribe and Save are my best friends

• Frugal activities are sustainable when they’re fun, not stressful. There are many frugal things I really enjoy doing. Such as cooking a meal from scratch, or clothes shopping at my favorite thrift store. I need to focus on doing more of these things.

Have you ever dropped a frugal activity from your life and not looked back?

Carrie Willard is a mom of seven who blogs about natural parenting, homeschooling, simplicity and frugality. She’s become a grocery shopping whiz out of necessity and years of practice feeding a family of nine.

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65 comments

  1. Mandie says:

    I was just talking to a family member recently & was beginning to feel bad when I mentioned I don’t coupon at the same level that I know others do successfully. Then I remembered how many unnecessary items I purchased (& brands I don’t prefer) when I was more agressive about it, and remembered that I don’t have to justify myself or my own brand of frugality to anyone- I know the things I do to save money for our family and how they do work for us, and what others think shouldn’t matter.

    • Carrie says:

      “how many unnecessary items I purchased (& brands I don’t prefer) when I was more agressive about it” – YES. Successful couponing seems to be a full-time occupation. It’s nearly impossible for me to do it half way or just dabble in it.

      ” I don’t have to justify myself or my own brand of frugality to anyone” – Which is exactly the point. 🙂

  2. Linda says:

    I dropped coupon clipping a few years back as well. I cook from scratch, which I love to do, and a frugal homemaker doesn’t usually find coupons for fresh spinach in the Sunday circular. I replaced couponing with a price notebook. I shop certain stores for specific items and save money that way. It also saves me time. The stores are all in the same town, so it doesn’t eat up the time that stressing over coupon clipping and matching the coupons with the deals. Ah, freedom!

    • Carrie says:

      “which I love to do, and a frugal homemaker doesn’t usually find coupons for fresh spinach in the Sunday circular”

      Loving to do is the best part. And yes, I also noticed that the quality of our diet went down when I was couponing. I remember standing in the store one day with a hand full of coupons – the Uncle Ben’s rice pilaf would have been free – but really? I don’t feed my family this junk! (The temptation is so great when the price is so low.)

  3. Nella says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. The time many couponers take is mind boggling, but even if you do it moderately I’ve found that for our situation right now, the time is never worth it. I admire people who do it consistently and benefit from it. My personality comes into play here too. I’m just not someone who can cut, organize, synthesize sale info, drive to multiple stores etc every single week without having a break down…I had to honor that as well. It’s so easy to forget time is something we need to be good stewards of!

  4. Great post Carrie! I love it. I watched the pilot episode of Extreme Couponing and was appalled at the sheer investment of time. In those cases, it was like hoarding with a thin veneer of socially acceptable frugality.

    I love the concept of coupons and getting a deal but I also recognize it’s not a great use of my time. I’ll shop store sales if it makes sense, and we stock up on items we use a lot of at Costco, but I decided a few years ago to put coupons straight into the recycling bin.

  5. Alicia G says:

    Yes! We don’t do coupons b/c they are rarely for the brands we buy. I also skip returning online items if they are under $10-15ish. By the time I pay for return shipping, do the return paperwork, pack up the box, take to post office etc., I feel like the value of my time has already been lost. So those go into the donate bin instead & no regrets.

    • I had a similar experience with a shirt I was contemplating returning, well actually, it just needed to be brought to the post office. I had it wrapped up and waiting…and waiting… and you know what? I ended up wanting a nice new blouse for a friend’s wedding…and there it was waiting to be sent back! 🙂

    • Anne says:

      It was only a few years ago that I finally grasped the time cost of making returns. Now I think longer and harder about bringing something home in the first place. Even if returns are relatively painless, they still take time. And if the post office is involved, forget about it!

      There are times ordering online and making returns is worth it (shoes from Zappos springs to mind), but sometimes the donate bin is a much more attractive option.

  6. Esther says:

    I completely agree! I stopped playing the drugstore game
    because it wasn’t worth my time and stores were constantly
    out of stock on the deals. Now that our grocery stores no
    longer double coupons, I simply shop at the store with the
    overall best prices. I value my time, and my time with my
    family too much to constantly run around seeking out deals.
    It’s amazing how freeing it feels!

    • Carrie says:

      YES. This is a wonderful strategy. Another easy one? Keep your grocery receipts for a few months. Just being more mindful – taking note of impulse purchases, high priced ingredients that can be simply left out of a recipe (are my kids really going to notice if I leave out capers? I think not.), and coming up with less expensive substitutes can shave 10% off the top, without any extra work.

      • Esther L. says:

        I love the suggestion. We use a cash budget for our groceries now after constantly spending too much money. It really forces me to choose wisely and make sure to minimize waste. However, I never did think about substituting less expensive ingredients. I love that!

  7. Corrie Anne says:

    Coupons really frustrate me too — I really only use mobile ones for JoAnn’s or Michael’s and the ones the pop up on my Yelp app. I agree that Amazon Prime is TOTALLY worth it.

  8. I have a love/hate relationship with couponing. It takes so much time to do successfully. I don’t mind that really. Not having children I do it while I watch TV. I realized that it was only helpful to me if I limited myself to only chasing deals at one store. I am such a loyal Publix shopper that I was frustrated shopping anywhere else. If I didn’t have a full time job maybe I could devote the time to it, but for now I only have time for the one store.
    I do try to find coupons for other stores (Hobby Lobby, Michaels, etc.) when I can. But most of the time I can just pull those up on my phone.
    There are other ways to be frugal that make the same, if not greater, impact.

    • Anne says:

      I agree. I couponed hard for maybe six months, a few years ago. It was a pain. BUT we are still enjoying the fruits of that time. I bought so much shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. that those six months of effort have lasted for years with some things!

  9. Ana says:

    Love this. I used to buy the Sunday paper for the coupons, and spend the morning cutting & organizing…and then forgetting to use them, or buying unnecessary stuff to “use them up”. I don’t do coupons anymore (except for coupon codes for on-line purchases, which are so simple it’d be a shame not to) and also stopped going to multiple stores to save a little on certain items. Amazon prime is one of the biggest time-savers in our life right now! We don’t have a car, so lugging bulk packages of diapers, toilet paper, etc.. is so not practical; better to have it come to our door!
    But I totally understand that everyone’s priorities are different, and I know some people really truly enjoy the challenge of couponing or shopping around. My mother did it, quite successfully, so I get it.

  10. Karlyne says:

    When it comes to chores that I’m not in love with, I always figure out how much they cost me in terms of my time and energy. I figure out what I’m “worth” per hour and look at it that way. If a coupon saves me $5 and it took me a half hour’s worth of work to to use it, well, that’s not much better than minimum wage!

    • Anne says:

      That’s a great way to look at it, Karlyne. I do the same thing: if I don’t enjoy it and my “hourly rate” is low, it’s not happening.

  11. Katherine says:

    Ha! I just told my neighbor that I didn’t need/want her coupons anymore (she used to give me her inserts and I would give her free stuff in return- win/win). Exactly for all of the reasons listed here. Time and simpliciaty. We have a new Trader Joes in town and I do most of my shopping there, and it is infinitely more enjoyable than when I was a couponing fiend:)

    • Anne says:

      We finally got a Trader Joe’s in our town a year and a half ago, and it’s changed the way I shop. The prices aren’t always the lowest in town, but they’re consistently good, and I can do a week’s worth of shopping in 15 minutes flat (30 with kids). The time and stress savings is worth it to me.

      • Karlyne says:

        When I get to my kids’ houses in Medford and Vancouver, I smooch them all and head for Trader Joe’s. It’s a tradition.

      • Joanna says:

        Same here! Why is TJ’s so much faster than any other store?

        And I have Amazon Prime, but I don’t think I’m utilising it well. We use it for random stuff and we use subscribe & save for pullups and wipes and granola bars, but I’m thinking it’s time to add the paper goods and other dry goods that I don’t get at TJs to that list. The meat prices are a little high at TJs, but it seems higher quality.

  12. Idaho Jill says:

    I haven’t cut coupons for one month…so this realization has just hit me within this past month. I still keep the inserts, and if I need one coupon, I clip it. I liked clipping them every week and having that part all done and ready, but life has gotten busier lately, so I haven’t been using the coupons I was so diligently cutting. I also used to be a die hard drugstore game junkie, but I haven’t done that in over a year, so I knew I had to reassess my habits and time…so glad I did! It is definitely freeing; it’s amazing how much time it took up. It was worth it when we really needed it financially, but now I can take a breather and spend time on other things.

  13. Elizabeth says:

    I agree, Carrie. Saving money is great, but killing yourself over every little thing it isn’t worth it. Right now I’m working on cooking more healthy and tasty meals at home that I’ve depended on restaurants for in the past. For those other must-haves, Amazon Prime and Soap.com is our go-to place. I’m sure there are times when I could save 50 cents on this or that in another store, but with free shipping and quick arrival of the items, it’s worth it.

    And what is it with razors?! I bite the same bullet when I see the price on those things! Glad I’m not the only one.

  14. I had a similar realization about six months ago…when my sister-in-law offered me to take some of her cake mixes since she “really has about 100 and they will expire soon.” Even with their family of eight, spending $.25 once or twice a week on a cake mix is a waste of money, that is literally spoiling in her pantry because she is too busy to use them! I was shocked!!!!

    So anyway, yes I totally have dropped frugal practices.

    Line drying clothes is like marathon olympic training in Louisiana. I was often running outside, just after nap (cranky and slow-waking babies in tow), running around my back yard retrieving clothes from our fence line while the fairly predictable, daily afternoon shower began to come down on our heads. And then I realized, just spend the $.60 per load (I think I read that somewhere) to dry the clothes and avoid a 30 minute stressing adventure.
    Line drying inside *if* I can do it without stress has been a good option, but usually I’m happily pitching clothes from one machine into the other. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      I had the same epiphany about line drying. I love that line drying is a frugal (and green) option, but some days the extra 60 cents is so worth it. It can be the difference between the laundry actually getting done or not.

  15. Ah yes. My friend and I were just talking about something similar (either saving money or dieting or both.) It’s about quality of life…if the effort and stress it takes to either save money or diet don’t outweigh the benefits, it’s just not worth it at this point in our lives.

  16. I don’t coupon either. I figure it’s my time, thus money, as I clip coupons. Plus driving to all the different places. Not economical with the prices of gas. I shop at 3 stores, and only 3, and I don’t use coupons-unless it is for one of those and I have it right with me.

  17. S says:

    I agree that personality plays into it. I’m an INTJ, which means I like to make my decisions in private. Therefore, being presented with in-your-face information at garage sales, thrift stores, etc. puts me over the edge. I much prefer online shopping (and stacking deals; INTJs love their data and research!), and using one of those websites that matches all the coupons up for me where I can make my list and collect my coupons calmly. I too did the “drugstore game,” but found I was buying a lot of stuff I didn’t really care about. (Strategy is the main characteristic of INTJs, and that’s not very strategic! lol) I now more aware of when my favorite things go on sale and buy accordingly.

    • Carrie says:

      “being presented with in-your-face information at garage sales, thrift stores, etc. puts me over the edge.”

      Yes. Since I always have several kids with me at the store, having to juggle that with all those buying decisions is just too much. It was after reading the book Willpower that I understood why… exercising self-control over and over wore me out utterly.

  18. MK says:

    Yep, coupons have all but entirely dropped off my radar (although the coupons the little machine at Target spits out? For a while it would print $1 off any frozen food item, so I’d buy a single serve Ben and Jerry’s, pay $.02 and it’d spit out another $1 off coupon–that kind of couponing I can handle!

    I’ve also stopped signing up for free samples, although that’s actually un-frugal, I suppose. Sure it’d be frugal and not very time consuming to have those tiny packets sent to me, but things are getting all Inconvenient Truth in my reading list lately, and I just can’t justify the paper, plastic, and fuel waste for a free packet of shampoo.

  19. Jo Lynn says:

    I too did the coupon thing for awhile. When we were really desperate it was helpful to save so much money but it did leave me exhausted and stressed. Once our situation improved I tried to keep going with it but just couldn’t. I had trouble letting it go though especially the drugstore since I got so many toiletries for so cheap. So I threw away my coupons and started making all my own toiletries! Now I’m still saving money (and time they don’t take long to make at all) but instead of stressed about getting to the store and organized for a deal I feel really empowered.

  20. My one concession to couponing is the codes for online shopping. I Google the name of the store and coupon code before checking out. Is Old Navy ever not running a 20% off with coupon code sale??

  21. Holly says:

    I do coupon but with my limits and on my terms. I pick one drugstore and only try to be a couple purchases ahead so I definitely don’t go every week. I just do coupons you can print off online when I’m doing my grocery trip planning.

  22. Meg says:

    Thank you for putting this in perspective! I still clip coupons, even though I might use 2 or 3 a month! I have been struggling to give up this chore because I felt guilty. I am no longer going to waste my time!! I also love Amazon subscribe & save…it does save me a lot!!

  23. Liz says:

    I love how the ad in the sidebar is for “Great razors delivered for $1/month”. Ha ha!

    I don’t coupon mostly because I don’t buy the products that offer coupons most of the time. Grocery store specials will definitely sway my decisions, though.

  24. Theresa says:

    I stopped couponing years ago. I was in the same boat with payed off debt, and it took a lot for my husband to convince me all the time I wasted on it was not worth the amount of money saved. Now, trying to feed my family healthy whole foods, most coupons aren’t relevant to my shopping.

    • Karlyne says:

      Good point, Theresa – I have yet to see coupons for the food I actually buy! Most coupons for food are for “convenience” foods or mixes, and I have yet to see them for simple, one ingredient foods (like organic apples or taters or…).

  25. Trish says:

    I couponed as much as I could here in canada when we lived in the city. When we moved to a very rural area we stopped getting any coupons. I realized that most of the things I buy now don’t ever have coupons. I have now invested the time and energy I used for coupons into friendships with people that I barter with. We barter everything from labour, fruit, eggs, honey, piglets to building supplies. I still spend the same amount of time cultivating these friendships about 2 hours a week as I did couponing but it saves me way more money. Those extra few minutes spent talking at the communal mailbox or at the feed store is more enjoyable too.

  26. Allison B says:

    I never got into couponing at an extreme level. I only clip coupons for the items I buy and I use them when the item goes on sale but I don’t run around to 8 stores to get the best deals. I shop one grocery store that has the best overall prices and one drugstore where I get prescriptions. I don’t have time to find every single deal. Too muh hassle and not something I want to do.

  27. Megan says:

    I love this post! I have found myself taking advantage of deals for things I don’t want or need, which makes it not a deal at all. Even if it’s 99% off, if I don’t want or need it, it’s making my life worse, not better.
    I still use coupons occasionally, but only for things I WAS GOING TO BUY ANYWAY. I’m probably not saving the maximum amount of money possible, but I’m happy with it, so it’s a good thing!

  28. oh this post is perfect! I haven’t cut coupons in over a month – I have all the inserts “waiting” for me to look through and cut. Truthfully, since I now do the majority of my shopping at Aldi I really have no need for chasing the coupon deals like I used and with two kids (two and under) to drag around with me at the store, it is to avoid couponing.

  29. I stopped making special trips to find deals. I do clip coupons from the Sunday paper and put them in my binder. When we reach check out at the grocery store I go through the binder quickly to see if any coupons work. I no longer go out of my way though. It’s just too much of a headache!

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