I come from a long line of coupon-users. Well, not really, but my mom regularly used them. I know this, because it was one of my somewhat itinerant tasks to organize her coupons, and she’d pay me half of the savings for my efforts. This usually netted me $2-6 for every grocery trip, which was a lot of money for a little girl in the 80s. I almost always took my winnings, walked 1/4 mile to Circle K and bought myself a pint of Shamrock lime sherbet at a whopping $0.79. Coupons = free ice cream. With such lovely associations, no wonder I became a fan of using them.
When I first got married and became responsible for my little family’s groceries, I took pride in meticulously organizing my grocery trips, matching what was on sale with the things for which I had a coupon. At a time when my weekly budget was around $60, rarely did I save less than $30, sometimes up to $60 in savings, meaning I got double the food for my money. That felt very satisfactory.
But five years ago, my grocery buying habits changed dramatically. We discovered that both my youngest son, Wesley, and myself had celiac disease. Shortly after, in an effort to go more natural and less toxic with not only my food, but my cleaning supplies, I started buying almost all of my toiletry items and cleaning goods from Melaleuca*. This was rather related to the whole revelation about CD, and the greater understanding of how just a few molecules could wreak such havoc on our health. But, buying from Melaleuca also drastically reduced the number of coupons that I used. Costco played into that, as well. There’s a number of things I buy in bulk, and that purveyor doesn’t accept coupons.
I went from an average weekly savings of $40 or so down to $8-15 or so. Still, that savings was worth the $2 cost of the Sunday paper which held all the coupons.
But then… our dairy consumption took a dive. When my 18mo daughter was only weeks old, I discovered when that her own eczema and severe digestive discomforts were directly tied to me (as a nursing mother) eating anything containing milk. Then, in March of this year, I discovered that the source of my son Wesley’s worsening asthma was dairy.
So, what with half the family being gluten and dairy free, there’s almost nothing I can buy for which the manufacturers supply coupons. On my best weeks, I save $6. It’s usually $1 or less at the grocery store. I do use the coupons at Target for the purchases that aren’t met by Melaleuca or Costco, and that’s often $4-8. But I only go to Target every 2-3 weeks.
So, my total savings with coupons is now hovering, at best around $3-4 a week. Minus the cost of the newspaper, and I’m saving less than $2. That makes the time spent clipping, sorting, filing, and matching them to my needs hardly worth it.
Yet, I can’t quite give them up. Every time I have to make a run to the store and have not the time to use coupons, or every time a week passes and the coupons stay stacked somewhere, unsorted (and thus, unused), I get a tremendous pang of guilt, like I’m being horribly irresponsible with our family’s money.
Last night, I went grocery shopping; it had been two weeks since I’d done a proper shop; we’d been coasting by on late-night runs to the store for eggs and bananas. Since it had been so long, I had major shopping to do — I went to the Asian grocery store, the natural foods store, and the “regular” grocery store, spending over $200. I barely had time to make a proper list, let alone organize the coupons. So, I didn’t use any. Today, I clipped the collected coupons from the last three Sunday papers. Knowing what I had purchased the night before, and matching that with the coupons I cut out today — IOW, coupons I should have used during last night’s trip — I could have saved a grand total of…. SIXTY CENTS.
My deep desire to be as frugal as possible is conflicting with the actual benefit. Time spent + minimal $ saved = bad use of time. Yet… I feel compelled to coupon.
The inner turmoil of the suburban housewife, eh?
*No, I’m NOT a salesperson, but I have been using Melaleuca products for about 4.5 years, and I’m really happy with them — naturally-derived, phosphate-free, effective cleaners that don’t cost an arm and a leg. What’s not to love?