There has been a lot of rumblings from within the couponing community about the influx of new couponers on the scene since the airing of TLC’s Extreme Couponing TV show. Folks are talking about how all the “newbies” are grabbing all of the deals, stealing coupons, clearing shelves and these actions are causing stores nationwide to change their policies. A lot of my longtime friends who have been couponing way before the Extreme Couponing TV show became so famous are telling me that they are laying low, flying under the radar, and not couponing as much because of the negative association surrounding those “extreme couponers”. For the most part I tend to agree with them that the times they are changing in the coupon world as we know it.
Has there been an influx of new couponers in the past few months? Sure, there has. However this is not the biggest influx of new couponers I have seen. HotCouponWorld has been around online now for 5 years and like any good website we track our traffic, and to be honest with you there were double the amount of new people interested in learning how to coupon in 2008 as our economy took a dump than there has been in 2010-2011. I think however that the difference is that this time around this group of new couponers has a visual to go off of just what couponing is and how it is done from watching the TV show. Is that visual that they are getting always a correct one? Not necessarily, as we have seen in the one case of one of the gals who appeared on the show and admitted to committing coupon fraud. But does that mean that all newbies are going to do the same? Not if we reach out to them and try to teach them the correct ways of how couponing works. Like it or not, the media has branded all couponers as either “normal” (uses one or two coupons) or “extreme” (uses more than a few coupons). I don’t particularly care to be called an extreme couponer, but the fact is, that is the way the world now perceives us, so I guess I either need to give up on my couponing and pay full price (GASP!) or embrace it and do my very best to teach new couponers how to go about this the right way.
I tell my couponing friends when they are complaining about the influx of coupon newbies is to remind them that we were all new at this at one point at a time and that everyone makes mistakes. I think that the benefit of being a member of an online community such as HotCouponWorld however is that we can hopefully learn from the mistakes of others. I know I made my fair share of mistakes when I was new to using coupons. So I thought I would share them so that if you are new too you can learn from my mistakes.
I fully admit to doing the following when I was a new couponer:
When I first stumbled upon couponing as a way to save money I had never in my life heard of a printable coupon. I think they were either a relatively new thing at the time, or I lived under a rock. Either way I was all jazzed to find these instant coupons right at my fingertips, I didn’t have to wait to get the coupons I needed in my Sunday paper or in the mail or find them in the stores. And then I saw that they key to couponing was to get multiple coupons and start a stockpile so naturally I thought that meant that I could make copies of printable coupons, take them to the store and voila I was a new coupon queen! It did not take long however for me to learn that this was a big no-no and not allowed. So I stopped, felt really bad and moved on. Plus I was wasting a lot of ink and paper.
Yep, I dabbled in this too when I was first new. Be gentle. When I first started couponing I would see these posts on the forums about how you should not or could not talk about decoding coupons and like most curious humans I had to find out what the heck everyone was talking about (or not talking about as the case may be). So I started searching out what this coupon decoding stuff was all about. At the time there was a website that was dedicated to talking about how to decode coupons, so I joined and read and learned how it was done. How at some stores you could use coupons that were issued for one item on another item within that family of products. It was interesting information, so I gave it a try. I used a high value coupon for a teeth whitener product on diapers. I was a mom with three kids in diapers and we were broke as a joke. And of course the people on that site (I don’t even know if that site is still around or not….oh wait I just checked and it is…dead as a doornail…I won’t be linking to it) had all these great reasons and justifications as to why this was an OK practice. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker and it worked. One store would allow me to decode coupons on the wrong item, and the other two stores would not. I did this for a few months, buying diapers using the wrong coupons, always sneaking the coupons through at the self-check-out registers. This was totally wrong, unethical and the bad part was that I knew it was. That little voice in my head kept whispering that “this is wrong” and I ignored it. I did not stop decoding coupons till I read a post on the same forum that taught how to decode coupons about a lady that was arrested for decoding coupons. It was not worth going to jail over some dumb coupons or saving a few bucks on diapers. I had 5 kids to think of and no amount of saving money was more important than risking losing the most important things in my life, my family. Call it Karma or God or whatever, but right after I stopped buying diapers using the wrong coupons, I found an amazing deal on diapers and was able to stockpile 2 years of diapers for 3 kids at something like $2.50 a pack.
Bought the wrong item or did not read the fine print
I think this happens to most couponers at some point in time or another. You are excited to find a deal in the store, you rifle through you coupon binder or box to see if you have a coupon for the product, are excited to see that you have a coupon, you hand the coupon over to the cashier only to find out later that there was a size restriction on the coupon, you bought the wrong flavor, it was not the “New” product the coupon was good for or you otherwise overlooked some teeny tiny fine print on the coupon. I classify this as an honest mistake. It is my job as a user of coupons to take the time to read all of the fine print on the coupons and buy the right product. It happens, it happened to me just a few months ago when the P&G insert coupons started to put the wording “Limit 4 like coupons per transaction”, I knew it was there, but totally forgot about it till I got “caught” at the register…it was embarrassing.
Cleared the shelves
While the notion of shelf clearing can be a hot topic and really there are a lot of variables that come into play. For example if there is only 2 items on the shelf and you go in and take the last two are you a “shelf clearer”? Or what if you go shopping at one of the drug stores like Walgreens who are notorious for never having a lot of product in stock to begin with, you go in and they only have room on the shelf for 5 bottles of shampoo and you buy all 5 bottles they have are you clearing the shelves? Well technically you are, and some will argue that it is not your fault if there is not sufficient stock for everyone to get the deals. And there is truth to that. However when I am talking about shelf clearing and how it was a mistake, I mean going into a fully stocked grocery store where there are 20, 30, 40, 50, 100 or more items on the shelves and I go in with a big fat wad of coupons and buy every last box, bag or bottle they have so that I can stockpile it. It used to be that I would totally do this. I could justify it in my mind, my reasoning was that I lived in a small town and there were not any other real couponers, I had a large family and needed 100 boxes of brownie mix darn it! I had to build my stockpile at any cost. I was in the store as soon as I could get in there the first day of the sale. And I had my coupons and I was ready…BRING-IT-ON! I soon realized a couple of things, I did not need 100 boxes of brownie mix, and even if there was something that I did think my family could use a lot of like cereal I did not necessarily need to buy it all in one fell swoop. I learned that the deals will come around again. If my family eats 2 boxes of cereal a week and my goal is to have a year’s supply of cereal in my stockpile that I need 104 boxes of cereal, but cereal comes on sale usually about every 4-6 weeks. So I could buy 20 boxes of cereal now and 20 boxes in a few weeks and I would be just fine (plus I would end up with a better assortment of flavors of cereal). I did not need to buy crap just because I had a coupon, or buy junk my family would not eat or buy just to donate. So now I usually wait till the last day or the day before the last day of the sale to do my coupon shopping. That gives everyone else in town plenty of time to get the deals, and then I feel no guilt for getting my extra stockpile buying of cereal or brownie mix. And if by chance some of the things I wanted to get are gone when I go shopping, I get a rain check (gives me a chance to get more coupons) or pass up on the deal. Not the end of the world. Oh and clearance…that is free game.
Became coupon obsessed
Couponing is the only hobby that I am aware of that saves you money. And like other hobbies it is really easy to let it take over your life and time. I think most of us know someone who has taken up a fun little hobby like scrapbooking and before you know it they are into it deep with a whole scrapbooking room, tons of money invested in tools and supplies, countless hours researching online cute layouts. Before too long you cannot have a conversation with that person without the topic of scrapbooking coming up. Soon the house is wreck, the kids are wanting for attention and the husband is looking for some affection. I have totally been there and done that. There is a rush and excitement over finding a great deal, sharing that deal online with your coupon friends, having a stockpile of items that you got dirt cheap and admiring the shelves of canned goods all neat and tidy in your garage or basement. It is not healthy…couponing should be a fun hobby and not an obsession. I actually think that the show “Extreme Couponing” should really be renamed “Obsessed Couponing” because I think that many of those featured on the show might still in the “I am coupon obsessed” phase. I think after you have been doing this for a longer period of time you kind of get over it, it is fun, you save money, but there are more important things in life than getting MORE free toothpaste. People matter more than stuff…even stuff that was free after coupon.
If you are new to couponing you are probably really excited and jazzed and want to learn how you too can save tons of money using coupons, and you can! However it takes time to learn and collect coupons and build your stockpile. You will make mistakes, but many of them can be avoided by learning from the mistakes of others, learning how to do it the right way and taking your time. Couponing is a marathon, not a race.
Let the stoning begin…