Chex Mix, Yoplait yogurt, Cheerios — these are snacks my family enjoys at the mercy of the Sunday paper. Clipping coupons is my mother's regular chore and my papa's particular pleasure. For him, saving a few dollars and cents on groceries turns a trip to the grocery story into a triumph.
Growing up in this frugal household, I learned to scoff at the high prices of Sara Lee bread or items not on the dollar menu at fast food places. Generic brands would do just fine for us, thank you very much, and anything else was a treat to be enjoyed only if a coupon or discount was involved.
My family did this long before websites like Groupon or shows like "Extreme Couponing" sprung out of the recession to make coupons fashionable and applicable to purchases like clothes, fine dining and vacations. Now we can use smart phones for deals as obscure as $3 off indoor skydiving sessions, while comparably bold shoppers march into retailers with an itinerary and a camera crew and walk out with 10 years' worth of Tide.
For the food banks and charities that often receive immense amounts of donated groceries and for the companies whose brands get advertised on TLC's show, extreme couponing is great. But other than giving them 15 minutes of fame and a chance at a giant, gleaming gold shopping cart trophy, what good does it do for these shoppers — or those of us watching?
When I came to college I'd never had full reign over my own finances and hadn't thought much about what I would or wouldn't buy once on my own. What I've learned — and what's surprised me — is how boring of a shopper I am.
Coupons abound for all sorts of things, but every second I spend scrolling through an iPod coupon app looking for deals feels like another second wasted. Sure, it's thrilling to find an 80 percent discount for something, but that purchase once made rarely seems worth the initial excitement of finding the deal. Once I close my coupon app, I find myself not missing it for months at a time.
Growing up, the money my parents saved using coupons freed up other funds that let us get new shoes or take small vacations. But coupons are only useful if they save you money on something you already dearly desire, not if they cause you to bring home a trunk-load of diet soda, like my dad once did, or waste away Sunday afternoons with a pair of scissors stuck in your hand. There are times to be frugal and there are times to prioritize time, and I don't think extreme couponing leads to either.
As a college student, I honestly don't need that much. Store brand bread tastes as good as it always did, and helps get the bitter taste of expensive textbooks out of my mouth. Coupons are great for some things, but I don't let them control my purchasing decisions.
I've come to the conclusion that if I can't think of something I want all on my own, I don't need to be buying it. The funny thing is, the less time I spend searching for coupons and deals, the less I can think of anything new to buy. It's a beautiful, not-at-all vicious cycle, even if it doesn't earn me a shopping trophy.