Saving and Coupons (Minus the Extreme)

Last week's post My Take: Extreme Couponers got a LOT of great response. So now that we've looked at the extreme, how can we sanely and simply save money?

First line of defense is simple:

DON'T SPEND MONEY ON THINGS YOU DON'T NEED.

I may sound silly in saying it (err...shouting it) but we are often enticed into thinking we need things we don't. Advertising is good like that. The best advertising even makes you think it was your idea to begin with. To add to that, stores create displays to make you purchase more. The displays at the end of aisles (end caps) are there for the sole purpose of enticing you to buy. Last month, this article ran in the New York Times about piling things in the way to deceive the buyer into thinking something is a value so they'll want it more. They call them "speed bumps." These displays force you to slow down and, for at least a moment, look at the items in your way and hopefully impulse purchase. Know that most things are presented in such a way to make you buy whether you need it or not. Don't give in.

Now when it comes to using coupons, look at the entire situation realistically and objectively:

    1. Are the coupons for items you use already and know you love? If so, awesome. If not, then it's not a savings if you wouldn't have spent the money in the first place.
    2. Will you be able to use everything before it goes bad? If yes, go for it. If not, then you'll most likely end up throwing away more money than what you saved.
    3. Do you have a good place to store these items in a neat and organized manner without making your home look like a warehouse store? Again, go for it if you can. Back away from the bulk purchases if you live in a small home or if your home is already reached the saturation point with other things.
    4. Are you spending so much time looking for coupons that you're missing out on other moments in your life? Think you know the drill by now...if you're not spending so much time with coupons then go for it. If not, go out there and live your life instead! You'll get much more out of it. (Yes, there are sites that will tell you how to "work the system" but do you really need 10 jars of anything? See questions 1, 2 and 3.)
    5. Do you remember to bring the coupons with you when you go to the store? If you're forgetful then you can always keep your coupons in the car. You still have to remember to take them inside though. 
    6. Are you keeping the coupons in an organized manner so that you're not the annoying person searching for one 50 cent coupon while a line grows behind you? (If you're this person, I will GLADLY give you two quarters to move it along.) Good option here is to keep coupons in a small accordion file and segment according to type - beauty, baked goods, canned, frozen, etc. When you toss something in your cart that you have a coupon for, pull the corresponding coupon that goes with it. Once you get to the cashier, you'll be prepped and ready with your appropriate coupons.
The immediate savings of a coupon feels good, but often cost more in the long run. If it's something you never would have purchased, then you actually spent more than you would have normally. If you can't use up everything before it goes bad then you're most likely going to trash much more money than you saved with the coupon. In every single pantry that I've ever worked in, I've thrown away a MINIMUM of three trash bags of expired foods. These weren't hoarder kitchens but the kitchens of normal women who thought something looked good in the store but never prepared it, forgot about it or for any other myriad of reasons never used it until it met it's lonely, unloved, unused end.
 
Seven bags of expired goods from a large pantry that wasn't too badly cluttered.

You don't have to go off the deep end to save money. Start with a couple of simple questions. Do I need this? Will I use this? When? These three little questions can immediately help prevent unnecessary purchases - the easiest way to save money.