I have often watched TLC's new series 'Extreme Couponing' in bewilderment, not because they get hundreds of dollars of merchandise for mere pennies, but because they often have to stand for a half hour and wait while the checker rings them up. Immediately the concept of extreme couponing appealed to me because I've always been a great shopper. Meaning I'm a careful shopper and always manage to get the best value and most bang for my buck. I consider myself a responsible shopaholic. Although I don't shop nearly as much as I used to back in the good old days (pre-POTS days, that is) whenever I shop now I make it a firm policy to never pay full retail price for anything. I strive to buy every item on sale and now with a coupon if possible.
Several of my friends have dabbled with couponing and I have always wanted to try a more aggressive approach to saving money. So far I have made two extreme couponing trips to my local drugstores and have spent a total of $61.45 including sales tax. I have also received $18 back in Rite Aid UP Rewards and Walgreen's Register Rewards (cash equivalent gift certificates that can be spent on any merchandise but only in their store).
Although I did not get everything free as the extreme couponers on TV do, I ended up with over $250 (retail value+sales tax) worth of merchandise for my $61.45 including all sales tax.
Here's what I got, along with the full retail value of the items:
-4 razors ($45)
-20 razor cartridges ($60)
-2 shaving gels ($8)
-3 bottles of shampoo ($20)
-1 bottle of organic conditioner ($7)
-1 body wash ($6)
-1 antibacterial hand soap ($4)
-2 bar soaps ($5)
-2 deodorants ($8)
-1 lotion ($6)
-3 tubes of toothpaste ($10)
-1 toothbrush ($4)
-1 chapstick ($4)
-2 mascaras ($25)
-4 packages of disposable heating pads ($20)
-2 candy bars ($1.50)
Most of these items were things I would have ordinarily purchased at some point in the near future. By using coupons and watching sales, I was able to stock up on essentials like razors that have no expiration date and save quite a bit of money by starting a toiletry "stockpile" so I won't have to go out and buy an item at full price when I run out. I can simply shop in my own stockpile where I paid much less than full price for each item. Couponing and careful shopping can be a great way to save money with a chronic illness. Be careful not to buy things you don't need or would never use. Make sure that you at least know someone who will use the item because you almost always end up paying sales tax for it even if it is "free." If your stockpile builds up to excess, you can always donate extra toiletry items to a local shelter or food items to a food bank to ensure that nothing ever goes to waste.
My advice for anyone with physical limitations or chronic illness is to not let it discourage you from trying extreme couponing. Most of the preparation and careful planning for shopping trips can be done in the comfort of your own home, clipping coupons from the Sunday paper and printing coupons online. Make sure you have a good game plan in place before even entering the store. Lay your coupons out and determine where sales are advertised for your coupon items. I like to tape a coupon to the corresponding page of the store ad so if there happens to be a discrepancy or mistake made at the cash register I can easily and efficiently show the sale price to the checker. It also helps to look over your receipt once you get back to the car but before you leave the store parking lot just in case a mistake has been made so you can go back in and have it corrected immediately.
To my fellow potsies, make sure you are well hydrated, have a full stomach and wear compression stockings if you can. If you may need something like a walker or a wheelchair, be sure to bring it with you or use a motorized cart as you may be expected to stand at the cash register for several minutes while the checker enters your coupons. I personally like to wear sunglasses if I'm in a store for very long as the fluorescent lights tend to bother my eyes. I also bring a water bottle and a protein-rich snack in my purse (just in case) and prefer to take someone with me who can help double-check my math and be on the lookout for unexpected deals in the store. Your experience should be comfortable, fun, and rewarding! Make an afternoon, or better yet an evening of it, as stores tend to be much less busy and have shorter lines after 7 pm. Investing a little money up front and getting an abundance of merchandise in return should enable you to start a small stockpile of your own and contribute to the thrill of extreme couponing.