As the resident Extraordinary Couponer at my job (I say Extraordinary and not Extreme because I’m only providing for myself and my dog, and I don't have any hot sauce) my lunch hours are filled with trading coupons and dispensing advice to the novices. This was my fun way to unwind for an hour and take myself out of the job and make few friends.

In June, I was up to my usual lunch time shenanigans when the Chief Financial Officer of my company walked into the kitchen. He listened for a while then asked me, "How much are you saving by couponing?"

"I save about 90% on my grocery bill," I bragged.

"How do you know?" he asked. "What does your budget look like and where does the extra money go?"

I had to stop and think. Before I started couponing, I budgeted $400 for household goods, but since I had been couponing, what was my budget? Surely I was spending less; I had a 6-8 month stockpile of stuff, but where was my savings?

I decided that I needed to know where my money was going. If I spent $90 per month instead of $400, what was I doing with the other $310? I didn't see a big difference in my savings account; was I any better off than when I started couponing? Could I possibly be just spending the extra money frivolously?

I didn't sleep that night thinking about the money. I was always responsible with money, and that is why I started couponing in the first place. I went through old bank records trying to track it down, and then I found it – in my stockpile. That’s right. I was couponing for the high and not the savings, so I had a stockpile full of things that I would never use but that I bought because they were only $.10, $.50, or a $1.00. I had a closet full of bladder control pads (I don't need these, but with a coupon they were $.25 out of pocket), cat treats (nope, no cat, but at $.10 a piece – why not), and the list goes on (including 5 blow dryers that I bought for $3.00 OOP each.) I was blowing my entire budget so I could save money.

Finally at about 2:30 in the morning, I decided that I couldn't change the past so I would look to the future. I donated most of my stockpile to family, churches and the local animal shelter. And I started over.

Every payday, I set aside $200 for groceries and household items ($400 per month), I use only coupons for things that I need and will use, and I keep my receipts. At the end of the second month of my new streamlined process, I had $620 in that account. At the end of the third month, I had $960. I was so proud of myself for finally realizing the true savings that coupons had to offer that I formulated another plan. I had just moved into a new condo and there were things I wanted–big things. My couponing was going to pay for them all.

The first thing I bought was new deep freeze ($160 on sale with a coupon, of course), so I could stockpile more. The second thing was two new area rugs for $450 (purchased at a 70% discount from a going out of business sale). At five months in, my new dining room set (on sale) was delivered so I could host my first Thanksgiving dinner.

The most valuable part of this wake up call for me was to realize what couponing the right way could actually buy me.

  • I cancelled my five newspapers. I don't need that many coupons and this saves me an additional $45 per month.
  • I use a coupon clipping service. I order reasonable quantities of coupons for products that I will use, and I pay far less than I did for my newspaper subscription.
  • When I coupon now, I don't do it just for the rush, I do it for savings.
  • I have realized that something isn't a bargain if you aren't going to use it.
  • When I stick to my budget, my savings are tremendous.
  • When I set clear goals, I can attain them.

As I look at my stockpile and think about the next six months, my goals are clear. I am going to celebrate the anniversary of my wake-up call with some more shelving for my garage and a fabulous trip somewhere.

This has been a guest post by Erin from Indianapolis, IN
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