Weighing the costs of couponing craziness

Sometimes, a pop culture phenomenon sweeps across the land but somehow leaves me behind.

As a child, I may have been the last person in Tallahassee to see Star Wars, waiting until the 56th week of its record run in the theaters.

As a teen, I never tried to moonwalk or sported a Jheri-curl.

My '80s fashion choices didn't include Izod shirts or parachute pants, and I didn't don flannel shirts or wear my clothes backwards in the '90s.

Today, Twilight books and Jersey Shore episodes remain foreign to me, and apps are what you order before dinner because I'm still using a flip phone.

So perhaps this explains why my foray into couponing has yielded no real passion. Maybe I'm just one of those folks who don't get caught up in the hot new trends.

And make no mistake, while coupons have existed in our universe for more than 100 years, they have gained new popularity in recent years and become all the rage these days.

Fueled by the economic downturn, Internet websites and a persistent passion to get the best deal, coupon shopping now grabs the kind of media attention reserved for celebrities and fallen politicians.

It's the basis for a new reality show, and a Nashville man reportedly won $3,000 for his entry about couponing in an Internet video contest. His song? Get My Shopping On.

When Publix announced changes to its coupon policy on May 11, it was front-page news.

I took that as a sign to get my shopping on. The following Sunday morning when I walked out to get the paper, I carried a pair of scissors in my hand and a steely determination to keep more cash in my wallet.

I was ready to make it rain with the help of coupons.

Nearly a month later and several trips to the grocery store, I've saved exactly $14. Or maybe $16.

It kind of pales in comparison to the lady on TLC's Extreme Couponing, who reduced her $1,200 grocery bill to a little more than $100 with the help of coupons.

It seems to me some make this craze work by letting the coupons guide their purchases instead of searching for coupons that enhance their personal preferences. My picky ways have interfered with my quest for savings.

The woman featured on the show purchased 66 jars of French's mustard. Why? Because she could and, well, mustard never spoils.

Me? I like Gulden's. I passed on a Skippy peanut butter coupon because I only eat Jif. I also skipped the cherry pomegranate juice, fish oil, fat-free milk and D'Noir prunes.

And no, I couldn't bring myself to buy the Brut aftershave.

Are you really saving if it's a bunch of stuff you don't want?

And if you buy in super quantities, do you really want it stored in every nook and cranny of your house? I keep wondering what would happen if Niecy Nash, formerly of Clean House, confronted one of the coupon crazies who has 200 rolls of toilet paper under her 2-year-old's bed.

Still, there must be a happy medium between my shortcomings and the eye-popping shopping that will get you on national television.

Riverview's Kim Panak says she reached that place. The married mother of two young boys entered a couponing class last July averaging between $700 and $800 a month on groceries. She put the lessons she learned into practice and quickly shaved 40 to 50 percent off her bill.

By November, she had reduced her monthly bill to an average of $200 and started her own blog: iheartcoupons.blogspot.com. Yet she insists the primary goal remains providing for her family.

"It's about stacking the deck in your favor," Panak said. "Every time you walk into the store, you've won because you're bringing all the aces. Anyone can play, you just need to know the rules of the games."

Panak has begun sharing those rules through her blog and in individual classes. Her initial class is free and covers the basics of grocery shopping. Her advance classes delve into how to make the most of deals at Walgreens and CVS.

In July, Panak begins a stint of classes at the Alley at SouthShore in Riverview.

You can go to Panak's blog to learn about her upcoming classes. Other local thrifty shoppers offer opportunities, including truecouponing.com, a faith-based ministry that gives free seminars.

At the beginning, I'm not sure I wanted more than to find a coupon for Eggo waffles, but with one son headed to college in the fall and another graduating from high school next year, the prospect of slicing the grocery bill may prove more enticing than mood rings, Doc Martens and tattoos.

That's all I'm saying.

Weighing the costs of couponing craziness 06/09/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 1:22pm]

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