$10 will buy you one movie ticket at AMC theatres.
I’m going to come right out and admit it: I’m a hardcore coupon freak. Maybe not quite as crazy as the women from TLC’s Extreme Couponing, but I’m still out there. I have a baseball card binder with my coupons organized by type and expiration date. I purchase numerous papers each week (for the inserts), and I have no problem picking up abandoned papers from recycling bins (for the coupons). I went shopping for groceries this week, and I paid $0.54 a box for General Mills cereal and $0.25 a box for Toaster Strudels. I bought ten boxes each.
Perhaps part of the reason why I use coupons has to do with my mother. She taught me how to shop smart from a young age, showing me how to figure out the cost per ounce and decide with brand and size would garnish me the best deal. But the reason that I continue to use them, obsessively use them, goes far deeper.
I tell my story to people all the time. My husband and I met in college and married when I was half-way through my Master’s program. We lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains for several years. Through a series of events, all revolving around the dying economy, I found myself without a full-time job. My husband worked around 40 hours a week at a gas station for minimum wage, and I managed to patch together a few part-time jobs, but we still found ourselves in a financial bind.
All of our money came in one hand and went out with the other. It wasn’t that we were overspending; we just didn’t make enough. Between the two of us, we brought home an average of $800 – $900 a month. We spent $525 a month on rent, another $80 on electricity, $120 a month on car insurance, and $120 for phone / cable / internet service. I don’t know where the money for gas came from. (If I didn’t have the bank statements to prove the numbers, I wouldn’t believe it.)
Before long, we started pulling from our savings just to get by, and by November of 2009, we could count the number of months left before we would run out of money. We did the unthinkable: we both quit our jobs, packed everything we owned in a U-haul, and on Christmas Eve, moved two hundred miles across the state to stay with my family. While the act was nothing but insane at the time, I can see God’s hand in it now. Less than a month later, both my husband and I found full-time jobs (good full-time jobs), and in late February, I found out I was pregnant.
Throughout the entire situation, I again learned the value of coupons and of saving. As Christians, we are called to be wise with the wealth and talents God gives us. Recall one of the lessons Jesus gave us in the Parable of the Talents: “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in change of many things.” While living on little, our family sought to be faithful with the little that we had. I learned to balance a budget with as little as $25 or $30 a month for food. I found ways to earn money by buying health and beauty products. I learned to give thanks to God, regardless of the circumstances. Nichole Nordeman’s song Gratitude became the hymn of my life.
Now that God has put me in charge of many things, I still continue to use coupons and stockpiling as a way of being faithful with the blessings God has given me. I routinely purchase toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, deodorant, mouthwash, bodywash, soap, sanitary pads, and pain medicine for nothing except the sales tax. Last month, I purchased large quantities of pasta at no cost. While I do maintain a large stockpile of these items, I give an equally large number of items to local parishes and charities. (Extreme Couponing‘s Nathan Engels gave this as a reason for his couponing, as he recently donated over 1,100 boxes of cereal to a local food bank.)
Regardless of your situation in life, consider using coupons as a way to be a good servant. You don’t need to become a hardcore shopper. Even a thirty minute trip to the drugstore with five or six coupons can lead to free or nearly free items. With very little time and effort on your part, you can use coupons to better your life or the lives of those less fortunate.
If you don’t want to use coupons yourself but you receive a Sunday paper, consider donating your coupons to a local Coupon Mom or Dad (watch for them in your local grocery store). Donating coupons can be used as a ministry tool within itself, especially when you donate them to people outside of your parish.
Feel free to comment and add your favorite couponing sites!
Melissa is writing this post from beneath her stockpiled diapers, collected for both her seven month old daughter and her future (unconceived) children. You can follow her life and shopping adventures at And Baby Makes Three.