The term extreme couponing may have become popular in the early 2000s or so, but when I consider how my mom used and relied on coupons while growing up, heck just maybe she was the actual founder of the extreme coupon movement! Yes, I say that in jest, but having late night musings and thinking back to what she did raising her family, it was impressive.
She had 6 kids…4 boys and 2 girls. That is a lot of mouths to feed! Not only that, but all of the boys were fast growers, and eventually topped out at 6’2” to 6’4” or so. So those are big boys with big appetites! Imagine trying to buy those guys, not to mention the 2 girls, all those groceries, fresh meat, milk, etc. In order to meet that goal she relied on coupons…and maybe even to the extreme.
My mom was using coupons like crazy back in the 1980s to 1990s…if not even earlier. That was way before the craze took off in the mainstream, so maybe she did discover the practice. Not only did she use every single coupon she could get her hand on when shopping and matching those with specials held by local stores, but she also put energy into obtaining even more coupons so she could redeem them.
Extreme couponing is generally defined as using coupons to shop, and combine them with sales to save money on food, household goods, cleaning supplies and really everything. It can apply apply to eating out and any service industry too. Or to even get items for free. That sounds simple enough, but the keyword is EXTREME.
People who practice this spend an extensive amount of time seeking coupons, clipping them from newspapers or (in today’s age) use internet sites/phone apps. They also spend time reviewing all the sale promotions at many local grocery stores, and matching up the promotions with the coupons they have.
The tactic can be used to buy groceries, household cleaning supplies, hygiene items, paper products, detergent, fresh food, and more. Some people even use it when going to a restaurant, taking vacations, or buying electronics, etc. Really anything! So extreme couponing requires a lot of work, time, and energy in matching coupons with savings from all sorts of companies.
Founder? How did she use coupons?
My mom was doing this way back in the 80s and 90s, and I like to think she founded the trend. She was a “mad woman” is reviewing all the store flyers for the best deals, seeking “two for ones” at supermarkets, and promotions. Grocers including Wegmans, Fays drug store, P&C and a few other retail locations were among her favorites.
She would then go to her coupons to match them with those sales and discounts at the stores. There were accordion style folders, envelopes, and many other places she kept her coupons. I remember drawers in the kitchen full of them! While the “filing system” was arguably chaos and not too efficient, she generally did a good job in locating the coupons without wasting too much time. She did it the “old-school” way, prior to websites, apps, etc. So you can imagine it was an intense process in clipping and organizing hundreds of coupons.
A lot by feeding all of us! Some supermarkets doubled manufacturer coupons, and back then there were not usually limits in place. So if she had a coupon for say save $1 on toiler paper, the store would double the savings to $2. Then if she matched that coupon to the store that had some TP on sale, say $2.50 for a large package of Toilet Paper, then an entire package of TP may have cost her 50 cents! So she was way ahead of her time, as the “founder” of extreme couponing. She probably saved thousands of dollars per year on groceries and other supplies.
Brand loyalty was not a requirement from her. She would shop for store brands or other, more well known ones. Whatever was on sale and could be matched with a coupon or some other savings. Whatever item she could find that was a deal, she would buy it. If the coupon was save $1 for a generic items, and the retailer doubled it for even more savings, she did not hesitate to redeem the coupon.
While we moved a few times growing up, most of our homes had some type of basement and/or large storage room. She would stock rooms with non-perishable food, toilet paper, detergent, and everything. So if her extreme couponing tactic allowed her to save a good chunk of money, say on pasta, then she would buy tons of it and then store it in the basement.
There were literally shelves of food as well as other household items. Much of what we kept there she had bought for pennies on the dollar. I remember dozens of paper towel towels stacked up, bottles of ketchup and hundreds of other items. It was like we had our own grocery store from all the stuff she bought in advance! The downside of that is I also recall some items expiring…sometimes we would stumble upon a salad dressing that expired two years before we had a chance to use it. My mom wanted to get eating the goods, but us kids would complain…ha! That was the big downside to stocking up on supplies from her extreme couponing.
While it was too long ago for me to remember all of the specifics, she use to shop at the local stores, driving to their location (within reason) to match the sale items with her coupons. What commitment she had. I recall countless times she was saving tens of dollars of a $100 bill or so…maybe saving 30-70% or even more on the total grocery bill. If she ever saved less than say 25% it was shocking, There were many instances in which she received items for free by combining her coupons with sales. Her entire car would sometimes be full of groceries when she returned home.
There were times in which she found out that the retail store would in effect pay her to shop there for certain products; now that is extreme. While I still do not fully understand this, it worked say when a coupon say for 50 cents was doubled to $1, and the item (say a can of olives) was on sale for 80 cents, some stores apparently did not have the Point of Sale (POS) system controls in place to limit the two. So she would in effect save $1 even though the item only cost 80 cents….so the store in effect paid her 20 cents! Now I would call that extreme couponing!
When my dad left, and my mom was still shopping for and feeding the kids, she took extreme couponing to another level…if that was possible. She had me and my brother scrounging for extra free coupons from our paper routes. While that was a questionable tactic (we only tried to take extra sets that were placed into the papers in error from the distributor) we still did it for the savings. She upped her game by purchasing more items and stocking them in the basement/rooms. Her savings added up to even higher percentages, if that is possible. There were countless “free items” that she was able to obtain using coupons, and more examples of her using store and manufacturer coupons (when combined with in-store sales) to get a store to pay her. I recall at the time it was incredible to watch her do all this to feed all of her kids and our big mouths.
My mom was extreme in her couponing, and she did this prior to all the online sites that can print up deals, phone applications, etc. She found how to save money the old fashion way, before all this technology. So did she found the original practice of taking savings to the maximum? While of course there is not one person who did that (“found” the extreme couponing trend) I like to joke that maybe, just maybe it was her!