I've been "couponing" for about a year and a half. I remain unconvinced that it can actually save me money in the long haul.
I started out doing a photo binder system like Trent mentioned over at the Simple Dollar. I did it much like he did - just clipped the coupons I thought I would use. As I read more about couponing, I came across some websites, like the Coupon Mom. I signed up, and I've found the coupon database and the sales flyer match up to be useful in creating my grocery list. For a few months before my son was born, I cut out all the coupons and sent the ones I didn't use to overseas military personnel. I like the idea, but really, it simply became too time-consuming. Eventually, I settled back into a system of cutting out the coupons I know I'll use, and then saving each coupon insert, with the date written on the front so I can file and find the insert if I discovered there was a coupon that I missed, or that I could pass along to someone else.
Several months ago, I decided to try out The Grocery Game. Unlike the other website I use, this one required a fee to use. I figured it's worth a shot. So, I've been using it for about 3 months, the time period they said it would take to get a real good stockpile of goods going. I don't know that I really have a stockpile of stuff but I've been able to match up sales pretty well, and the "list" that you pay for indicates if the sale plus coupon price is at the lowest price that specific item reaches. This site has been good at pointing out the real "low" to me, when I might have otherwise bought at a sale price, but not at the lowest price. The cost comes out to $10 for 8 weeks for one store's list, and an additional $5 per 8 weeks for each additional store list.
About the same time I started the Grocery Game, I decided to convert to a different binder system, where I have some baseball card holders to hold the coupons, and sheet protectors in the back to hold the weekly coupon inserts. Much less bulky than the photo binder, and since the binder has a clear cover, I can slip my grocery list in it, and I'm less likely to loose the list.
After all this trial and error, I'm still not sure that I'm saving money. I really should spend some time and go through my receipts to compare my grocery expenses.
Here's why I'm not convinced I'm saving money:
I tend to buy non-processed, organic, and natural goods, from food to personal care and household products. That means that there aren't too many coupons available for those items. Living in a rural area, I have fewer product options, so even if I have a coupon for something, I often can't find it to buy it.
I spend about $3.75 each week on 2 different newspapers (they usually have different coupons). Sometimes I'll spend a little bit more if I want to get more than one copy of several coupons. I miss some weeks, but even if I got 2 newspapers 48 times in a year, that is $180. Am I really saving $180?
Most of the coupon sites that claim saving hundreds of dollars each month are relying on access to a grocery store that will double or triple the face value of the coupon. I have no grocery stores that will do this, so automatically my "potential savings" will never be what the websites and articles on the internet claim.
Sometimes I feel like I've compromised my nutritional and environmental preferences in favor of a product that is not up to my standards, but that is cheaper. Usually, it's a brand that I would buy if I didn't have an organic/natural alternative available.
I've spent some money I might not have otherwise. Sometimes when a coupon/sale combo is really great, I might spend on something that typically isn't even on my grocery list.
Throw in the membership fee for "the grocery game" website and I think I'm teetering on the brink of going in the hole in regards to coupon savings.
I'm not going to give up on couponing, but clearly it's past time to analyze if this is actually helping us out. I really need to take a look at those receipts. Most of them have a total at the bottom telling me how much I "saved." Since I made some purchases that I might not have made if I didn't have a coupon, this total will be a little off. But still.
I would be thrilled to discover that I'm saving substantial dollars over a year. But I've yet to be convinced.