*disclaimer: this post is written from a Canadian perspective, where the availability and laws about coupon use and bulk purchasing are different than in the United States.
Savvy Shopper. Coupon Clipper. There are many names today for people who follow a movement of extreme shopping.
The concept is fairly simple: keep track of items that your family uses and when they go on sale, purchase them in bulk, typically using coupons to decrease the final price. I myself used to subscribe to this mentality and would look for coupons in the weekly papers, magazines, and online.
I enjoyed the thrill of the hunt and when I finally got some items 80-100% off (yes, for free), it felt like I was making a difference towards my family’s spending and I enjoyed doing it. That is, until we started adopting a more minimalist lifestyle. Suddenly, having 10 bottles of shampoo in the closet didn’t feel so satisfying.
And so, I’ve changed how I shop and I’m here to share with you the seven ways that stockpiling can be wasteful and how I’ve changed my shopping habits to suit a more minimalist lifestyle.
1. Your time is money. It’s cliche but true, time is money and if you spend hours each week clipping coupons and scouring stores and flyers for deals, how much is that actually costing you in life? You might save $50 a week at the grocery store but your time was traded for that savings. Time that could have been spent working, with family, exploring nature or anything else you wanted or needed to spend time on. Former extreme couponer Christine Rakoczy said that she spent way too much time either clipping coupons or shopping for deals, to the detriment of her life.
2. Your space is valuable. Stockpiling products requires a pretty decent amount of storage space. Petrina Hamm, a former extreme couponer, said that she would often end up with large amounts of toilet paper and canned goods, both of which can take up a large amount of some people’s limited available storage. Keeping things we don’t currently need requires a space to store them, and unless you are very organized, the space can become cluttered and chaotic. Even if you have a great skill for organizing, it can put a strain on the limited amount of free space available. In starting to live a more minimalist lifestyle, I’m enjoying the space the becomes available as we have less in our home, and keeping space available for those inevitable items that need a place to be stored before they’re ready for use (such as a second stage carseat or snowsuits during the off season).
3. There’s always another deal to be had. Advertisers are professionals at getting you to shop. They will often introduce a need you didn’t know you had, or exaggerate any needs you do have, and exploit those to get you to purchase from them. Start taking a look at flyers, commercials and websites that you frequent. Words like “act now”, “end of season” and “last chance” make us think that we need to act quickly or we will miss out on the best deals. The truth is, companies are constantly receiving new stock and clearing out the old. Most grocery stores go on a six-week cycle, repeating the same deals on that basis. That is long enough that having one backup should suffice even if you want to continue to take advantage of sales. The other thing I’ve noticed is that shopping the sales keeps you at the mercy of the vendor. Sometimes when I’ve needed an item (say, a new pair of rain boots when my son has an unexpected growth spurt mid season) and it isn’t a good time to purchase, or the item is no longer in stores, it allows me the opportunity to try an alternative sourcing method. By this I mean, I reach out to my network and community to see if I can borrow or purchase the item. Searching thrift stores, online bartering/sale sites and groups or swapping the item at a kids sale. There is a growing interest in the sharing economy for many reasons other than financial ones and it bypasses entirely the need to shop the sales.
4. Products don’t last forever. Buying too many of an item can backfire if you don’t use it before the expiration date. Not only that, but keeping a product with a long shelf life means you’re likely eating things with more preservatives or long after their ideal state. Surely things like dried lentils and beans as well as cleaning products can last longer than your fresh produce, but even those things have a shelf life. I also have found that I sometimes had purchased things that we enjoyed and used and later changed our tastes or needs, so the stockpiled items were no longer of use. One example of this was purchasing baby shampoo, soap and laundry detergent on sale before my son was born, and then we learned in his infancy he had eczema and sensitive skin so I opted for a natural, fragrance-free and non-synthetic cleansers for him and our clothes. Of course, I was able to give my previously purchased items to others who could use them, but it would have been wiser to wait and purchase the things we needed as we needed them.
5. You purchase things you don’t need. Ever find yourself buying something because it was “too good of a deal to pass up”? Multiply that feeling and experience by 100 and that is what extreme couponers do all the time. Rakoczy said of her extreme couponing days, “You save money but you save money buying things that you wouldn’t otherwise buy, and buying things you don’t need and can’t use.” Even one dollar spent on something you don’t need or won’t use is money wasted. To resist the temptation to buy things because they’re a “great deal”, I often shop from my list almost exclusively, and then if I do come across a sale I try to scrutinize the item (whether it is food, clothing for myself or the kids or a gift for someone else) and ask myself if I really need it, if I have something else that can fulfill the same use, and if I would consider buying it if it wasn’t on sale. By following these principles I’ve become a more conscious shopper.
6. You fuel addictive behaviour. When I typed “coupon addiction” into my search engine I immediately hit on multiple blogs, including one that claimed “I’m a coupon addict and I’m not ashamed!”. She wrote in her blog that she would “find a deal and get the shakes that wouldn’t stop until I could write a post about it”. I love being passionate about things, but I’m pretty sure getting the shakes over something would classify as addictive behaviour. Like anything taken to extremes, compulsion to do something and not being able to stop are not the way to live. We do not want to be slaves to anything, even something that began with a desire to save some money or shop smarter can quickly overtake your life. If you like to get things on sale and save some money along the way, awesome! Just be careful that you’re not feeding an obsession or allowing it to take over other important parts of your life.
7. You can compromise your values. One of our values as a family is to eat whole, healthy foods. Healthy is a broad term with many opinions to what it means, but for us it means as close to home grown and minimally processed as we can find and afford. Problem is, there aren’t any coupons or bulk deals for locally grown produce and rarely, if ever, do the smaller more sustainably produced companies have sales on their products. So, the choice is in the hands of the consumer, is your top priority saving money or purchasing quality products? Sure, you can get coupons for things that are healthy or that meet at least my narrow definition of the word, but in my experience that isn’t where the majority of the savings are to be found. Most of the “two for one” deals and online coupons are from major food producing companies and on products that are heavily processed and rarely fresh, like granola bars, energy drinks, and fruit snacks.
So how do I shop now? I purchase the products and food that my family requires for the current week or month, being conscious of balancing price and product preferences. I try to keep a “stockpile” of one replacement product (or package, in the case of something like toilet paper or diapers) so that I can purchase a product when it is on sale, as well as keep from running out of things that we regularly use (like soap, cereal, or coffee). It’s not a perfect system, sometimes I pay more for a product than I’d like, or sometimes I do run out of something if I’ve forgotten to replace it, but it’s really not a big deal. I’ve realized that if you actually run out of something and can’t replace it soon, chances are you can either live without it or make a pretty close substitution with something else you already have at home, which saves money and sparks creativity! Finally, if you’re really needing something you lack, try the old fashioned way and ask your neighbour for it, it is a great way to foster community.
In her book Cheap, The High Cost Of Discount Culture, Ellen Ruppel Shell explores our obsession with price and how we will often buy things with an ethically questionable production history simply because of the low cost. Reading this book helped me shift my thought process around what I purchase and in doing so shifted my priorities as a consumer. Pay attention to how you describe a new item you acquire and if the first words out of your mouth are “it was SO cheap!” you might want to consider giving this book a read.
Money talks, and sometimes we shop as though we don’t have much to say. Shop so that the money you save isn’t being saved at a greater cost.