Pace yourself: Couponing is a marathon, not a sprint

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Anything as rewarding and fun as couponing can be addicting. Once you start couponing and saving big, it can be hard to stop or slow down.

Many people who are new to couponing, after experiencing their first coupon “high,” that rush when you save big, want to cash in on every sale at every store. This can lead to burnout causing important things, like family or education, to take a back seat.

I tell all my classes that I was the same way. When I first started couponing, it became an obsession that I eventually couldn’t keep up with. I quit after just a few months of couponing. I later picked up the hobby again and used these tips to keep things balanced:

• First thing is to set a pace. Couponing is not a sprint, so there’s no need to go to every store as fast as you can to beat everyone else. I know the fear is that everything will be gone by the time you make it to the store, but that is OK. All you have to do is get your raincheck at the customer service desk.

Couponing is not a big conspiracy that is going to shut down as soon as the stores find out. Your worst enemy will be yourself if you take on too much and become burned out.

Set a pace you can maintain. Sitting down and scheduling couponing time for clipping, organizing and shopping can be very helpful. For me, my son’s nap time on Sunday afternoons is my “couponing time.” This is when I clip my coupons and organize them in my binder.

Find a time that works best for you. Know when to slow down and focus on other things, and you’ll find couponing to be a relaxing, enjoyable and money-saving hobby!

• Second, remember to start small. I know it’s tempting to go to six different stores every week to get all the great deals and use every coupon that came in the paper that Saturday.

The best advice I have is to just stick to one store when you are starting out. Pick “your” store. Going from place to place will overwhelm you and eventually you will get burned out.

Once you pick your store, whether it be a grocery store or drugstore, learn the coupon policy and focus on those weekly sale ads. After you have been couponing for awhile and you get the hang of it, then start venturing out to new places. I was couponing three years before I actually starting utilizing drugstore sales.

Obviously, many of you will venture out sooner, but don’t feel bad if you just stick to “your” store for a while. Seasoned coupon shoppers may frequent one or two grocery stores and a drugstore each week.

One of the big things I had to tell myself when I first started was not to worry if I missed a sale because the item would go on sale again. I had a hard time remembering that this is not the one and only time that toothpaste will be free or pasta will cost under a quarter.

The industry standard for coupon and sale cycles is three to four months. Instead of buying a three-year supply of spaghetti sauce all at once, just get enough to get your family by for three to four months. For nonperishables, a year supply is a good target.

• Finally, just keep in mind that couponing is supposed to be fun and not add to the stress of everyday life. Balance is going to look different for each of us. For some of us, multiple stores a week and hours of couponing a day is our regular life, and it is how we’re surviving. For others, it might be more than we can handle with other commitments in our lives.

The key is to continually evaluate where you are at in your couponing journey. Ask yourself if the time commitment is worth the cost savings and always strive to keep that balance in your lives.

Chelsey Edens writes a monthly column about couponing and ways to save money.