It turns out that managing finances as a family doesn’t have to be a drag. Stepmom Mary Ellen King of Austin, Texas, started couponing with her family last year, when her husband lost his job at a large law firm. What could have been a penny-pinching headache became an opportunity to teach her three stepchildren about money.
“We started looking at our spending and our grocery spending was out of control — after all, we have two ‘tween boys. Before we started, the kids would walk through the grocery store and put whatever they wanted in the basket, often slipping it in the basket when we weren’t looking,” says Mary Ellen.
She says that since then, they’ve all learned that groceries are very expensive, you can save quite a bit of money by being mindful of what you are purchasing, and you can go without many of the items that you thought you would die without.
That’s the learning part. Then there’s the good times: Mary Ellen and her family carve out time together to sit around and clip coupons. You can imagine the fun one-upmanship of one kid scoring the best deal, and another seeking to top it. Now that everyone’s aware of what they’re spending and saving on groceries — and all contributing to the savings part — after the bills are paid, they reward themselves with family activities that cost money.
Couponing has a different kind of appeal for each kid. Mary Ellen’s 10-year-old stepdaughter takes great pride in organizing the coupons in a plastic envelope with dividers and going through each of them before a shopping trip. Her 14-year-old stepson was initially embarrassed by couponing, having seen the “extreme” variety on Honey Boo Boo. But the tamer version he experiences with his own family is inspiring: he enjoys going through the coupons to make sure his family has coupons for the things he needs.
Due to time sharing, the kids aren’t always with Mary Ellen and her husband, but the couponing excitement isn’t dulled by their absence.
“Any time my husband and I save a lot of money during a shopping trip and the kids are with their mother, we take a photo of our savings listed on the receipt and send it to them,” she says. “They love to hear how much money we are saving. My husband and I recently purchased $45 worth of food and toiletries at a local pharmacy and spent $15. That was one of our best shopping days by far.”
The kids were not at the pharmacy that day, but they were very excited to hear about it later.
Couponing tips for beginners:
- Look for traditional coupons, but don’t ignore web deals that you can print out.
- If you make an unplanned shopping stop, a quick search on your smartphone can turn up a coupon code that you can show a cashier on your phone.
- If you find a great coupon for an item you don’t really need, it’s not a deal. It’s an additional expense, so skip it.
- Be aware of stores that accept “stacked” coupons: store coupons combined with manufacturer’s coupons maximize savings!