If it’s free, I will come…

It happens every time.  I have a garage sale and am so exhausted by the time it is over that I wonder why I even do this. “This” being what I have done for over 30 years; the coupon buying. Why can’t I just get a job like everyone else who wants to make some money?

The garage sales with excess stockpile merchandise are a fairly recent phenomenon.  Back in 1988 when I held a garage sale it was mostly outgrown baby clothes and toys. I might have added a few of the extra premiums I’d sent for in refunding; maybe some Kraft crayons and a plush dinosaur or two that I didn’t care to give to my own children, but the majority of my coupon-related purchases were items I stashed away for use by our own growing family.  It wasn’t unusual for my cupboards to contain 20 packages of feminine napkins and 200 Band-Aids.  Four children, six, and then eight…  We used most of what I got free or cheap with coupons, and what we didn’t; I gave to my mother, shared with the annual church-sponsored Christmas help program, or sold at my sister’s consignment store.

For many years in the mid-1990’s my method of making a little extra money was through selling books. First I sold books through a mailing list I sent to homeschoolers throughout the country. Then I tried my hand at eBay selling. In between selling books, homeschooling, and caring for children, I wrote essays and articles. The couponing was still mostly for our own family, though I did barter sometimes with extra cleaners and health and beauty products. I’d barter books and soap for children’s clothing and  homeschooling curriculum and once even bartered a box of cleaning items for a goat.  Occasionally, I’d set up a garage sale at my mother’s house and clean out my bulging storage cupboards.

Moving to town two years ago and pretty much giving up on a book list and eBay selling led me to ramp up my couponing so that I would have “stock” for a garage sale.  The first one went over so well that I’ve done several since and actually have regulars who wait to stock up on their shampoo and toothpaste at my sale.  Somehow, through library and thrift store sales, I also manage to have a huge selection of good books and children’s quality clothing at my sales as well.  I make sure I never pay more than a quarter for items I buy for re-sale, but sometimes will pay up to a dollar or two if the item is something I personally want (Intuition razors) or will give as gifts (Fusion razors and large bottles of body wash).

I inevitably have someone coming to my sale who asks me where I get all the stuff, or if I work at a store, and I laugh and explain how I am constantly picking things up for free with coupons, or cheap enough that I buy in quantity for my children’s Christmas baskets and to sell.

Let me explain these Christmas baskets. My adult children are not coupon enthusiasts.  Coupon users, perhaps, but not counted amongst the “coupon enthusiasts” that Nielson categorizes as those who use 104 coupons in a six month period. Thus, my four adult children might purchase their razors, body wash, toothpaste and toothbrushes like the average adult: on sale and with, or without, a coupon.  They may on occasion even pay full price. But they grew up with a mother who had cupboards bulging with the stuff and they sometimes miss that; being able to just open their cupboards and find what they need, when they need it.

One of my main Christmas gifts to them has been a basket, tote or box filled to the brim with body washes, razors, deodorants, or whatever I got on sale that year with my coupons. My oldest son has informed me this is one of his favorite gifts and my oldest daughter has encouraged me to continue this tradition, along with specifying things she would like to see in there in the future.  (stationery, for one thing.)

So now I use my coupons to fill my own cupboards as well as those of my adult children.  Depending upon what I am discovering free with coupons; I’ll also take a tote over to my mother’s house.  The free razors and body wash also make an excellent gift basket for a high-school graduate who is headed to college or even for sibling gifts.

And then there are the garage sales. Moms at home struggling to live on a budget sometimes have to get creative in making money. The garage sales have been my creative way of adding a little to our family’s income. After all, I am picking up things for our family and for the Christmas baskets anyway. I may as well pick up a few more when the price is right.

But the work entailed in having a garage sale is mind-boggling; the shopping that entails a constant searching for good deals that involve a coupon savings as well, the storing of boxes and totes filled with things to sell, the pricing, the lugging out countless totes and boxes on sale day, and then the two hours setting up and displaying all the sale items.  Never mind the hours outside in the hot sun waiting on people. And then there is that awful moment when the sale is over and I look around and realize I have to deal with everything that is left!

This is what I do, and it takes at least an additional two hours:

Box up all the books that are remaining and put the boxes in the back of my van. (They will be taken to HalfPrice Books in Cedar Rapids for cash)

Box up anything I will be taking into my sister’s consignment store.

Store any health and beauty and non-perishables for the next sale in plastic totes with lids.

Fill a box or two with items to give away, and post an ad on freecycle. This box is set next to the tree in our front yard, near the curb.

Lug all the boxes and totes onto the front porch where I will deal with them in the next day or two. Or three.  Okay, I still have some empty boxes on my front porch from last Friday, but I swear all the other boxes are put away.   Put all the shelves and the hanging clothes rack in the garage to be dealt with later. Ditto on the folding tables.  Put everything away for next time.

This time around, with lower sales and a goal in mind that I didn’t actually meet, I had to think twice as I put everything away.  Do I really want to do this again?  Can’t I spend the time I would be shopping on writing instead, and make money (eventually) that way?  Do I really want to spend so much time matching sale prices with coupons, or would I rather give it up, like I did the book list and eBay?

Not the couponing, per se. I’m not going to give up my trusty Rubbermaid coupon box anytime soon.  I’ve been shopping this way for over 30 years. The few times I have tried to shop without coupons I’ve felt extravagant and wasteful.  Tell me what it is that causes the woman shopping next to me in the store to reach way past the boxes of crackers with their $1 peelie coupon attached to get a box without the coupon? Does she want to pay the extra dollar rather than be bothered with a coupon? Or does she think that using the coupon would say something about her that she doesn’t want it to? (Like she is cheap, or thrifty, or likes to save money, or perhaps, needs to save money?) Tell me why a couple at the grocery store would pick up a watermelon and knock on it, shake it and even smell it, and not bother to pick up the coupon right next to it for a free liter of lemonade with the purchase of a watermelon.  The lemonade is right there. The coupon is right in front of their face. Even if they hate lemonade, don’t they have grandkids, a food pantry to donate to, or a neighbor they could give it to? It is free. Who doesn’t like free things?  Apparently, some people don’t care.

I am attempting to answer questions such as these as I research and write my book, and I find it all fascinating.

But then, I really like free.

So I’ve been pondering  since my garage sale last week.  Do I really want to keep doing this?

Could I stop  if I wanted to?

I just about have convinced myself I want to stop buying for re-sale when we decide to go to Cedar Rapids yesterday. Our family stops at the Salvation Army thrift store first, where I find 30 books for $5. (6 for $1) I add them to the extra books from my garage sale and take them into HalfPrice Books where they give me $82.

I go to Lane Bryant to take a top back and use a $15 free coupon they’d sent me on a pair of Seven denim capri’s they just marked down to half off the already marked down price. I pay $5 after the coupon. Their original price is $69.80.  We stop at Walgreens just to use a couple catalina coupons on toilet paper or garbage bags, or something else we need. That is my plan, at least. I don’t even bother bringing in my coupon box because I wasn’t going to be doing all that buying for resale stuff anymore.  And then, I spot them. The Bic highlighters on sale this week for 49-cents, down from $1.99.  My fingers itch. My nostrils flare. My heart starts beating faster.  I have $1 off 2 coupons that would make them free. But wasn’t I going to quit doing this?

“Um, Katie, can you run out to the van and get my coupon box?” I casually ask, and she complies. I put 21 packages in my cart, and then turn my attention to the Pentel pens that are on sale for $1.19 from $2.19 this week.  Isn’t there a $1 Walgreens coupon in their coupon book for $1 off those pens, making them 19-cents a pack? There is. I add 10 packages to my cart.

Wasn’t I going to stop doing this?

Our final stop is Hy-Vee, where I usually buy fruit, but on the way to the produce section I notice Bestlife buttery spread is on sale this week for Buy One at $1.99, get one free.  I have $1 coupons that expire in just a few days.  I put ten of the packages in my cart.  I hesitate on the coupons, but I am buying ten, so I pull ten out of my coupon box.  They all scan, so I just got 10 packages of butter spread totally free.  I hope I can freeze them, as I obviously can’t save them for a garage sale.  Free is free, but my refrigerator isn’t even big enough to store 10 packages, and we don’t use butter all that often.  But the coupons make them free, and they expire in a few days…

I ask myself once again: do I want to do this anymore?

But then, how can I stop when there are free things to be had?

6 thoughts on “If it’s free, I will come…

  1. Leann Guzman says:

    It would be interesting to calculate how much per hour you make on the garage sales. It might make the decision on whether to stop or keep doing garage sales a little easier if you had that information.

  2. Joan Kramer says:

    This is so funny, Mary! Sometimes, when I have a bad experience with couponing, like for example when a cashier tries to tell me I can’t use a coupon because it’s not for the right item (and I know it is) or when they call a manager over and both of them treat me like a criminal – then I think briefly that maybe it isn’t worth it to use coupons. And sometimes- just briefly- I get tired of all the work involved with coupons and refunds. Because it is work, and it does take time if you want to get items for free or for a deep discount.
    But then, I snag some real bargains, and find some unexpected treasures. Like at Target on Tuesday; they had some gift sets on clearance for $4.58 that were regularly $12.99, and I had $4 coupons! Not only that, but they were products I needed towards a $10 rebate. So I will MAKE MONEY on those items. Earlier that day, I went to Walgreens, got FREE toothpaste, FREE pens and markers, several other items almost free, and register rewards I will use to buy milk, bread and eggs on my next trip for FREE.
    I too feel guilty if I pay full price for anything, but that doesn’t happen too often. And like you Mary, I stockpile. It makes me feel more secure to have a stash of items I use regularly. I frequently check my stockpiles so I know what items to buy in the future, and also check expiration dates. Even though there is only 2 of us, I do have several months worth of staples, and I freeze grated cheese, butter, strawberries, chopped peppers, bread and buns, hot dogs, etc. I buy cereal when I can get it for less than $1 a box, and buy as many as I have coupons for. Same with canned or other packaged foods; I just make sure it is something we like or will use, or something I can take to Mom’s. I am starting a box for a local shelter of excess toiletries (all free) which I will deliver there when it is full. These were items I bought to get register rewards or rebates. I am money ahead on those things already, and the shelter needs them.
    When I first started couponing seriously 7 months ago, I never dreamed I would do as well as I have. Thanks to your example, Mary, I have saved a significant amount of money. And it is a real challenge for me to find out just “how low can you go” when it comes to what I am paying for food and toiletries. I don’t know if I could give it up; I am addicted to this way of life.

  3. Lisa says:

    I think Joan has summed it up for you. “OLD” time refunders like us, will never give this up because we want to. And I think you have proved that. I too sometimes think, it’s only the 4 of us here and why do I need 50 of something? I will keep some, price some it it’s something I can sell, ask my daughters if they want some, and put a few in a box for a battered womans shelter I started giving things to. Once it’s in your “blood” it’s hard to stop.
    My daughter always tells me “your addicted”. I can think of worse addictions, can’t you?

    Happy Shopping!


  4. Mary Potter Kenyon says:

    And when I read these comments, all I could think of is WHAT GIFT SETS WERE ON SALE AT TARGET THAT I MISSED?????? :o)

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