If a coupon tempts you into buying stuff you don’t need, it wastes money instead of saving it. But how much money can coupons, when used wisely, really save you? A lot, apparently. Over at Blogher, Denise Tanton has been writing a series about extreme couponing, and the savings she describes are pretty incredible:

Last week at the commissary, I spent $7.29. We bought two dozen eggs, each marked down to .49 with a .55 coupon off of two dozen. We bought a bag of shredded lettuce for $1, a bunch of bananas, a half gallon of milk, and a loaf of cheese bread. As I type that, I can hardly believe it — I’ve never spent less than $30 on a commissary visit for a family of six.
My guess is that a lot of that food wasn’t organic, but Tanton does write that extreme couponing has a close relationship to green living skills — like reducing, reusing, and plain old conserving. “Extreme coupon bloggers and forums also share good ideas for re-purposing products, avoiding food waste, and meal preparation ideas to save both time and money,” writes Tanton.

I admit that I spend a lot more money on my organic, local food than Tanton does, as I’ve yet to find coupons for produce at local farmers markets. To be fair, the deals I get at the farmers market are pretty stellar in themselves. For would-be frugal food shoppers who don’t want to abandon their commitment to locavoring, I recommend hitting the local farmers market about 20 minutes before closing time, when some farmers drastically reduce prices!

For the more seriously frugal eaters, Sharable’s got the “The Gen Y Guide to Collaborative Consumption.” There, you can get ideas for spending even less on food — by gardening (on a neighbor’s lawn if you don’t have one of your own), harvesting from nearby fruit trees, or holding a food swap. I think the list should also include scrounging and freeganing!

The Guide to Collaborative Consumption also has tips for getting everything from housing to transportation without buying things and spending less overall. Read it and save.

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