Me and coupons go way back. I remember sitting on the living room floor as a young lad, organizing my mom’s coupons for her. Saturday morning…watching cartoons…organizing thousands of coupons. It’s every little boy’s dream. Ok. Maybe not.
The only time I remember being remotely excited during this chore was when I would see a Lucky Charms or Froot Loops coupon. Hope is a wonderful thing.
Coupons aren’t new. In fact, they’ve been around since the late 1800’s when Coca-Cola began distributing coupons for a free bottle. Furthermore, in 1909 Post decided to begin marketing Grape Nuts with 1 cent coupons.
But, coupons never really took hold of the masses until the Great Depression. At that point people needed coupons. They needed anything that could save them a buck or two (or in those days a dime or two).
Coupon usage continued to climb until the early ‘90’s when times were good and coupons weren’t quite as necessary or exciting as they used to be. But coupons are back in a big way and extreme couponing is a major reason why.
Have you seen Extreme Couponing on TLC? It’s part fascinating and part sickening. TLC showcases different people as they demonstrate their couponing methods and then follow them on a shopping trip to the grocery store. The result is always the same – 4 shopping carts worth of food and toiletry items for the price of a dinner out. The results are remarkable and yet I have no interest whatsoever in trying it myself. Here’s why.
The Downside to Extreme Couponing
Storing All Your Stuff
The common link between each of the extremists that TLC showcases is a storage room of some kind. Most have converted a bedroom or garage into a miniature market. They build shelves and organize their products as you would your pantry. The difference is that your pantry doesn’t have 300 bottles of ketchup. Extremists have to reorganize their homes in order to make room for their ever-expanding abundance. Storing your products is a cost that most people don’t consider.
We Don’t Need That Much Stuff
Who needs 1000 bottles of body wash? Apparently, Nathan does. He has accumulated 1000 bottles of body wash and 1500 sticks of deodorant! According to the video, that’s 150 years of deodorant for the average person. Every time that I watch a clip of one of the extremist’s food bunkers I see row after row of BBQ sauce, ketchup, salad dressings, and body wash. I feel like I’m watching a really clean and organized episode of Hoarders.
“Every man’s dream”?! I think we have different dreams dude.
Spending All of Your Time Accumulating That Stuff
Most of the truly ”extreme” couponers spend 40 hours per week or more cutting, organizing, preparing, and shopping. That’s a full-time job!
Our time is valuable. This is where priorities come into play. Saving money is important, but not more important than spending time with our families and living a well-rounded life. If coupons get in the way, as many of the couples on TLC’s show admit, then it’s time to let go.
I could maybe see the dilemma if spending 40 hours per week were the only way that you could avoid spending a fortune on food, but it’s not. My family and thousands of other families across the country spend very little on food each week without devoting our time to hundreds of coupons. It’s not necessary.
It Becomes An Obsession
It’s a game of numbers. Whoever “saves” the most money wins. However, extreme couponing wanders well beyond practical. I think we’ve established that. So, why devote this much time and energy? Once you’ve gathered your first 100 sticks of deodorant why keep pushing until you’ve reached 1,000?
It’s the adrenaline of beating the system. It’s a spectacle that you can show your friends. It’s leaving those around you in awe. It’s a game. That’s why grocery shelves are sometimes cleared by one or two people leaving nothing behind for the “normal” customers behind them. It starts out as a way to save some money, then becomes an exciting competition, and finally turns into an obsession.
What are the REAL savings of extreme couponing?
We focus on the amazing “savings” shown on the receipt, but there are additional costs that are hardly considered.
5 – 30 Sunday papers with inserts
Online subscriptions to find additional coupons
Clearing a bedroom or two to make room for your stockpile
The money wasted (even if it’s only $0.25 each) spent on the 15th – 95th bottle of BBQ sauce that you’ll never use
40+ hours per week of your valuable time
Less time with your family
Too expensive for me
By now, I’m sure you’ve gathered that I’m not an extreme coupon enthusiast. I find it unecessary and exhausting. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t think coupons are useful. They’re fantastic. I just choose to simplify the process a bit. Next week I’ll show you another option. We’ll go step-by-step to demonstrate an effective method of finding the big sales while not wasting your time. No, you won’t accumulate a mini-market in your spare bedroom, but is that a bad thing?
P.S. There are many people who use the principles of extreme couponing in a much more moderate way. Some people only spend 10 – 15 hours per week, give much of their finds to food shelters, and don’t stockpile just to show it off. This is not aimed at you. While I still prefer not to spend 15 hours, 10 hours, or even 2 hours cutting and organizing coupons, keep it up if it’s working for you.
Danger Sign Photo taken by Bruce Stockwell