Extreme Couponing: a (mostly) Grim Review
Have you ever fantasized about checking out at the supermarket with four carts filled with free shit? Yes? Well, have you ever heard of Extreme Couponing? Extreme couponing is the practice of meticulously gathering excessive amounts of coupons in order to bring the balance of one’s grocery market purchases as close as possible to $0. And I don’t mean normal grocery market purchases like $50 or $100. No, I’m talking $600, give or take $200. Not only is Extreme Couponing a way of life but a reality tv show on TLC that sheds light on this disconcerting practice.
There’s nothing new about the act of clipping coupons. I remember my mom paging through the Sunday paper in search of worthwhile deals to file away in her little coupon box. Although it always embarrassed me when she presented her five or so coupons to the checkout clerk, I can appreciate her efforts to be frugal as a single mom now that I’m older. But extreme couponing is different; it’s like giving someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder three grams of cocaine and sending them on a shopping spree. As you can imagine, there is much scrambling to clear shelves and also occasional arguments with supermarket employees.
From watching the show, I gathered that there are three types of extreme couponers: those who use coupons out of necessity, those who use coupons to buy goods for charity, and those who use coupons out of principle. Most extreme couponers fall under the latter classification, which is the worst kind of couponer. They dedicate entire rooms of their homes to building their “stockpiles,” collections of the senseless amounts of shit they buy. Can anyone tell me why the fuck someone might need 20 cans of Welch’s grape juice from concentrate? Or what a family of four might do with 100 bottles of Excedrin PM? One extreme couponer laughed that her son had no idea he was sleeping atop 400 rolls of paper towels. Another joked that she bought bags of cat treats, because the supermarket would ultimately pay her $.50 per bag to take them out of the store (and she doesn’t even have cats). Guess what? That shit’s not funny; it’s just weird. Just because you have the ability to be a super consumer doesn’t mean you should.
Then there are those who actually need all the savings they can get, usually because they’ve fallen on hard times. One family of six in Bumblefuck, Missouri reported that, when the head of the household had fallen ill and could no longer work, they only had $80 to spend on food each month. Okay, not only did this bum me out big time, but it totally justified their extreme couponing practices. Neither adult in the household had jobs, so they used their time to search for deals, which ultimately allowed them to spend their money on clothing, school supplies, and whatever else for their kids. Maybe extreme couponing isn’t so crazy after all.
Only in one case did I see someone use extreme couponing tactics to purchase goods exclusively for charity. Chris, a missionary from Pennsylvania, and his wife donated their entire purchase, which included diet soda, body care products, and tons of bacon, to their local church to distribute to the needy in their community. I don’t think anyone could dispute that this is commendable. Besides, what the hell else would you do with all that bacon? Well, I’m sure some of you could put it to good use, but that’s not the point. Chris recognized that, instead of building a bacon bunker in his living room, others could benefit more from his couponing.
In the end, is extreme couponing really worth it? I say, “No way.” Saving money with coupons here and there is great, but extreme couponing is like having a full time job. It takes months to clip and organize coupons, not to mention planning and coordinating lists of items to buy and when to buy them. One avid couponer related it to training for an Olympic medal. I have an idea: instead of wasting your entire day with scissors in your hand, why don’t you go out and actually train for a medal? Or at least adopt a more meaningful hobby? But if you just can’t turn your back on the ‘pons, at least Intervention is there to pick up the pieces.
Thanks to TLC for the extreme pics.