With apologies for an ultra-long post, but I’ve got a lot to share. Oh, where to start , where to start…
First of all, today’s topic is about the “reality” tv series, Extreme Couponing , which airs on the TLC network. My observations, comments, opinions are based on the shoppers on the few episodes I’ve seen and are NOT directed at all people who use coupons. I’d need a mirror for that, since I use coupons every chance I get and adore getting stuff for free.
If you haven’t seen the show, the link above will take you to a series of trailers provided by the network. Each week they profile shoppers who use coupons stacked on top of store sales to buy thousands of dollars worth of groceries, paper and cleaning products, and health and beauty products for next to nothing, and sometimes even make money on the deal. It sounds good, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t love to save that much money?
Well, on the surface it is good, and many families (and single, unemployed blogger types) are able to stretch their grocery budgets by combining sales, coupons, and/or rebates. The situations depicted on TLC, however, usually feature people who take this beyond the norm. Way beyond the norm. After watching a few episodes, I began to feel uneasy and somewhat…well, repulsed, to be honest. For the most part, the behaviors I saw were neither admirable nor desirable, certainly not a lifestyle I aspire to imitate, so I quit watching.
In a nutshell, these are the problems I have with on Extreme Couponing (hereafter known as EC):
Most of the food they’re shown buying is garbageunhealthy – Y’all know I’m no food purist. I try to eat mostly whole foods, but I do buy some processed foods for the convenience and the cost. Plus, I like a little decadence now and then. Exhibits A and B, my pantry and fridge, follow:
The folks on EC are shown buying processed foods–sugary cereals, frozen meals, cookies, sodas, candy, potato chips, etc.—almost exclusively and in very large quantities. 150 Butterfinger candy bars? Chips for 800 people? A dozen jars of flavored mayonnaise? Ninety packages of lunchmeat? They’re never shown buying fresh meat, fresh produce, or the like. Part of that may be the production company, because as we know, coupons aren’t often available on those products and if those purchases were included, the final tally would be much higher and not nearly as “impressive”. But there’s more to it than that, which leads to my next point…
The shoppers on EC have massive amounts of food and other products stockpiled in their homes. We’re not talking about an overcrowded shelf (ref: above photo). They have entire basements filled floor to ceiling with products. Their homes look like grocery stores and they’re proud of that! One woman said her stockpile was almost as beautiful as her family. Another proudly showed how she had converted the FAMILY ROOM into her couponing area. ( I have no idea where her family congregates now.) Most extreme couponers seem to have highly organized storage areas, but one home featured in the season opener had bags and bags of groceries piled up IN EVERY ROOM IN THE HOUSE! The husband had declared his “man cave”, a tiny extra bedroom, as off-limits, but the final scene showed the wife stashing more bags of groceries in his space.
I understand having extras on hand. I’m single, so that means two or three of any given item, on average. (I often take advantage of a sale/coupon and have had as many as eight cans of tuna stacked up. I didn’t buy more until there were only two cans left.) For households with more people, I can see that the quantities might be higher. For large families or people who live in remote areas, I get that an extra freezer or storage area could come in handy. I don’t understand the benefit of having 1000 (not a typo) tubes of toothpaste or 35 bottles of Maalox standing by. (Meow moment: If you’d clean up your diets, you might not need so danged much Maalox!)
And that’s my point, I guess, is that many of the featured shoppers are buying a whole lot of products they don’t need and probably won’t use before the expiration dates. I’ve read and heard comments by other extreme shoppers that excuse this by saying they’ll donate it to a food pantry if it’s about to expire. How noble. You had food someone needed and would appreciate stockpiled for two years and now that it’s losing its freshness, you’ll pass it along. Pardon me while I throw something heavy.
Seriously, some of these behaviors border on hoarding. Not for all of the couponers, but in a few cases, I wonder. As you may or may not know, TLC also airs a show called Hoarders: Buried Alive. At least on that show, the people are offered the help of a psychologist. Not so on EC.
The final “astonishingly” low grocery bill isn’t always honest — Scant mention is given to how much money some of these shoppers are spending to save money.
- Many buy multiple copies of newspapers (up to 12) on the days when the coupons are included. In my area, that’s Sunday and the Sunday paper is $2.00. That would be $24 for me, almost equal to my average weekly grocery bill, and the circular would likely have 3 or 4 coupons I’d actually use.
- Clipping coupons from online sources is great. I do it myself for products I know I’ll buy. I don’t print coupons for “maybe” products, because printer ink and paper cost a lot. Imagine if I was printing hundreds of coupons, as the EC shoppers do.
- Having multiple computers to get around limits on the number of coupons that can be printed from one computer had to be pricey, and one woman profiled had five laptop computers.
- Another woman was said to have spent $70 buying a batch of coupons from a clipping service for her “biggest shop ever”, yet that wasn’t netted against her final tally. (At least, not that I recall.)
- Storage racks and systems cost money. One shopper had a custom storage rack built that will automatically rotate her stored products so that the oldest purchases are stored at the front of the shelf. Admirable, but not necessary for the average household.
- And you can tack on a whole lot of time spent clipping, collecting, researching, shopping, and storing.
Finally, (you thought there’d never be a ‘finally’, didn’t you?) the coupon experiences depicted on EC are not realistic for most American shoppers— Most stores have stricter limits on the number of items that can be purchased by coupon. Few stores actually double or triple coupons, although several will allow you to use a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon together. None of the stores in this area (that I’m aware of) will redeem a coupon for more than the cost of the product. Something interesting I read the other day (and naturally, can’t find now) is that some stores being shopped on EC are breaking their own couponing policies for the show. Those of us without a film crew would be out of luck. If true, and I don’t know that it is, I don’t like that.
Like I said, I don’t watch Extreme Couponing anymore. While I admire savvy shoppers who have figured out ways to take advantage of “the system” to stretch their shopping dollars, too many of the shoppers I saw seemed to have some serious issues that need to be dealt with.
As you can see, I have a strong opinion about this show, and I apologize if I’ve offended anyone. That wasn’t my intention. To be fair, some of the tips and tricks shown on EC are good: the benefits of store loyalty cards, matching coupons to sales, taking advantage of free birthday meals at restaurants, and so on. And a few of the shoppers profiled may be “extreme” compared to most shoppers, but they’ve also placed parameters on what they’ll buy and how much of it they’ll store. If the series featured more people like that , I’d still be watching.
Have you seen this series? Your thoughts? Am I missing something important?
Disclosure: In my grocery shopping trip today, I used three coupons, one that qualified for doubling. I saved $2.10 in coupons and $18.23 in store loyalty card savings for a total savings of 30%. Color me thrilled! My “stockpile” items were two wheels of Laughing Cow Cheese ($1.99 each!), bringing my total fridge count to three of that item, and an extra jar of dill pickles. My decadent item was one package of Jello Temptations lemon “dessert” (don’t tell me what’s in it!), which I purchased with a sale/coupon combo for $1.24. I also purchased a jar of mustard even though I have 1/3 of a bottle on hand. (I’m preparing for the summer sandwich season.)
Non-couponing disclosure: I also purchased two slices of coconut cake from the bakery. I’m trying a new flavor of cake joys: coconut cake with dark chocolate coating and didn’t want to make the whole cake. It’s not for me; it’s for the neighborhood dessert social tomorrow night. I will, of course, have a taste.