Tuesday, January 11, 2011
A couple of weeks ago, TLC aired a show called Extreme Couponing. I missed the first airing, but saw so many violent reactions to it from friends that I set aside time to watch a rerun of it the next day. It profiled several serious couponers - two young middle-class wives, an older woman, and a thirtysomething man. Each person was shown at home, talking about their couponing philosophies, and then on an actual grocery shopping trip.
While I was impressed by the hundreds of dollars saved at the register, my main reaction to the show was sadness. Most of the participants seemed completely, unhealthily consumed with couponing - it's not an exaggeration to say that they have made it their religion. One of the women was filmed passionately "witnessing" about couponing to neighbors, fellow shoppers, and random people she met on the street. One regularly took her young child dumpster diving for extra coupons. Another cheerfully admitted that she's sacrificed a healthy marriage and social life to keep up with her couponing, and her husband's resigned and frustrated reactions to it all were heartbreaking to me. Obviously, there are also serious hoarding elements; I think the man couponer said he had fifteen years' worth of food and toiletries in his stockpile room, which used to be a garage. (Maybe he's also a survivalist, but if so, he didn't mention it.) It also seemed like a few people were driven to a financial and physical hoarding mindset by past poverty or job loss, but I'm not a psychologist.
I started couponing fairly seriously about two years ago. I have a small stockpile cabinet and a well-organized coupon file. I know what these people mean when they describe the thrill of watching your total go down at the end of a shopping trip - I understand how it could be addictive. I think couponing is a great and relatively low-effort way to save money, and I'm glad it's available to us. But I don't believe in couponing just so I can haul home truckloads of free stuff I don't need and will probably never consume. (Waste is one of the things that bothers me most about extreme couponing. The man on the show said he frequently gives his extras to missions that his church supports, which is wonderful, but he was the only one.) I believe in rational couponing. No stockpiling for the apocalypse, no buying stuff I don't already use. I find coupons for my usual grocery items, via newspapers and circulars that are easily available, and I try to buy enough during a sale to last me until the next sale. That's it. It works for me.
In conclusion, I hope I never watch another show that includes the voiceover line, "Two hours into her checkout..."
Edited to add: The popular couponing site Southern Savers has a great response to the show.