Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Extreme Couponing


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.


  1. Ha! Typical reality show where they pick the most extreme examples resulting in an inaccurate portrayal of a hobby/habit, as if it's something only crazy people do. You're right that it's just like anything and can become addictive and like a person's religion, but can also be a nice way to save money if you do it in moderation. I don't do it because I'm not organized enough. I consider it an accomplishment just to keep up with my checking account. :)

  2. My favorite couponing site (SouthernSavers.com, in case anyone's curious) posted a response to that show in which pretty much everyone commented that they thought it should've been called "Extreme Hoarding" instead of "Extreme Couponing". SO true.

    To me there are levels: most people who use coupons simply use coupons. Then there are people like me who do couponing, which I don't need to explain since you know how I roll. Then there are the crazies who buy 40 boxes of cereal without plans to donate it, which would be the extreme couponers (a.k.a. people with Other Issues).

    That said... this sentence is me: "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." OK, so I don't really passionately witness, but I do mention it to those who express interest, and Ange and I held a couponing seminar. And we have also regularly gone through recycling bins to get extra coupons, and yes, AJ and Chloe were with us because we were walking and it was good exercise. I know that grosses people out, but we always had a good time. *shrug* Maybe I'm more extreme than I think, although we only have so much room in this house and if we get more than 6 or 7 body washes or tubes of toothpaste or whatever, the rest get donated. =o)

  3. Oh Bethany, you are NOTHING like these people. (Or at least the way these people were edited. :\) You offer helpful info to people you know who want it. This lady was accosting random strangers on the street. And there's a big grossness gap between recycle bins on your own street, and random dumpsters. :)

    I want to check out the Southern Savers review now!

  4. I heard something on KLOVE this morning on the way to work about "light idols" and "dark idols." Couponing can certainly be a light idol for some, taking something innocuous and helpful for themselves or their family and turning it into a full-blown obsession. My immediate reaction to the show was "this isn't stockpiling; this is hoarding."

    I coupon much like you do. I only shop for and stockpile things we most definitely use: cereal, toothbrushes, toothpaste, vitamins, etc. But I never want to have so much that it'll expire before we can use it. In the past few days, I've gotten about $80 worth of stuff at Kroger and have only spent about $20 out of pocket, and I am SO thankful for those savings. But I know I could probably turn it all into a light idol, so I keep it in check.