I’m pretty good at tuning out things that I consider “trendy.” I don’t know what it is about my personality, but I’ve always been the opposite of a bandwagon jumper. As my friend Crystal says, I’m forgainst most things. If something is getting too much hype, or if everyone is into it, I usually either find some fault with it, or find myself totally apathetic, and completely ignore it until it dies down and goes away.
Sometimes though, something will get so much buzz that it finally does flit onto my radar, and such is the case with this Extreme Couponing craze that seems to be all the rage right now. Everyone, I mean everyone, that I know is talking about it. Even people who aren’t big shoppers, aren’t particularly thrify or give two craps about coupons. I suppose we all want to save money, and we all love to think we’re getting one over on the system, so it makes sense that it would become popular. The buzz about Extreme Couponing has gotten so loud that even I can’t ignore it. I began recording episodes on my DVR a couple of weeks ago, just to see what all the fuss was about. I’ve become hooked, but not in the way that you would imagine.
Unlike most devotees to the show, I wasn’t immediately struck with the desire to go out and clip coupons until my fingers fall off, organizing them in folders and arranging places to put my “haul,” as they call it. I found myself more critical of the entire movement than most. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of saving that much money on groceries is nothing to sniff at, especially in today’s economy. I work part-time from home and barely make ends meet, so I can certainly appreciate gettin’ while the gettin’s good, and saving money is always a benefit. I just don’t think, however, that Extreme Couponing is something I could ever do myself. There are a few things about Extreme Couponing that just don’t sit well with me.
In an episode I watched over the weekend, one of the Extreme Couponers was showing the camera her massive stockpile of groceries. She had her own “store” in the basement of her house that she kept locked in case her kids tried to sneak in and steal junk food. As the camera swept over the massive pile of goods, she pointed to a big stack of sleeping aids and said, “I don’t even use these. The store paid me to take them, basically.” In another episode, a woman had a massive pile of babywipes and diapers, despite having no kids. One lady had a shelf to the ceiling filled with bottles of Pine-Sol. In episode after episode, you see Extreme Couponers going into stores and literally wiping the shelves of ALL of the products. Cases upon more cases of items like Powerade, bagged croutons, and ibuprofen – taken out of the store without a single one left for any other consumers.
That right there is why I can’t jump on board. There is a line between thrift/opportunity, and of greed/gluttony, and most of these people crossed it a while back.
I can see stockpiling hundreds of rolls of toilet paper, or dozens of bottles of laundry detergent, because you will use those items. I can even see pre-ordering mass quanities of bottled or boxed goods knowing that you’ll need 100 or so to even out your transaction. If the items will be eventually used, I have no problems.
But c’mon people – if you don’t even need diapers, or use sleeping aids, or eat vegetarian soysage, please don’t clean out a shelf of goods that other people could use, just because “the store is paying me to.” You might be saving money, hell, even making money, but that is just morally icky in my opinion. It’s a gray area, sure. Nobody would ever suggest that you’re stealing or doing anything untoward, but you are taking advantage of the system, and by doing so, you are causing other people who could use these goods to miss out (not to mention creating unnecessary waste, and creating more work for the employees of the store).
A friend of mine who has been watching the show a bit longer than me, and who is venturing into Extreme Couponing herself (and doing quite well), informed me that there are many Extreme Couponers who donate items to food banks and homeless shelters. Apparently one has even been on the show, but I haven’t seen his episode yet. If that’s true, it definitely bodes well with me. I think were I to ever get into Extreme Couponing, that would be the way to go. Just being able to give those items to those in need would make it worth every bit of effort for me.
The other problem I have with the show is that you never see Extreme Couponers buying healthy items like fresh produce, dairy products and other staples. It’s all prepackaged, preservative-filled, junk food. Powerade and Chex Mix seem to be the two most prevalently advertised items on the show (and from my own experience with coupons, it is usually items like these that offer the most savings). At first I assumed that these customers were buying their healthier items at some other time, but then I saw several Extreme Couponers declare that “this is what we live on,” and, “our stockpile is what we eat until the next haul.” That suggests to me that these families aren’t eating any fruits and vegetables that aren’t canned, any fresh bread or cheeses or meats, and are basically living on frozen pizza rolls, Powerade, and Ramen Noodles.
Of course, that isn’t the customer’s fault. In addition to the fact that so many people are living in food deserts, most coupons offered these days are only for pre-packaged items. You rarely see coupons for items like fresh produce or even meats.
All the above said, I do find the show addicting. It’s kind of an awesome thrill to see these people spend two grand on groceries in one trip, and then watch as they whip out their coupons – doop doop doop – that two grand just became two dollars. The amount of organization and discipline that it must take to complete even one shopping excursion is mind-boggling. I have to admire the dedication that goes into it. Though I must say, the one episode where the lady is screaming at her poor husband and calling him an idiot because he isn’t going fast enough – that kind of made me want to cry.
I admit it – I myself have gone online and signed up for a few sites just to see what is out there. Being a vegetarian, I imagine it will be a little more difficult for me to get started. Stay tuned to see if I manage to become an Extreme Vegetarian Couponer!
Are any of you readers out there into Extreme Couponing? Have you had any luck? Any particular insights or tips you’d like to share?