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Extreme Couponing: Extremely Crazy?

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?

By Teri Drake-Floyd

An almost 30-something synestheste, foodie, genealogist and all around proud geek.

28 replies on “Extreme Couponing: Extremely Crazy?”

So I’m a little late to the party on this one… not sure how i missed it, but i am an extreme couponer myself.

The community of extreme couponers promotes ethics – no shelf clearing, buy only what your family will use and only in amounts needed until they go on sale again (usually every quarter) and using coupons only for their intended products (bar-code matching is a no-no).

TLC’s Extreme Couponing has shown blatant coupon fraud (J’amie Kerlew episode) and is giving us ethical / non-hoarding couponers a bad name.

I have a family of three and I have a decent sized stockpile of toiletries and laundry detergent. I regularly let friends and family “go shopping” in my stockpile and anything I buy because the store pays me to take it (overages) I donate.

Donations are another great advantange to couponing. I regularly get things for free – my family does not need the 100+ razor sets we have as an example – but when I make donations I can then use them as a tax write off and further benefit from my hobby.

I will totally agree though that you have to look much harder for healthy food coupons. Fresh produce and meat coupons are rare, but this is where overages help. I may not need sleep aids, but if the store pays me $1.00 each to take them, I can “pay” for my other items this way, then donate what I don’t need.

Basically – TLC’s show is bad, but honest, ethical, charitable couponing is a good thing.

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.

His episode was shown last week so you should be able to catch it On Demand, if you have the service. He’s a ministry student and uses his couponing/savings to donate to the food banks and charities in his ministry. It was a really impressive episode — he donated something like 40 grand worth of items — toiletries, clothing, and groceries — and given that they showed his basement completely empty at the end of the episode, I pretty much believe he was on the up and up.

As for the buying of fresh fruit or vegetables, I think its pretty obvious that these staged shopping trips are purely to deal with the coupon items. It wouldn’t be dramatic if the balance didn’t dip to single digits because there’s 40 bucks of fresh produce in the order. I feel pretty confident in guessing that these ‘stockpiles’ are rounded out with other shopping trips that fill out the family meal plan.

There’s the zombie apocalypse planner part of me that wanted to know where all these people live, so I knew what houses to raid after the hordes are released.

This show is so bizarre to me. These people sound like compulsive gamblers when they talk about the rush and the anxiety before the total starts going down from 800 to 43 bucks. They look like hoarders, albeit extremely organized hoarders. The house really does always win. You may think you’re getting it for free, but now you’ve got to surrender part of your house to 180 cases of Vitamin Water. Pretty soon you’re going to need a bigger house to store all that crap, as some people have shown when they’ve surrendered entire rooms and not just a basement to their stash/stockpile/endless supply of things they don’t need.

The people chosen for this show are ridiculous because that is what sells in ‘reality’ TV. I think it’s a shame that this theatrical production of gluttony for sport is going to make it harder for people who use couponing honestly to save money on the necessities of their households. Publix (a large grocery store chain in the Southern U.S.) has already revamped and restricted their once liberal coupon policy in the wake of this show. I have seen it speculated on many “Savers” website that more major chains are going to restrict coupon acceptance as well. Way to go in killing it for us, TLC!

I’ve heard rumblings of that too– that stores are tightening their policies. I haven’t noticed changes at my regular store yet, which could be a benefit of living in the midwest (competitive grocery market).

It kills me that this show showcases coupon fraud– does this kind of activity really need its own TV show?

A while back I was in a hotel for three nights and the only thing that seemed good on (Seriously, marathons of L&O? Really? This is cable now?) was the Extreme Couponing. They ran like two or three episodes each night. So, I ended up watching a lot…

The one thing I felt from watching this show was the intense feeling of Gluttony. Others may take something else from it but that’s what I got. In the pit of my stomach.

I did like the part with the guy who did an entire trip based on supplies for the soldiers (I think you’ll really like that one, Teri.) and I liked the one where the mom had about 7 children (I forget how many – not like 7.5 or 7.75 kids, just 5, 6, 7?) and she was a homemaker and the father worked so to maintain their household she used Mega Couponing as a way to buy everything they needed from the grocery store. All their vegetables and meat came from their garden, canning, preserving and the father’s hunting. Because of this method, all those kids have college savings funds. That is what I thought Mega Couponing would be good for. Otherwise, it just seemed like sport. Sport hunting, sport fishing.

I want there to be a show about buying all your grocery needs from Co-Ops. That is a market that should be highlighted. (I love my co-op) And CSAs. Let’s have a show about fanatic CSAers and how they use all their goods. :)

I did see that episode, with the hunting/gardening family and I found it pretty interesting and neat. They really found some awesome ways to be resourceful and I have no doubts that they are anything but wasteful. I’d love to see more episodes with innovative couponers like that!

I understand how ingrained ‘crazy’ is in people’s vocabularies, but it’s an ableist word, and when you’re writing, you have the opportunity to edit what you say. So there’s really no excuse for publishing something that equates ‘craziness’– an often immutable identity– with ‘ridiculousness’, ‘extremity’ and ‘irrationality.’ Mental illness *can* have those features, but the people who have mental illnesses are not uniformly ridiculous, extreme, and irrational. The title strikes me as especially insensitive given the fact that, as Axon Autobahn pointed out, many of these people are probably hoarders, which is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

That said, I don’t think the problem with people who do this sort of ridiculous, extreme, irrational thing is that they’re taking items away from people who could use them– I mean, it’s not an incredible inconvenience for most people to go to another store or come back to the same store the following day when the diapers will be restocked– but the fact that they’re taking items and essentially wasting them. It’s irresponsible and ecologically unfriendly.

Oh, and can we please not judge people for what they eat? Lecturing people about eating their fruits and veggies borders on body policing. At the very least, it’s kind of obnoxious.

I don’t think criticizing people for feeding their children a diet of Vitamin Water and sugary fruit snacks with no fruit or veg is body policing. Almost all the people featured on this show have children. Feeding children these kinds of foods borders on child abuse and is a national problem.

I did not mean to imply a tone of judgement, what I said in the article is that it is unfortunate that coupons seem to mainly feature unhealthy, pre-packaged foods. I also mentioned that in many cases customers do not have a choice, especially if they are living in a food desert or are forced to buy according to what coupons they have for financial reasons.

I do disagree with your point that it is easy to come back to a store later to get something that is not stocked – for people who can’t afford multiple trips to the store and have to go to town once a week to save on gas, that is not always possible. Especially when you have babies, toddlers etc in tow.

As for using the term ‘crazy’, that I will apologize for. While I’ve done a lot over the past couple of years to clean up my vocabulary and not use terms that others may find offensive, ‘crazy’ is one that apparently skipped my attention. I did not even consider its implied meaning and for that I do apologize.

It’s the lack of healthy items that bugs me. I understand the concept of food deserts and that fresh produce is out of reach for a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean that people need to be buying hundreds of bottles of vitamin water (which seems to be on every episode of EC) and soda, even if they do get them for practically free. I agree that this show promotes gluttony, hoarding, and incredibly unhealthy eating habits.

That said, many of people who buy things like the sleep aids where they are “paid to take them out of the store” use the surplus to buy produce and meat, so I guess that’s something.

Yes, yes yes! It drives me nuts to see every single family with never ending bottles of soda and powerade (and god yes, Vitamin Water is on every episode too). Oh, it makes me sad.

Not that my eating habits are so saintly, but man. I couldn’t last one week in one of those houses. I’d be sneaking out to score some broccoli on the sly!

Funny thing is, there are coupons for more healthy items — I use coupons for cheese, yogurt, and frozen veggies all the time. The difference is that those coupons don’t bring the price down to “free” or “pay me”, but if I can save $8- $10 a week, I’m happy. It doesn’t make for great TV, just like someone making lifestyle changes gradually isn’t as intriguing to watch as say, the Biggest Loser. It has to be extreme to get ratings!

Oh you’re so right-on about bringing costs down. Sometimes there are the killer deals (or freebies) on stuff like rice, oatmeal, yogurt, or milk, but usually I figure that savings on stuff like dishwashing soap, soy sauce, and mustard is giving money to foods that otherwise would be a bit outside the budget.
But yeah, not thrilling television.

I coupon! And I hate that show. Most of those people are hoarders. And greedy. I coupon on a pretty small scale (one newspaper, two computers for printing) and still get PLENTY for me and the hubz to use. And when there are free things (or cheaper than anyone else could ever buy them) that we won’t use, or we have enough free toothpaste (or whatever) to last a few months, it goes to the food pantry. Hubz says that I like “the thrill of the kill” when it comes to a deal (he’s right)– so it kind of scratches an itch without taking me to crazytown.
You can coupon without buying a paper. You can get plenty of foodstuffs and toiletries with one paper a week. There’s no need to dig through recycling or commit coupon fraud. Find matchups on web sites (www.thekrazycouponlady.com and http://www.moneysavingmom are good ones) make your list, and go. For newbs, start with one drugstore and one grocery store and you’ll be awed. Free food is harder to get (especially if you don’t eat processed stuff), but you can get all the free toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, and lotion that you could EVER need. And I’m stopping now ’cause I’m starting to feel a bit fanatical.

Wow! See, that sounds awesome. I find it intriguing to just use coupons to assist with the things I already buy, and to occasionally get the odd freebie. I signed up for a couple of coupon sites but all they offered were coupons for junk food that I didn’t use, and the savings weren’t so great. Since then, though, I’ve seen several sites that are SO much better, like the ones you mentioned. Also, a couple of the local grocery stores I shop at, like Kroger and Earthfare, have started up coupon incentives and freebies that I think are pretty great. I just have to find the organizational skills and time to start it up! Great advice, by the way!

I finally did see the episode with the guy I mentioned above who donated all of his ‘haul’ to charity. It was pretty cool – he did the same ‘shelf clearing’ and fanatical collecting as the rest, but something like 90% of the goods he managed to get got donated to charities, homeless shelters and the military. That I’ve got no beef with! :D

I watched an episode yesterday (after I’d already turned in this article) where a woman had 10 different transactions so that she could get her deals. She spent five hours in the store, shopping and eventually purchasing her items. Can you imagine what a hassle she must have been for the store/employees? 10 transactions over five hours? It defies belief.

On the one episode that I watched, a woman took time off of work so that she could coupon. She spent hours working the deals at home and in the store. Her “stash” was taking over her house. In short, couponing was interfering with her life. But you know, that’s EXTREME! (*Bill and Ted guitar riff*)

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