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Thoughts on Extreme Couponing

I finally had time to watch the first episode of the much buzzed-about TLC show, Extreme Couponing. It left me with mixed feelings–mostly a very uneasy feeling, which surprised me. I think overall the show is a great idea because it demonstrates for people who don’t bother with coupons just how much money can be saved. Sometimes you have to show extreme examples to really get through to people. Many of my friends who haven’t used coupons decided to dive right in after seeing the show.

First, the positives. I felt inspired to try a little harder in my own money-saving efforts. I will never be an “extreme couponer”, nor do I want to be, but with a little more organization I think I can save a bit more money (I will have more time on my hands once one of my jobs wraps up in May). My favorite couponer from the episode I watched made a daily routine of taking a walk through her neighborhood and picking up un-used coupon inserts from her neighbors. She also took the opportunity to talk with most, if not all, of the shoppers in the grocery store about couponing. She enjoys what she does, and she spreads that joy. I think it’s great that her money-saving efforts are also a source of social interaction for her, and she helps others learn along the way–I loved her positive attitude. I also respected the fact that some of the extreme couponers donate products to people in need, through food pantries or other means. Being in a position to help others is one way I define wealth, and it often frustrates me that I am not able to do more.

I think the weird uneasy feeling I felt after watching was due to the fact that it reminded me of the reasons I completely burnt out a while ago and gave up couponing altogether for a few months. It was a time when I felt frustrated, overwhelmed, and generally down in the dumps. Listening to the amount of time these people spend planning their grocery shopping trips reminded me of how difficult it was trying to fit in the time to find coupons, read circulars and make shopping lists on top of my other regular responsibilities. Seeing the stockpiles of spaghetti sauce, pasta and other canned goods reminded me of how I came to resent the obnoxious colorful store flyers that dictated what I was allowed to buy and feed my family that week–how I came to resent eating the same old things all the time. I used to love creating wonderful meals in the kitchen, but now with so many various factors impeding my creativity, I struggle greatly with meal planning. Part of the uneasy feeling also came, no doubt, from being able to identify with these people on a certain level. I can relate to the thrill of saving money, the desire to outdo myself the next time, the feeling that the more I save, the more I want to save, the tendency to want to snag deals whether I truly need them or not. Where do you draw the line? When do you stop and reap the rewards of all that work? Do I know my limits?

Then there were a few things I saw on the show that just plain angered me, not because of jealousy or my own feelings of inadequacy, but because I felt the behavior was either unhealthy or just plain wrong. The first couponer admitted that she spends 70 hours per week, in addition to a full time job, planning her shopping trips. She spends little quality time with her husband and will cancel plans at the drop of a hat if there’s a deal to be had instead. Having filled up the second floor of her house with her stockpile, her purchases have overflowed into her husband’s “man cave”…so not only does he have a detached wife, but also no place to kick back and relax. One couponer had a garage full of groceries, including enough toiletries to last an average person 150 years. Who needs all that stuff? Should cashiers need to spend over an hour checking out a single customer and scrutinizing the hundreds of coupons for signs of fraud? Should stores accommodate extreme shoppers with a slew of employees dedicated to pushing around several shopping carts and filling the customer’s car(s), at a disadvantage to other customers? And whether they donate to charity or not, I have no respect for shoppers who empty store shelves in one fell swoop. Although great deals are always kind of a first-come, first-served sort of thing, it simply is not courteous to grab everything for yourself.

I have personally gotten back into my couponing groove. I am much, much more casual about it than the people featured on this show, but I have fun with the little bit that I do, and I feel good about the money I save. However, I have no desire ever to be an extreme couponer. I don’t want coupons and sales to consume my life. I value spontaneity, and I want to be available for my family as much as possible. I am glad the show is encouraging more people to explore how, with a little extra effort, they can save their family some money, perhaps get out of debt, build up a safety cushion in case of bad times, or maybe even help others in need. Couponing can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a lot of work. Make sure that it works for you by knowing what your priorities, goals, desires and limits are–everyone is different.

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