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Coupon Patch: Why I’ll Never Be an Extreme Couponer (and Why I Kind of Think It’s Neat)

If one more person asks me about Extreme Couponing, I may explode.

Lately, when I mention that I use coupons to someone, they inevitably ask me if I’ve seen the Extreme Couponing television show or if I am an Extreme Couponer.

The simple answer is yes, I've seen it, and no I am not. TV shows are about the extreme; as we all know, “reality” TV is staged and edited carefully, and you can’t always believe what you see. I watched one episode (and a bit of a second) and that was enough to know that it was an over-the-top show. 

But there’s a bit more to it. The truth is that I can’t ever see myself being the subject of a show like that for five big reasons

1. I don’t have the space for a giant stockpile. I have one refrigerator with a freezer compartment and one small pantry. That’s it. I’m not willing to give up a room in my house just for nonperishables, and I don’t have a garage or extra office for that. When I buy a few months’ worth of something, which I have done, it’s something small or something easily stored or something I’m going to actually use in those few months.

2. My philosophy is pretty straightforward: it’s not how much you save, it’s how much you spend. I don’t care if you saved 80 percent on your grocery bill. How much did you spend and what did you wind up with?

Can you feed your family on 100 bottles of mustard? No. Did you spend $100 and then save $800? Then you still spent $100 of your money on groceries. I know about the thrill of the hunt and I love a good freebie. But if it’s not something we use regularly, I limit how much of that freebie I acquire.

If it’s something we’ll never use and isn’t something I think I could donate, then I don’t bother with it at all. And if it’s a discount, rather than free, I check how much it actually costs before deciding if it’s worth it - sometimes a 10 percent discount is amazing if it’s something that we use that rarely goes on sale, while half-price widgets that are expensive and unnecessary to start with get passed on by.

3. I don’t use coupons fraudulently. It’s come to light that at least one of the subjects of that television show may have done so. Even with computers and barcodes carefully matched up by the manufacturer, there are always ways to fudge the system (illegal ways). If you only use a few coupons at a time, like I do, you’d never get away with it anyway. But if you walk into a store with hundreds of coupons and items, like those on the show do, well...it’s going to look like you achieved some sweet bargains when you did little more than steal. Not everyone does it - probably very, very few people on TV or off do it - but it happens.

4. I don’t plan ahead well enough to make sure I have extra coupons to cover extra sale items. I usually have two or three coupons, so I buy two or three things. Very rarely do I learn about a sale early enough that I can rally the troops to get coupons to stockpile. 

 And finally...

5. I’m married to someone who would never let me buy out a store or buy 50 tubes of toothpaste at once. Ever.

And Yet, They Do Get Great Deals

I admit, sometimes I’m envious of the deals some of the people on this show get. Some of those people do donate vast quantities of food and toiletries to food pantries. Some of those people do have a useful stockpile of food and household goods that not only lasts them months (and that is properly rotated so it doesn’t sit around and expire) but that also can help friends and family in need.

Some of these people shop once every few months, spend very little, and don’t need to shop again until the next sale cycle. And some of those people are truly being thrifty in an economy that requires cutting corners. 

You know it and I know it; most of the people on that show are on that show for a reason - to get you to watch. Nobody wants to see me use 20 coupons, save 30 percent, and fret over the fact that I paid full price for my vegetarian frozen entree. Nobody wants to see my chaotic but small pantry. No, good television is extremes and drama. None of that here. (Well, not enough of it for TV, anyway.) 

Are you worried about being judged like those on this show? Don’t be. Use your coupons with pride, be excited over your savings, and don’t worry about the very few people who use or abuse the system. If someone asks you about the show, just say that you don’t watch TV, as you’re too busy reading great works of literature...

Nicki Salcedo May 22, 2011 at 08:57 PM
"It’s not how much you save, it’s how much you spend." Agreed. Thanks for keeping us educated, Marla! When I have the time and space to store 500 tubes of toothpaste, I hope I won't need coupons. And my butler Sven will be handling the shopping.
Marla Blair May 22, 2011 at 11:02 PM
Thanks for your comment, Nonie! I actually wrote my last column on the myth that coupons are mostly for packaged goods, and I wrote an earlier column on ways to get coupons without getting the paper - check them out. :) However, I do also shop at YDFM a lot, and as you note, they don't take coupons there (and I often save a lot of money by shopping there for sure!). I hear you loud and clear!
Leslie May 23, 2011 at 12:59 PM
I agree, its nice to save money but who has the room to store all that stuff. To me, its another form of hording.
Betsy May 24, 2011 at 12:54 PM
I agree. I like to use coupons on a handful of things each week, but 50 of something is crazy talk. And, since we're very lucky to have YDFM, it means that I don't need to buy as many things at a regular grocery store. But, I still have little kids that love soft bread and goldfish, so I won't be a 100% YDFM shopper for many years.
Marla Blair May 24, 2011 at 03:16 PM
Betsy - Poke around the Internet, because I recently printed some 75-cents-off-two-bags-of-Goldfish coupons. I haven't seen a sale to pair those with lately, but Target has the bags for about $1.30 right now, so that's not a bad deal. (My kid is also a Goldfish fan! When they go on sale for $1 at either Publix or Kroger, we stock up on those for sure - but they don't take up space in my house for very long!)

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