A few weeks ago, TLC started airing "Extreme Couponing". Since then... I have heard from several people... "I watched this show about Extreme Couponers, and I thought of you!"
I have been frustrated with this show for several reasons - yet, I continue to watch, because I love coupons and I am still intrigued.
1. The show frustrates beginning couponers and people that don't use coupons.
People that don't use coupons at all have told me that it is ridiculous to spend hours looking for coupons, shopping in the store, etc. People I know who have just started couponing are frustrated because their savings don't compare to those on the show. My opinion is, any amount of savings is good, as long as you are buying things that you need or will use. If you are just starting out with coupons, start by looking for some products you already use - or start looking for a product that doesn't spoil, such as body wash, or laundry detergent, and stock pile a few items at the lowest price possible. You will save money with coupons, but you will probably NOT save 99% like the people on the show.
It is easy to go to your favorite store and use a shopping list from the internet to get some great deals. There are multiple bloggers with deal matchups for each store, so it would be easy to find deals already matched up for you.
2. The savings for these couponers is not representative of the savings of an average couponer.
As mentioned before - the people on the show prepared 'sensational' shopping trips that would work out to them paying extremely little for their food. Who goes into a store and buys 60 bottles of mustard, or 100 of one product? Only a few of them showed their trips including meat, milk, or other staple items. Remember - their trips were for the benefit of television, so they planned ahead of time for weeks - most of them were doing their "biggest haul ever". Just like reality TV sensationalizes everything else.
3. Controversy around coupon fraud
One particular episode sparked a lot of discussion about whether the purchases made were using coupons legally. I don't have the right to judge - BUT - couponing is a privilege, not a right. Manufacturers put these coupons out to convince consumers to try their product and they are assuming a certain percentage will be redeemed. Using these coupons illegally could cause couponing to stop for everyone. By using coupons illegally, I am referring to using coupons on incorrect items that they are not intended.
I have used coupons on the smallest size allowed - my last trip, I used Degree coupons on the trial size, because there were no size restrictions on the coupon. Often on the coupons it will specify sizes, such as 8 oz or greater, or a specific size, 24 oz only.
The controversy surrounding the show looks at coupon decoding. What they are referring to is that a family of products (such as Proctor and Gamble) can belong to the same UPC code family. Someone that decodes the coupons may use a high value coupon intended for a high value item (such as Crest Whitestrips) on a high value item (like Tide). This is illegal. Counterfeit coupons are also illegal. The CIC (Coupon Information Center) investigates illegal coupon use. Illegal coupon use causes the store not to be paid for coupons used fraudulently.
Just because the cash register accepts the coupons, whether they were for the wrong product, expired, etc, does not make it right to do. Being a programmer, I know that the computers are only programmed to do what you tell it to. If the store wants to go back and find out why an order was so low, or why there were so many coupons of a sort redeemed in a transaction, it is easy to find out who made the purchase due to store shopper cards, debit cards, etc. Best bet is to stick to legal couponing.
4. Bad coupon ethics and expectations.
Each couponer will develop their own "coupon ethics"... if you're not sure what I mean, there are many blog posts about this subject, but The Coupon Project has a good post about this, and also Coupon Gal. Most coupon bloggers have great coupon ethics, and I'm only saying most because there could be some out there - I just have not found them yet.
Most couponers hesitate to clear a shelf. This is shown multiple times in the shows.
Also - I can't think of one store that I have been to that would allow 16 separate transactions, or checkouts to span hour(s). Not saying it can't ever happen, it just is not normal.
5. Who needs 60 bottles of mustard, anyway? This looks like an organized form of hoarding.
Products spoil. Everything has a shelf life, for a reason. Once you start couponing, you will learn how often things truly go on sale. Most items have a 3-6 month sales cycle, meaning if you have a sale today, you will probably see that price again in 3-6 months. Chances are, the same coupons will come around again as well.
The exception to that rule, for me, are high value coupons. For example, a few weeks ago, there were coupons for $3 off Nivea body wash. $3 is the average price at Walmart, and close to that for other stores, so this resulted in a FREE product. I bought three of these... not extreme in any sense, but a normal amount for what my family will use. I can't lie and say I haven't bought more than we would use, but not much. I limit myself to the space I have in the pantry and cupboards in my kitchen - I would not hide toilet paper or barbecue sauce under my kids beds.
The exception to this is if you are donating products. Not saying the food bank needs 60 mustards, but it is nice to donate a reasonable amount of products if you are able to.
I don't believe I fall into any of these categories. Yes, today I bought 7 - 4 packs of yogurts, and 7 boxes of pasta, but I will use these in a reasonable time. I eat 2 yogurts a day - so this is really only a two-week's supply. I am frustrated with the show because it only shows the extreme. I do understand that no one would watch a show where I am getting three free bodywashes, but still.
To learn how to shop with your version of "extreme couponing" - stay tuned for future posts!