Thursday, April 14, 2011

Extreme Couponing

If I was important enough for such things, I'd first change the title of this new show on TLC to Insane Couponing. Because what I've seen in the first couple episodes was just that. Nothing short of completely insane.

For the record, I am ALL for clipping coupons. As someone trying to get out of debt and living on a strict budget, I am definitely dependent on finding sales and using coupons to get an even bigger deal. I am even fine with people stocking up on things that they use when they can get great deals. (I have a very humble stockpile on some shelving in our laundry room and recently bought an extra freezer to help with that storage space). However, I think there is a line between frugal and freaky, and in my opinion, that line was crossed on Extreme Couponing.

A friend on Facebook recently said "Extreme Couponing is just organized hoarding." I laughed and thought, "How TRUE!" Some of these people have very extensive organization systems in a room in their house, and everything (even though it looks like a small convenience store) is very contained. However, some people, like a woman I saw last night, have items stored in every available space in their house. Toilet paper under her kids' beds, 2-liter bottles of soda and rolls of paper towels completely filling closets, and shelves lining every hallway in the house. This woman even said she felt like her house was closing in on her. I can't imagine living like that. This particular family had enough paper towels and boxes of cereal to last her family for three years. But it's not as though she's going to stop buying those things for the next three years and live off her stockpile. She's going to keep accumulating and storing these items, making her house into a veritable warehouse store.

One woman knocked down a wall in her house to make a small closet to keep all of her newspaper coupon inserts. She had crates upon crates full of circulars. This same woman, in her stockpile, had loads of cat treats and cat food. And she didn't even have a cat. I think that illustrates what has been a huge rule for myself when couponing and finding deals. It doesn't matter if you get a product for ridiculously cheap. If the product isn't something you'll use, it's not a deal! The exception to that rule is if you can donate the item. So many times, these people are getting things for free (or being paid to take them), and they end up donating a LOT of it to a local food shelf, which is really great.

I truly think that some of these extreme couponers are actually addicted to what they do. I've seen these people spend anywhere from 35 to 60 hours a week on couponing--planning shopping trips, finding the right coupons, figuring out their transactions (since some stores have rules about how many coupons you can use on one transaction, etc). And sometimes their shopping trips are 4-5 hours long. That's a full-time job! And I guess that makes sense when these people are saving $40-60,000 for their families each year. That's their income for the work they do! But again, there is clearly a level of "thrill" that these couponers are attaining, and I really think it can become unhealthy. One woman last night was shopping for herself, as well as her daughter-in-law and a local food bank. At one point she said, "I am a person who needs to be needed." I sincerely hope this woman's self-worth isn't solely wrapped up in couponing, but after watching her episode, I can't be so sure.

All of this aside, it's hard to deny that the numbers are impressive. The people on the show are consistently saving 90-98% of their grocery bill. One family went through the store and had two different transactions totaling over $1101. Their out-of-pocket amount was $43.92. Another woman paid only $4.53 for groceries totaling $1161.22. She had two transactions--the first transaction actually ended with the store owing her money, which was carried over into her second transaction.

All in all, I think couponing is a fantastic way to save money when you shop. Even better if you can match up those coupons with store sales. And if you have the time and energy to devote to insane couponing, then by all means, have at it. I won't be joining you. But I will be impressed with your 95% savings. :)

You can catch Extreme Couponing on TLC on Wednesdays at 8:00 and 8:30. And I do recommend tuning in at least once. Even if you don't learn anything, it's really fascinating!

Friday, April 08, 2011


A few days ago, I watched at TED talk by the composer Eric Whitacre. It was super fascinating, and if you have 15 minutes to spare, I'd highly recommend it. The video after the TED talk is the final version of the song he refers to in the TED talk. (And don't worry--the song is not actually over 9's about 5, and the rest is credits). It's beautiful! Enjoy. :)