TLC’s latest series Extreme Couponing, i.e. their latest lens/experiment in human behavior follows power moms, dads, singletons looking to make the most of bargain shopping and yes coupons. It follows them through weekly, monthly and otherwise shopping rituals from clipping to checkout, calculating end savings of anywhere from 50 to 90%; follows the mayhem as curious onlookers watch the spectacle, as hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise is reduced to mere double digits, as they, cashiers and mangers gather round awed applauding the feats of one person, a supposed inspiration to all of us. But before you decide you might join this new breed of shopper, know these extremely committed individuals, families spend anywhere from 30 to 80 hours, sometimes a week, dumpster diving for newspapers with coupons, looking online to find manufacture and other coupons, buying dozens of newspapers and periodicals in order to gather enough coupons for the amount of items they want to buy. Depending on where you live you may have a harder time cultivating extreme deals as one Chicago mom confessed, forcing her to become familiar with every store and coupon policy in her area. Constantly arguing with store staff is likely to get you escorted out, once you are known to store staff as a thousand coupon lady/family they are predictably going to become less accommodating.
And if you think it’s too good to be true, you might be right, outside of the daunting amount of time spent looking for coupons, the fact that people’s entire garages, extra space in small 2 bedroom apartments is dedicated to a stockpile of items fit for any survivalist, end of the world cult fantasist, is the overwhelming feeling from those watching that these people are cheating; they have somehow found a way to get over on the system at the expense of the rest of us. First and foremost they combine the maximum number of coupons allowed on a single item, with the end goal of getting their desired quantity for free or even amassing credit toward the rest of their purchase, to in store discounts, multiple ones if they exist, and the customer can get away with it. Sometimes blending a mixture of manufacturer, newspaper and store coupons together, both actions, on the whole, previously not allowed. Often times such large volume check outs lock up registers, reaching the line item limit for a single transaction, require store manager assistance to unlock, reboot or adjust computers, routinely require both cashier and manager to input items or coupons by hand, add or subtract things using a hand held calculator taking up huge amounts of time, possibly leading to further errors, to say nothing of backing up the line, not minutes but closer to an hour maybe more, again commonly added to call ahead, pre-ordered entire pallets of various goods. Creating a causality where busy store managers say enough is enough, stop being cooperative with large quantities and preorders people will get for factions of the original price, ban all coupons to alleviate register madness, making it that much harder for struggling Americans, charities, churches, food pantries, local events to get the stock they need to serve the public.
Going beyond groceries, household items, and yes for extreme couponers it goes beyond those things as two women demonstrated on the Nate Berkus Show, getting discounts on clothes, home dècor, electronics routinely involves online shopping, not just for the coupon but the item itself. A fact that can make some people nervous placing their credit and debit card information on the internet, include shipping which increases the potential of merchandise arriving to you damaged, makes purchases harder to return; yes you may save an excess number dollars on something but spend just as much boxing it up to take back if it’s the wrong size, doesn’t fit a space. One of the women found an identical computer to that of an audience member brand new on e-bay; the question is how do you know it really is band new? Clothing can be particularly tricky because it may go by the same title as something at Macy’s or similar high end store but, like styles of the stars made for far less, when you get it, it’s clearly not the same color, the fabric, detail isn’t there or is of substandard quality, even factoring in the reduced price. If your buying clothing it’s best to be able to see, feel try them on; towels and related household accessories may look great but feel scratchy, turn your skin the color of the towel upon use or shed all over you like a longhaired cat. Even decorative, knickknack, novelty items may seem like a bargain; however, upon opening the box it’s significantly smaller than the picture, obviously cheaply made. Using coupons for cruises, travel options, hotel rooms or airline tickets can be fraught with hidden fees, not include most amenities found in typical, standard packages meaning more out of pocket cost for you diminishing the savings.
Continuing shrewd watchers will notice this new trend has become hording for food and household items, a new compulsion, because outside of the dad using his couponing skills to donate massive piles of items to charity virtually free of charge to himself, the only other slightly altruistic family/person profiled to date is a mother who used her stockpile not only to feed her household of 6 but the neighborhood kids as well. Otherwise yes extreme shoppers will call over friends welcome to take what they want when their mass of items is too large, they want to get more but have no room to put their hoped for acquisitions. One woman gleefully showed cameras her accumulation of paper products had filled her closets, her spare shower, was hidden under her children’s beds; then TLC proceeded to profile how she did it. There is something unwholesome, almost gluttonous about 6 freezers to hold meats and other perishable foods, 5 computers to be able to print off 10 coupons per item legally. Accentuating the unsettling nature of this practice is what people are using their newfound extra money for, lavish vacations and travel, bragging they bought their latest car with cash as a result of this lifestyle. And to be clear no one, regardless of how big the family, needs 2 and 3 hundred boxes of noodles, sauces, beverages, usually the same kind or flavor, paper products, hand soaps, fabric softener, deodorant, at a time. Also a glaring indicator of how creepy and disturbing it is, is perhaps who’s not doing this; not even the Dugger’s, famous family of the same networks 19 Kids and Counting, go this far nor the Goselin’s with 8 the McCaughey’s with a family total of 10, the Dilley’s with 6 children.
Further evidence that something is amiss, quite possibly, even undoubtedly, very wrong concerning this lifestyle is the feelings people get from it one participant stated it made them feel like they were on crack, almost all get rush from being able to pull it off, seeing their total before and after coupons; however at the checkout they are nervous, sweaty, on edge, unsure if their plans will work, unsure if the store will take certain coupons similar to drug withdraw symptoms, eerily reminiscent of what a thief feels stealing for the first time or on their biggest score, parallel to kleptomania. Looking at how they began their couponing ways is typically a story of a husband or wife being injured, losing a job, some kind of trauma, turmoil similar to events that can spark hording, hundreds of pounds of weight gain. Added to said dynamic is the attitudes of individuals doing this, one person describing shopping experiences as you against the cashier, you against the store, who think they shouldn’t have to pay full price for anything, aghast at typical prices for regular, everyday things, people known to argue the parameters of a coupon, not in order to just feed their family but just to get that discount. People whose goal is to get hundreds, if not over a thousand dollars plus, worth of items totally free, who are disappointed, angry with themselves for not reaching said mark, others going so far as to get the store to pay them, give them store credit on their purchase, making that their desired end result, based solely on the idea of, because I can.
Sadly more and more wonder moms and stay at home dads are passing these type of habits onto their children; one mother praising her 5 year old for bringing home a backpack full of coupons sent home by her teacher knowing the family’s love and industrious use of them, another parent is seen on camera, in store saying- I know you don’t like this kind but touting the sale to her adolescent, clearly willing to buy things her family doesn’t even like, want or consume, just because it’s on sale. Likewise it’s extremely telling when a 16 year old, brought along to help manage multiple cartloads of groceries, says to the camera that getting nearly $800 in food stuffs, household products for around 50 bucks is pretty good while his mother is, for all intents and purposes, pouting that she didn’t reach her zero total goal or is saying if my other coupons had worked, when a child appears to have more sense than the parent. Compounding our potential future reality is the development of a hit TV show, making everyone want to try it only incentivizes stores to disallow certain coupons, limit the number of coupons, stop providing their own discounts or matching programs due to so obviously losing significant amounts of money, possibly raise their prices as well. Plus the last thing average shoppers on their once a week, couple of times a week shopping trip want is to come behind someone who has cleaned out an entire shelf of hand soap, PowerAde, someone who has bought up that store branches entire stock of thing X so you can’t get the one or 2 you needed.
There is an element of the insulting, indecent here too while record numbers of Americans are on food stamps, forced to go to food pantries with bare shelves certain individuals are amassing piles of goods for pennies on the dollar or nothing at all. You could start a food pantry using what these people brag about obtaining with borderline unscrupulous methods. It is appalling when you see women and men who could take the same skill set they apply to what can only be called, at this point, advanced freeloading, to a job, spend the 30-60 hours per week, normally spent couponing, being employed. Thus negating the need to engage in such drastic frugality, contrasted against little old ladies, working single parents, those who can’t get jobs, just trying to get by who only buy what they need, who do not have or want yearlong stockpiles, see the silliness of 200 sticks of deodorant and don’t have an ere about them of trying to get over. Most of the population would have more respect for our out of control couponing queens and kings, if they were a cult, if they were a survivalist group preparing for the end of the world, at least then all of it would have a purpose beyond plain selfishness. Such persons could clip the average amount of coupons, shed their tremendous stocks and spend the rest of the time interacting with their kids, volunteering, putting their skill to use at food pantries, charities. Especially pondering pure fact, a portion of the items gotten in a clearly dubious way will spoil; traditionally nonperishables will eventually get stale, cans will pooch indicating they have gone bad, all those boxes of tissue and paper products will eventually become frail partially disintegrate and no longer be good as paper towels to clean up spills, tissue to blow your nose or toilet paper to clean yourself with. Deodorant that is dried, crumbling and won’t go on is just wasted, 76 soda bottles for a family of 6 still can get old before all is used.
If it is taking over your life it’s time to stop but they won’t, some can’t; the paper product mom clearly needs help, as do the people whose apartments look like storage warehouses for grocery stores. They certainly don’t need to be cheered on, invited onto shows to show the public how they did it, in greater detail, or help audience members do it themselves; they should not to be congratulated, gawked at by TV viewers, held up as something to emulate. Why, because they have a disease, sickness, compulsion taken to the wrong end of the spectrum. Bragging that you haven’t paid full price for something in your life, since you started extreme couponing should not be the new standard particularly when done this way, when stores already have discount, clearance racks, offer sales, when there are already thrift stores, clothing outlets establishments that sell gently used items of all kinds, shapes and sizes. And that we are trying to copy these specific people, egging them on, feeding their addictive, unhealthy behavior says something very negative about us rather than them. Coupons are great, but everything in moderation.