They made it seem so easy on the TLC show Extreme Couponing. What you didn't see were stores bending over backwards to let those shoppers break all the store's couponing policies, just for the opportunity to be featured on the show.
Extreme anything is ridiculous, and sometimes even dangerous. The word "extreme" is now often used as a hyper-descriptor for anything seen as extra good, extra delicious, extra anything. Extreme Bacon Burgers. Extreme Weight Loss. Extreme Makeovers. Extremes can not possibly be good for you. And neither is Extreme Couponing. The show or the practice.
Everything in moderation, right? That includes using your resources wisely. Resources being both your money and your time. Here are five reasons why extreme couponing is wrong and you'll never see me doing it. Besides the fact that I can't push a full cart of groceries.
I'm a strategic shopper. Big difference.
Have you arrived at the shelf of the item you need most from the store, only to find them all gone? It's happened to me. Really, how many bottles of salad dressing does one need at a time? All of them? That's greed displacing common sense.
Products are put on sale at your favorite stores in cycles. If you buy only what you need when it's on sale, and with a coupon, you are a smart and strategic shopper. Figure out what your store's sales cycles are, and buy the amount you need until the next cycle – when you'll be able to do it again.
No need to take everyone else's salad dressing just because you can.
When it takes two hours to go thru a check-out line after shopping for four hours, it's more than a little bit extreme. It's self-centered. Extreme couponers, in their quest to get everything for nothing, do not think twice about anyone else's time as we stand in line behind them. Consideration for others disappears when the extreme couponers is focused on the adrenaline rush of beating the system.
If you're strategic shopping with more than a handful of coupons, choose an off-day or time when your store is empty, like late at night or on a Tuesday morning. The store will appreciate your thoughtfulness and be able to accommodate your long check-out time a lot easier. And, no one in line behind you will be giving you the stink-eye.
Also, it helps to hand out a few of your binder's coupons to the people in line behind you. It's good coupon karma to share. And strategic shoppers are all about good karma. After all, they're the ones leaving the next guy coupons in the shelves. And shopping for their kid's teacher.
Weigh it. There's a balance between how you spend your time and what you get out of that spend. Once again, the word "extreme" suggests that someone who coupons at that level has gone beyond the frugal mindset into obsessive-compulsive disorder land.
Spending an hour a week to save $25 on your grocery budget is good. But spending four hours a day, every day, to save $300 is not better. Especially when you're saving those hundreds on products that you will never use – a hallmark of extreme couponers. It's more about the acquisition, the score, and not usually about getting what you need.
Keep from exhausting yourself chasing every single deal, all over town, and be more judicious with your most valuable resource -– your time. Limit yourself to one store's deals and coupons each week. Then, you're being smart, getting what you need, and you still have plenty of leftover for important things like watching Law & Order.
Ever seen the other TLC show Hoarders? That.
I will say however, that Hoarders is an excellent motivator for getting teenagers to clean their rooms.
Store policies have gotten stricter, perhaps in response to some of these extreme couponing practices. Here in Texas, Kroger stopped doubling and tripling coupons last year, and now that policy has spread to other regions of the United States. Safeway only doubles or triples one of the same coupon, and Walmart doubles or triples nothing.
Extreme couponers have sometimes been described as people who will go to unscrupulous lengths to cut down their grocery bill. Reports of everything from cutting off expiration dates on coupons to using them on items not covered by the coupon continue to occur.
Some have even landed in jail for counterfeiting coupons. Millions of dollars worth of coupons. Going to jail for couponing – now that is extreme.
You can now price match at quite a few stores, including Walmart. This is yet another tool that strategic shoppers use to get the best price in town and cut down on the number of stores they visit weekly.
And with the rise of stores like Aldi and Save-A-Lot, who stock only the most popular items at rock-bottom prices, strategic shoppers can forego coupons altogether and still get what they need for the lowest price possible – often beating a store sale and coupon combination elsewhere.
Extreme Couponers of the world, it's the end of your fifteen minutes of fame. Doing it the wrong way, whatever "it" is, never pays off. It's the era of the strategic shopper – common sense, sharing, and ethics rule.
Lea Ann Stundins is a creative consultant, shopping strategist, and blogger at Mommy's Wish List. You'll find her not only telling people how not to pay for things, but cursing at Photoshop in her glamorous dining room office. Lea Ann is on twitter @mommyswishlist.