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How to Use Coupons: Extreme Couponing Made Simple

Throughout my entire life, I have been a student of Cable Television.  Even as a young child, I was absorbing the information that the 300+ channels had to offer.  At first the lessons were simple: saying the phrase “I don’t know” gets you slimed in certain social circles; music videos truly did kill the radio star; it is possible to watch A Christmas Story for 24 hours straight, etc.  By the time I reached my late twenties, the cable curriculum became more intense and more personal: never become a crab fisherman; never trust anyone that claims to be a “real” housewife; discipline your dog with whispers instead of yells, etc.  The most valuable ($) lesson has only become available to me recently from the program Extreme Couponing, which, fittingly, is on The Learning Channel.  In a digital universe full of outrageous situations, it is one of the few programs that has real down-to-earth applications.

For those who aren’t in the know, Extreme Couponing is a program devoted to the trials and tribulations of a unique group of frugal consumers.  Of course, these are no mere coupon clippers - they certainly earn their moniker of EXTREME.

On any given episode the viewer bears witness to a shopping trip of herculean proportions where hundreds of items stretched across several shopping carts amounts to just a couple of bucks during checkout.  While the shopping trips are nothing short of amazing, it is clear that the real magic goes into the hours or preparation, research, and of course, coupon clipping.  Each of the “stars” has his or her own methods, but the result is always the same: EXTREME savings.

While it is hard to argue with an average savings rate of over 90%, for many the ends simply do not justify the means.  Wise Bread compares the habits of extreme couponers to those of addicts.  Both groups become “slaves” to their addictions - letting it affect not only how they spend their money, but also how they spend their free time, their time with loved ones, and their lifestyle in general.

There are ways to steer towards the genius side of couponing, without taking the plunge into complete madness:

1. Let other people do some of the work for you. Couponers have an amazingly tight online community which has no problem pooling their resources.  Brad's Deals is an example of a tool these super-savers utilize when they prepare for budget battles.  They also share tricks of the trade that anybody can use like stacking coupons, or getting “coupon rain-checks” for items that are out of stock. So instead of spending hours hunting, clipping and trying to stack discounts, look at what others are doing and copy them. We never frown on learning from others' money-saving tips.

2. Make sure you have a sensible clipping-time to saving-amount ratio. It should seem clear to most of us that spending 40 hours a week clipping coupons may not be the best use of your time. While it is true that some people save nearly 98% of their grocery bills by couponing, you have to take into account how much time was spent clipping, that may have been better spend elsewhere, say at a full-time job earning even more than what was saved that week.

3. Fight the urge to make it a habit. It is obvious that people become addicted to this. So you clip 18 coupons for toothpaste, that does not mean you need to go out and buy 18 packages of toothpaste. Coupons should supplement your sale shopping, not become your life. Use these coupons to buy what you need, when you need it. Sure, you may have 10 cans of tomato soup hiding in the cupboard, but its much better than having 100 cans of pickled beets sitting in your garage because you couldn't resist a deal.

Never forget the art of buying everything online. Although you may not clip coupons, you can find them online with some digging and shopping online can save you tons of time and just as much money, when you put in a little effort.

In any case, Extreme Couponing never ceases to provide entertainment.  It also provides a glimpse into both the light and dark side of coupon clipping. On the plus side, couponers have an amazingly tight online community which has no problem pooling their resources. On the other hand, the program demonstrates how easily the simple habit of coupon clipping can get out of control. One minute you’re making a killing on a 2-for-1 Cool Ranch Dorritos coupon, the next minute you’re converting your 2 car garage into a stockpile storage room that has enough Lady Speedstick to last you until the Rapture.

11 Responses to “How to Use Coupons: Extreme Couponing Made Simple”

  1. Tara Jersey says:

    Well said! When I see people on the show buying 50 cans of air freshener, I really have to wonder if their “goods” will outlast them. Your Lady Speedstick comment was funny!

    Also, I see folks on the show buying a TON of junk food. Some is OK, 3 cart fulls of candy bars and chips is gross.

    People should remember: “The things you own, end up owning you,” – Fight Club

  2. Kristin says:

    When does their “extreme couponing” turn from saving into hoarding? It seems to me that most of these people should be featured on Extreme Hoarding rather than Extreme Couponing. Before I got sick I thought I was an “extreme” couponer. I would often buy 10 newspapers each week and get 10 of each deal. However, they never sat idle in my home, piling up to the point of needing a separate storage area. I used the freebies and extreme cheap deals to help my family save money on these things that would otherwise be very expensive parts of their budget. I gladly provided several family members with toothpaste, deodorant and shampoo that was better quality than what they could afford (that I got free or for pennies!), got my shopping “fix” because it does feel like a game until it gets extreme, and got a good feeling of helping others.

    I appreciate those extreme couponers who use their time and resources to donate their stockpiles to charities and military families because that should be the true nature of couponing; everything else is just ridiculous. You just cannot use up that much stuff in a lifetime, especially when you keep buying things.

    I’m long-winded and I will stop after this, but it saddens me that this show is creating a monster of a society now where stores are unable to keep up with the stock of sale items for the normal consumer because of those people who are suddenly clearing shelves and buying so many items that those of us who just need something in a particular week cannot get it. I’m no longer in a position where I have the time and energy to spend couponing but I do occasionally want to take advantage of a sale. Unfortunately if you don’t get there with the store opening at 7 AM on a Sunday the shelves are empty! I hope stores take note and start enforcing some rules and limits so that everyone is forced to play nicely. Life isn’t fair but one should be able to buy deodorant when they run out! Oh what a stinky world this will turn into.

  3. Sonja says:

    I do quite a bit of couponing, but I certainly don’t have the time or the inclination to do it for 40 hrs a week! Or even 20 or 10 hours. I also don’t buy out the shelves. I might buy 4 of an item but buying 78 of the same thing is bit more than ridiculous. And so far, I have yet to manage a 98% savings! 50% to 75% yes, but I also never buy the stuff that my family does not use, nor do I have any intention of converting my garage into storage space or adding another room.

    The money I save doing this is extremely helpful to our budget and makes it stretch a lot further, but I am not willing to give up my life for it. You can coupon responsibly, save quite a bit of money, and still have a life as long as you do it responsibly.

    And I too, tend to get a bit irate when I get to the store and its all sold out. I have a job, and there is no way I can get there at the crack of dawn on a given day to make sure I get one or two items.

    Utilizing sites like BradsDeals is also very helpful and time saving! And you don’t have to beat the rush lol.

  4. mountaineer4 says:

    I saw on an episode that a family had enough food to last them 3 years but yet they still went shopping every week. So, stop going and only buy perishables. Every square inch of your house should not hold toilet paper!

  5. Wine not says:

    I work at a national drug store chain, and more and more of my time is consumed with couponers who buy dozens of a single item, wiping out our inventory. It is impossible to predict the demand and always have enough stock on hand. Then we have other couponers mad at us because someone got there before them and did exactly what they intended to do. Who needs 13 (non disposibable) razors. In order to roll coupons they purchase every single item individually, making other customers wait; fuming.
    Feels good to vent.

  6. Suzy says:

    Geesh. And when I went to the store to purchase 4 bottles of Gulden’s mustard (2 for me and 2 for my dad) and 3 boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Pops (I have 4 kids, 2 of which are under 4) I was told I can only buy 2 of each. Go figure. :(

  7. Dee says:

    I love to coupon, and if I buy items that are more that my family needs or will use, and I can get it for free or pennies on the dollar I will donate it to the local food bank. Not all couponers are hoarders!

  8. saving and stocking up big! says:

    i coupon every week…. i am one of those people who will buy 10 of the same item if it is free or for pennies! it makes plenty of sence because these items i would never have been able to afford for my family of 5 soon 6 if i was spending on my normal grocery budget! i also would wipe out the razor department in a cvs or rite aid because the coupons and sale make very expensive products free and those chains know what they are doing because most fliers will tell you that there will be a coupon for this particular product the coming sunday and even if it is in p&g, redplum, ect…. the stores do know what is going on and actually help couponers find ther deals! i love couponing and my family appreciates having the extra money to enjoy family activities that we would not be able to afford any other way!

  9. cheap Sennheiser says:

    How to manage a blog? I should learn to bloggers.

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