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.