Friday, April 29, 2011

What about Exteme Couponing?


Have you watched Extreme Couponing, the new hit reality show on TLC?  As a frugalista, I hoped this show would be right up my alley, helping teach people about easy ways to save some money.  Unfortunately, if you are watching, it should be more for entertainment than coupon lessons.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good coupon.  One of my favorite sites online is The Frugal Girls, and I will pounce on any coupon they find for a product I buy.  I also clip coupons from the Sunday paper and print a few online.  But that is the extent of my couponing efforts, and I'll tell you why:

Back in the day, I did a very mild version of what you see on Extreme Couponing.  I never purchased coupons from a service, and I didn't depend on flexible store policies no doubt encouraged by the presence of TV cameras, but I loved to see how much I could "save" with coupons.  At the time, my local store had a Super Double Coupons promotion about once every six weeks, and I would save every $1 coupon just to see it doubled to $2.  Then, I would come home with my receipt and bags of stuff and crow about how much I "saved," looking at the difference between the retail price and the price I paid.

That's until the day I discovered I had four bottles of Febreeze.  (Note:  not a whole shelf of them, like on the show!)  Febreeze is a fine fabric deodorizer, but I was single with no kids and no pets; there was nothing I owned that needed that much work.  After a couple of years, I moved those bottles into a new home and tried and tried to use them up, only to finally throw about three of them away.  Some savings. 

I see a lot of this on the show, and better bloggers than I have commented on some of the other problems with the show as a learning tool.  So, in the interest of starting the discussion here, let me suggest a few rules for couponing and stockpiling:

1.  Only buy things you actually need and will use, even if they are free with a coupon.  Show participants display mountains of toothpaste and shelves of antacids, and it is questionable if they would have made these purchases anyway (thus making the discounts a true savings) or if the coupon made it an offer they couldn't refuse.  If you don't want the product at full price, it isn't a deal with a coupon, even if it is free.

2.  Only purchase the amount you could use in a reasonable period.  Stockpiling can be a good way to prepare for a number of emergencies, not the least of which is the rising prices we are all experiencing.  But no one needs 500 tubes of deodorant.  Set a reasonable time frame --  six months, a year, maybe two years for the most non-perishable items -- and stop buying when you reach that amount.  Rotate your stock so the oldest gets used first.  And remember, your stockpile is supposed to help give your budget a break, so if you have two years' worth of deodorant and are still buying it every time it is on sale, you may have an extreme couponing problem!

3.  Don't let the manufacturers or stores dictate what you buy.  Coupons and sales are a marketing tool called a sales promotion, which is designed to tip the balance that gets you to buy.  The companies that can afford to run a sales promotion often (but not always) are ones that are large and that add "value" to the product through processing.  So, it is more uncommon to see a flour coupon than it is a snack cake coupon.  Make sure that coupons aren't tempting you into processed foods and items that you would not otherwise have chosen.  (However, I think it is fine if you want to use coupons as the requirement for buying a junky snack, like not buying a favorite junk food if the price isn't where you want it.  That helps control that craving while allowing you to indulge it when you can find the sale.)

4.  Don't forget to buy local.  While there are occasional coupons for whole foods and organic options, you typically won't find a sales promotion attracting you to your local farmer's market, butcher, or independent grocer.  Remember that the best, healthiest foods are often the most local.  Spend your money there, and then indulge your coupon craving for things you can't buy locally or make yourself.

5.  And don't forget the things you can make yourself.  Laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, and other disposables can often be made at home for pennies, which is hard to beat even with a coupon and a sale.  Think carefully about all your options before you decide that you've found a deal.  And, with things like household cleaners, consider whether the amount of trash generated by the commercial brand is worth it to you.  This is especially true if you are considering environmental impact or if you have a trash service that charges by the can for pick-up.

6.  Finally, consider the time costs.  A half an hour a week clipping coupons and printing them online is reasonable.  Twenty hours a week of organizing and $70 paid to a clipping service sounds more like a part-time job and an unnecessary expenditure for me.  Remember to factor your time and any costs you invest obtaining the coupons into your final tally to see how much money you really save.

And now it's your turn:  Do you "extreme coupon?"  Have you watched the show?  It it frugality, or is it unnecessary obsession? 

Welcome to all the new readers of FC&G!  You, and those who have been here all along, have made April the month with the greatest number of hits to date!  I appreciate it, and I hope you'll keep reading and keep living sustainably!
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  1. That definitely fits all the FC&G guidelines. Easy to see, cheap only if usable and good guidelines for more than just the home.

  2. Couponing doesn't exist here in Australia... Yet... But I have a feeling it wont be long.

    Personally when I see all the couponing people on youtube - their homes are filled with overly processed foods and non green cleaning products. It doesn't look healthy.

    I think it's creating brand loyalty and affiliation with bigger wealthier companies - so smaller companies will remove their similar products that are no longer selling - and then there will no longer be choices.

  3. I think you are right, FDU. It is letting those companies decide what we buy, until perhaps we will have no choice left.