Television shows like TLC’s Extreme Couponing have catapulted the ‘concept’ of couponing to amazing levels of popularity. Watching regular people get thousands of dollars worth of groceries for free, is incentive enough for anyone to start clipping and saving coupons. Interestingly, the concept of coupons, which in truth is directed at marketing, is nothing new. The first coupon was issued in 1887 by what is known today as Coca-Cola Company. The paper coupons were given to folks by employees of the company and entitled the bearer to get one free glass of Coca-Cola upon showing the coupon at soda fountains and restaurants.
Today however – couponing has become a huge business. And millions of people worldwide are clipping and saving coupons for everything from their favorite brand of cereal to toothpaste and feminine products. In 2011 alone, 3.7 billion dollars was saved by consumers using coupons. The trend in extreme couponing has many people foregoing a full time job in lieu of clipping and hunting coupons and sales, and has many families stock piling immense amounts of food, laundry detergents and other products that could essentially make them self-sufficient for over a year.
But could it really?
And as far as extreme couponing goes, is it really worth it?
The bottom line is that coupons can save you a lot of money. If you combine your coupons to purchase items that are deeply discounted or on sale, or items that come with in-store coupons (known as stacking), or items that qualify for register rewards or cash back, you can typically experience around a 33% savings on your grocery bill. Yet in order to do this, you have to be extremely disciplined and committed to eating ramen noodles or frosted flakes for a several weeks straight. Any deviation from the on sale menu and your savings won’t be quite so great. Additionally, you have to ONLY purchase things that you have a coupon for. And in order to get a lot of coupons, like you see on the shows – you have to study and anticipate sales schedules, and pre-order mass amounts of coupons ahead of time in order to use them properly. You also have to be internet savvy, join forums and coupon sites that will provide you with links and tricks to get new coupons. Sometimes, you can spend an hour online locking in one or two coupons worth $3.00 retail.
If you don’t do your calculations correctly, you could end up with 35 coupons for one item that expire before they go on sale again. Buying multiple newspapers, going dumpster diving for coupons and collecting them from everyone you know, is also time consuming. Most people who participate in extreme couponing spend in EXCESS of 40 hours per week on the hunt, and spend around 20 hours in grocery and department stores weekly.
Another big way to save is to only shop at stores that offer double coupons (some even offer triple), and make sure that you have al of your advertisements in hand so you can ensure that your store will price match. This too takes a lot of time and research.
Don’t know about you, but for many people all of this studying, planning and organization takes an exuberant amount of time - that many people who work, just don’t have. And many people are totally elated saving $5, or 30% on their grocery bill – not feeling like a total failure because they didn’t walk out of the grocery store with $700 worth of groceries for $2.00 out of pocket. Plus, when you do the math, is the savings of $600 really a good swap for a paycheck. Sure, you can buy a lot of soap – but coupons won’t pay your electric bill.
Another problem with the fad of extreme couponing is that some people are so greedy and zealous in their shopping, that coupons aren’t working for most people anymore. Why? Because by the time YOU get to the store, all the on-sale items are sold, and your stock pile of coupons become worthless kindling for a fire (along with any time you spent). It seems that extreme couponing mostly resembles a dog eat dog world, and there is little courtesy to go around for the average shopper.
Another thought, is the raw fact that aside from laundry detergent, hygiene products and paper – most of the food items that are taunted with coupons don’t have an endless shelf life. They too will expire, and before you know it, your stockpile is nothing but an out of date grocery store, which is pretty gross. Not to mention the fact that 90% of all coupons market processed foods – which are laden with chemicals and unhealthy to say the least. While you can find numerous coupons for ready-made heat and eat meals, you will be hard pressed to find any for organic bananas or grapes. What we may be saving at the grocery store, we may be paying for with our families health.
So is extreme coupon worth the effort? Studies suggest that the people engaged in the world of extreme coupon are getting paid around $4.22 per hour for their efforts. Sure, they have lots of food and supplies stockpiled in their home – but they don’t get health insurance, a 401K, a paycheck, or any other form of benefit from the coupon. Additionally, many people entangled in the trend have become obsessive compulsive about the idea of couponing and have lowered their quality of life, much like a gambler, due to the cutthroat world of finding the best deal. And, most retailers are quickly changing and adapting their coupon policies in order to curb this behavior because couponing has become so popular. So when the tricks of the trade don’t work anymore (which won’t be long), how will these people afford their groceries? It seems that the actions of a few in the extreme couponing world may be ruining the concept of couponing for the rest of us.
Truth? You can save a lot of money with coupons. Shopping smart, meal planning and making sure that you stick to a grocery budget and shop the sales is simply smart consumerism. There are a lot of great deals out there, especially when you can utilize coupons to sweeten them. Yet, rather than be determined to invest the time and money into saving 95% of your bill, try to stick to a goal that has you saving around 33% of your total grocery bill instead. This way you will have plenty of balance in your life, and you will be leaving some of the goody on the shelves for other people who need it to.