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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Is extreme couponing extremely nuts?

I used to clip coupons. Then I decided, the inserts they included in the Sunday newspaper stunk. There were more pages of ads for things like Haband! slacks and plastic sandals and bras than for anything I could use, so I gave up. I even made my husband take the Sunday newspaper back to the store once because the inserts were so bad, and I didn't clip a single couple from it. (And you know what? They took it back. LOL)

Groceries are expensive, sure. But the lady on Extreme Couponing strikes me as someone with an unhealthy obsession: she reminds me of those people who shop just for the sake of shopping, buying 42 pairs of black pants only to leave them hanging in the closet, tags still on.

An older friend of mine got me started years ago on coupon clipping, and I grew up with a mother who religiously clipped them and stashed them in a recipe box for trips to the store. I remember when some brand new (expensive) cereal came out on the market, and my friend had a coupon for it. She saved a dollar, whoopee! I kind of thought to myself, if you're not going to buy it anyway, then what good does it do? If the cereal you normally buy is cheaper than the stuff you buy with a coupon, you're not really saving, are you?

Like those coupons around Superbowl Sunday and during the summer - buy 18 packs of hot dogs and save 25 cents! I hate that. I don't need 18 packs of hot dogs, and unless I'm hosting the annual family reunion, don't want that many, even if they can go in the freezer.

Apparently this lady stockpiles stuff (but is courteous and at least doesn't clear the shelves in case someone else comes along) and I can only guess from the photo that that's her home, not the local grocery store. Great, so you are now the proud owner of 400 tubs of Lysol wipes and you saved $14,000 on your annual grocery bill. While it's nice to donate to food banks and give away to friends, it's not really your food bill, is it? Sure, we should all donate and that's wonderful and everything - but if you didn't donate, theoretically, you wouldn't be spending all that money in the first place. (No, I didn't study economics, but this is just how it makes sense to me in my mind. My husband does teach economics, though, so maybe I'll ask him.) Chances are, unless she gives half of her supply of wipes to a friend, they'll dry out or expire before she even gets around to using them.

Sixty boxes of cereal later, she realizes she has to give some away because ... duh, they will expire long before she can begin to consume that much. There you go. I hope you like Frosted Flakes, honey, 'cause I got a really good deal on them at the store...

I remember seeing the inside of my grandparents' bathroom closet once and spied like 50 rolls of toilet paper and probably just as many cans of shaving cream. Sure, when you're 80 you don't want to make all those trips to the store for more TP. That's one thing I can stockpile - actually, in a fog of tiredness or whatever it was I made two trips to Target in about a weeks' time and ended up with two big honkin' things of toilet paper. I think I need to pay more attention or stop shopping when I feel like crap.

So I agree, some things are worth stockpiling and toilet paper is probably one of them. But then comes the next problem. Where are you going to put it all?

I seem to have a premium on space in my house, at least space that isn't currently being used as a habitat for mice. I know they can often chew their way through a bar of Irish Spring in a matter of days, so there goes your supply of bar soap. What about flooding? Fire? Yes, I know those things are rare; but it is just stuff. Stuff you will eventually use (in about a year or three) but really don't need. 

I have a friend who is a bargain shopper much like this woman. Her daughter wears fancy, frilly dresses to church all the time - dresses that her mother buys out of season for next to nothing - and it seems like it's almost never the same dress twice. (Although I'm sure it is, she doesn't wear the same one as often as, say, my daughter - who has a fight with me if she can't wear her favorite skirt every day of the week.) Her husband told me he used to work in retail and as an employee, would get a substantial discount. Combine that with a clearance sale they had one time, and he was buying ties at 50 cents apiece. So he bought 50. I'm like, What do you need with that many ties?! Just because you got a good deal doesn't mean you have to buy a million of them.

Getting a great deal on name-brand kids' clothes is one thing, but I've found there's a nasty side effect to that, too: too many choices means my kids, at least, will latch on to one particular item and not want to wear anything else. It doesn't matter how many nice dresses or shirts they have if they don't want to wear them. Sometimes I force the issue because, hey, I did spend money on that stuff. But sometimes it's just not worth it.

I am reminded of the story of a friend who has spent close to 20 years living off and on in the Congo. He has reported how scarce certain supplies and items were - like spoons. When a group donated supplies, clothing and things like sporting goods to a particular church over there, they remembered to include a shipment of teaspoons, because the people there had few eating utensils to choose from. Apparently the idea of having one solitary teaspoon in your possession is a big deal to some people, and extreme couponing sort of pales in comparison.

I suppose the exact opposite of the hoarding extreme couponing mentality is the way my mother-in-law shops. Born in Europe during World War II, her tri-weekly trips to the store reflect her steadfast ways - and sometimes sparse upbringing - in a community that did not buy things in bulk but rather only bought what they could take home in a bicycle basket. I once asked my husband, "Why doesn't your mom just buy a gallon of milk instead of making two trips to the store in one week?" Because she was raised to often do without out of necessity (my husband often tells the kids that grandma first tried an orange when she was 12 years old), it became a force of habit for her.

Not having an endless supply of certain luxury items like cereal bars, goldfish crackers and even orange juice, I've found, sometimes does us some good in our household, too. I hate forgetting key items at the store when I've just been there, and don't feel like running back into town the next day for something that we can live without. Running low on your favorite cereal? Eat oatmeal instead - it's probably healthier for you, anyway.

While this woman makes it a point not to buy out the entire supply of an item to save some for someone else, not all extreme couponers feel this way, apparently. This kind of buying screams greed to me, with all your attention focused on what you need (or rather, want) instead of someone else. We like Roman Meal 12 Grain bread, and it's usually cheaper than other kinds of bread. Does that mean I need to take all seven loaves off the shelf? I feel extremely guilty unless I leave two or three behind for someone else.

Having a mouse infestation has taught me one thing: use it or lose it. You never know what could happen to your stuff, and after all, it is just stuff. 

More reading:
The Dirty Secret Behind Coupons! Psychology Today
The Problems with Extreme Couponing - Salon.com

5 comments:

Kim V. said...

I just watched the show Extreme Couponing today and I must say, you have captured my sentiments exactly. The whole time I was watching I was thinking - why? One lady bought 50 bottles of Malox. Who has that much heartburn? Another lady was stockpiling diapers and she doesn't even have a baby! Why?

The Deranged Housewife said...

Wow. That sums it up perfectly - it's shopping for the sake of shopping. Only legitimized because you got a 'good deal.' Yikes.

Mrs. Obie said...

I've cut down on my grocery bill by PLANNING menus and ONLY buying whats on my list. Also taking advantage of the fact that I'm an Army wife, and shopping at the commissary generally tends to be cheaper than shopping at a regular grocery store (especially here in Hawaii).

My husband told me I should start couponing after watching an episode of that show, and I flat out told him "no". Well...no, I said if he would pay me salary to clip coupons, along with taking care of the house, I would GLADLY take hours out of my already busy day to clip a few coupons...whether I actually used them or not would be a different story. ;)

IMO, these people are hoarders...they just aren't going into debt because of it, and their houses are tidy. I couldn't stand the lady who took her what....three year old son with her? Bothered me to no end for some reason.

The Deranged Housewife said...

I can't even imagine how expensive things must be in Hawaii! I agree - meal planning, when I used to do it regularly, was wondering because I always had what I needed. I just printed out the calendar from iCal on my Mac and it was great - I'm just too lazy to do it anymore. LOL

Speaking of which..I might need to start doing that again. :)

TracyKM said...

I've watched some of the series. I agree with Kim V. Some of them are crazy! The guy with the HUGE stockpile though does a LOT of donations, including care packages for 1000 troops overseas. I was appalled to see the woman buying cases of Gatorade or chocolate bars "Because it's a great deal". Well...diabetes is NOT a great deal! And the twins, who went crazy cause they had an 'extra' coupon for dental floss....but then found out they had already cleaned out the store? My kids want me to use more coupons...but I'm not about to spend 4-6 hours per DAY doing that, I don't want them eating so much junk, and in Canada, we don't have all the offers they do on that show (our stores don't double up coupons, take competitors, or have loyalty cards other than get points and save off the total bill). By shopping sales and using generic brands I can do pretty good. It does amaze me when I see people buying stuff that's not on sale, LOL. My kids learned really early to "look for the sale sign"! Once in a store, there was a mom just like me, and I heard her kid ask "Do other moms only buy the stuff that's on sale?" LOL!!!!!