Extreme Couponing To The Max
Applying the word extreme to ordinary activities has proven lucrative. People make money that way. Normally sleep-inducing pastimes such as clipping coupons or fluffing pillows now merit reality TV programs.
We at the Institute for the Painfully Obvious are loath to miss out on yet another pop culture opportunity. We still regret remaining on the sidelines during the Chia Pet craze of the 1980's, the short-lived bee-beard mania of 1991 and the concomitant spike in aloe sales of early 1992. Those were the days.
What's it all about? Will extreme couponing become the next 'it' ? Can we all get in on this race to lower food bills to near-zero amounts? Read on, if you dare.
Extensive research indicates the existence of enthusiastic enclaves encompassing extreme couponing entrepreneurs. Throughout suburbs and trailer parks of North America reside coupon clippers and exchangers. We've seen them.
These fanatics think nothing of spending 5 hours at the supermarket and leaving with hundreds of bottles of hand soap for which they paid what normal sentient folks would suggest is a fair price for a packet of chewing gum.
How does it work?
A coupon represents a potential discount on a retail product. Marketers publish thousands of these rectangular come-ons in newspapers, color supplements, and mailers. Savvy advertisers understand very well the psyche of modern consumers: everyone wants a bargain. Even if we're all offered the same bargain, somehow a few cents deducted from a can of beans shines through as a holy grail of marketing strategies.
In theory and in practice, individual coupons are sufficient to draw consumers to stores. A fringe element always emerges. A few ambitious shoppers accumulate extreme counts of coupons and creatively combine them into massive discounts. Stuff can be 'purchased' for almost nothing. We're pretty sure that manufacturers prefer to turn a profit in the long run, but a labyrinth of in-store doubling, regional and local discounting, and fanatical internetworking conspire to create avenues for virtually free products.
Why is it a secret?
Visit any extreme couponing site on the Internet: invariably the details and secrets of the gurus will be hidden. Watch reality TV programs chronicling extreme trips to the supermarket: shoppers drag double-digit numbers of shopping carts containing triple-digit amounts of breakfast cereal boxes toward aging minivans, but the actual coupon application techniques and technologies remain a mystery.
We still don't know how they do it. We understand that they present colored pieces of paper to checkout clerks. A flurry of scanning and beeping occurs. The total balance declines until it barely covers the lunch special at Denny's. The first 5 or 10 times we witrness this process, it amazes. Eventually we realize that, like a dog staring at a washing machine, we know something's going on in there but we're not exactly sure what it is.
Perhaps extreme couponing actually obligates more intelligence than we first suspect. Admittedly, the concept of a full-time couponer does not bring to mind the academics of a rocket scientist or even a TV Weatherman. We envision a high school graduate with a broadband connection, a pair of scissors, and Oprah reruns in the background.
Are they addicts?
Does the level of commitment required to reduce one's grocery bills to pocket change rise to an addiction? Certainly, these people could choose more destructive pastimes such as knitting sweaters from dryer lint or writing fan fiction for Star Trek TNG. Collecting, cutting, and presenting coupons is mostly harmless, unless it detracts from the responsibilities of daily life.
We wonder if couponing represents a gateway activity. Self-destructive pastimes such as hoarding or hanging out in grocery stores could be the next step. Coming home from Kroger with a trunk full of ketchup bottles clearly implies that storage space must be allocated. Does it all fit underneath the bed, or must the family dog give up his corner of the basement? Will the aging minivan be relegated to the driveway in deference to the innumerable cans of cling peaches inhabiting the garage? Is the money saved through coupons eventually spent on shelving, cabinetry, and psychological evaluations for family pets?
What happens next?
Given the veritable plethora of cable-television channels, we surmise that extreme couponing will blossom into other areas of society. ESPN-EC will soon dominate the competitive aspects of clipping and redeeming coupons. Forward-thinking academia will configure college courses and even degree programs centered around the Art of the Discount.
Look for a national pizza chain to stop accepting money in any form: their wonderfully cheesy products will be available only through strategic combinations of coupons.
Entire economies of underdeveloped countries will soon be structured around coupons. Local marketplaces will feature local artisans offering hand-crafted coupon holders, scissors, magnifying glasses, and aging minivans.
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