Extreme Couponing: Is It Right For You?
And For My First Trick...
Some of you may have heard about it on the radio or seen it on TV.
Some of you may have been shopping for groceries and you saw it in person, up close and personal. The reaction is always the same.
You stare in amazement as one person loads up the belt. As you get frustrated with what looks like preparation for some kind of food drive, your curiosity gets the best of you. Your mind takes over and you ask yourself the question, I wonder how much all of that food is going to cost. As you await the grand total you squint your eyes at the shoppers hands, there filled with...COUPONS. If you are able to do so you raise an eyebrow intrigued as to what will happen next. At this point you're no longer angry about standing in line forever. Now you're just listening to all the coupons beep as they get swiped across the scanner. Nothing in the world could keep you from finding out the grand total. In your mind you start to make guesses, $100, $150. You get mad again for a second when the register freezes up, but after its fixed you go right back to your curiosity. Now, the last coupon has been scanned and the grand total is available just for you. This is it, this is what you've been waiting for, this is what kept you entertained while you were on line for what seemed like a life time. It seems like the whole store has gone quiet and all eyes are on the cashier. The cashier announces the total and before your brain could formulate a verbal reaction to what you just heard, your eyes open wide. For you have just witnessed an extreme couponer, and they just legally robbed the store.
The Good The Bad and The Ugly
Is it possible to save money and still lose? Lets look at this thing from all angles. First off, what is a coupon?
Well there are many different definitions for coupons. But we are looking for the most popular one, the one that involves us saving money on a purchase.
"A coupon s ia portion of a certificate, ticket, label, advertisement, or the like, set off from the main body by dotted lines or the liketo emphasize its separability, entitling the holder tosomething, as a gift or discount, or for use as an order blank,a contest entry form, etc." (Dictionary.com)
Now that we know what a coupon is, lets find out how they came to be so popular. Below is a short history lesson on coupons from an article titled 'History of Couponing" from the website triadcouponing.com.
"The first coupons were distributed by Coca-Cola in 1887. Then in 1909 Post (cereal and other items)used coupons to market Grape Nuts cereal. From the Depression through the mid-1960’s, more and more families began to clip coupons. In 1990, with the invention of the internet, printable coupons were created. In 2002, Americans saved 3.8 BILLION dollars using coupons."
People like to save money, there's no wonder why coupons were so popular back then as well as today. But just as everything else in this world has evolved, so to has the coupon game. Nowadays you can print coupons online and some places even allow you to present a digital coupon from your phone to save money. With the world's economy in turmoil coupoing has evolved once again. What used a silly ritual that your mom used to do on Sunday morning has changed into something more...serious. With so many different offers and opportunities to save money with the assistance of coupons there is also no wonder why Extreme couponing has become the current phenomenon that it has, but how long will it last?
Okay, so you've seen the show "Extreme Couponing" on TLC and you're wondering if all the savings you see the shoppers receiving are realistically possible. Well lemme tell you like this my friend, I have personally witnessed someone doing this and based on what I have seen with my own two eyes and what I have eaten with my own mouth and digested in my own stomach, I can honestly say that the answer is...yes! And this is coming from an "Extreme Realist," so you can take that information to the bank, literally. (meaning you could save money, get it?)
Depending on how much time, effort, and planning you put into your couponing, you could honestly cut your grocery bill in half or more. Imagine filling up your cabinets and refrigerators with enough food and toiletries to last you for months! Now imagine doing this all in a matter of a day or two. The husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, kids, dog, cat, cousins, aunts, and uncles oh my, would all have everything they needed in the house right at there finger tips. No more running out to the store because you need more toilet paper or because you ran out of Cheerios. You can just walk to the cabinet, basement, or wherever else you store your RESERVES, and pick up a new roll or a new box. Ahh how refreshing right? Oh and here comes the best part...now you have extra money, moolah, scratch, greenbacks, federal notes, dead presidents! The $300 you used to spend on a weeks worth of groceries now costs you $100 or maybe even less and in return you get...SEVERAL MONTHS WORTH OF PRODUCTS!
Sounds good right? Well this section was titled "The Good." The next section is titled, "The Bad," guess what I'll be touching on there?
If your answer to my last question was, "bad stuff" you get a gold star. Now lets tackle the big bad wolf (tickets) or coupons as they are better known. If you read "The Good" you'll probably say that what you saw on the screen looked, well...it looked pretty damn GOOD but, looks can be deceiving.
Everything I sad before is true. By using extreme couponing techniques you can stock up on groceries and save money in the process, but getting that done is not as easy as it looks or sounds.
If your plan is to achieve the kinds of savings that you see on the TLC's Extreme Couponing, you will have to basically turn this whole idea from a plan into a part time job. What I mean by this is that it takes a lot of time, patience, footwork, nerve, persistence, reading and comprehension (yes that crap you hated on the SAT's), math (the crap you REALLY hated on the SAT's) organizing, and you may even have to get a little dirty. Let me explain.
You will be in the store for a good while looking for the products you need. Sometimes the store will move these things around so if you get annoyed with things like that but you still want to try this, prepare to be annoyed at some point. Giving up on trying to find something or taking one of the employees quick "we're all out" responses without checking for yourself may result in you missing out on a deal.
In addition to pacing the store looking for the sale items, you will also have to find ways to get as many coupons as you can. You see the way this is how it all works; you need to find as many coupons for each single item as you can, and obtaining them from different places is a necessity. It is permitted to use more than one coupon on a single item but, you are not permitted to use the same coupon or a copy of the same coupon on each single item. So you need to get these coupons from different sources, ex. multiple copies of different Sunday newspapers, multiple copies of coupon fliers, mulitple copies of online printable coupons (these only allow two per computer, so you'll need access the internet from different computers to get more than two).
In addition to finding all of these coupons you will need to go to different grocery stores. Yes that's right, I hope your car gets good mileage. Different Supermarkets have different sales. One may have a particular product for less than the other store has it or one store may be doubling coupons while another store is not. It is highly likely that you will have to visit more than one store.
You will get to the point where there is a great deal on a product that you use and you want to purchase all of them, some customers will not like that. Some customers will be upset that one person is buying all of one product and they may approach you or a manager about it. This might be out of jealousy or just the fact that some people don't think its right for one person to take everything off of the shelf and leave nothing for other customers. So prepare for confrontation in the aisles.
In addition to the aisles you may want to prepare for confrontaition at the register. When its time to have all of your items scanned its going to take awhile and you are going to be holding up the line. Customers behind you are going to give you the evil eye and some may complain aloud. Also, prepare for the cashier and manager to be slightly less friendly than the ones you see on the show. You will have to deal with the both of them if one of your items does not receive the proper discount once the coupons are scanned.
Just as I mentioned before, you will have to play detective sometimes to find the products you are looking for. If you give up because your tired of looking or because one of the clerks said their sold out you might miss out on a deal. Also at the register you may need to stand your ground if a coupon says one thing and the store manager or cashier says another. It is important that you know all the stores policies and what the coupons limitations are. This brings me to the next point...
Reading and Comprehension
All the persistence in the world is not going to help you if you can not read and comprehend what the stores policies and the coupon limitations are. With out this knowledge you might get taken advantage of by a store manager or cashier that senses your inability to comprehend whats going on. Believe it or not many of managers and cashiers will give you false information about a sale for numerous reasons, and if your not prepared you will lose.
This is common sense. If you can not add properly do not even get involved with extreme couponing, unless you have help. Otherwise you will be put in the uncomfortable situation of having a total that is way higher than you expected once at the register. Depending on what type of person you are, this is the point where you will either spend the money that you did not prepare to spend or stand there holding up the line as you pick and choose what you want to keep and what you don't. Oh and the voids will take awhile for the stuff that you don't want.
This is probably the most important part. You will need to have a game plan from beginning to end. What this means is that you will need to know who, what, when, where, and how from the first clipped coupon to the last scanned coupon. You need to have all of your fliers, coupons, and notes neatly organized in some kind of binder. This will give you easy access to everything you need in case of emergency (sounds like I'm preparing you for war huh? I am... GROCERY WARS!)
And last but not least, you may get a little dirty.
Sometimes online, Sunday newspaper, and flier coupons are hard to get. The real hard core extreme couponers solve this problem by "Dumpster Diving." This consists of going into a paper recycling dumpster and finding coupons. Although this sounds a little crazy, this is a great way to get your hands on a lot of great coupons. Hopefully you will find some for hand sanitizer and Lysol products in there. You will definitely need them.
Oh yes...it gets worse.
Lets say you can handle all of the stuff under "The Bad" category. Even if you can get through all the tough parts of extreme couponing, you still have the underlined problems.
1. Most Grocery stores do not double and triple coupons as often as the TV show would suggest and this is needed to accomplish EXTREME success.
2. As this process gets more and more popular you will have to compete with other extreme couponers who may empty out the shelves before you do.
3. Most of the products you find on sale for extremely low prices are not that good or good for you. A lot of the food is processed crap and salty instant pastas and rices. Either that or a bunch of salty and sugar filled snacks foods. In other words you are going to be getting a good load of nonperishable items. The foods that could be considered good (note I said "could be") like fruits, veggies, meat, and poultry do not go on sale often if at all, and they never have coupons available. The point here is extreme couponing could actually make you sick or...KILL YOU. Sorry if I scared anyone there, just keeping it real.
4. When the good stuff that lasts long like peanut butter, jelly, cereal etc. goes on sale there is usually a catch. Most of the time these things are close to the expiration date. So if you buy them you better make sure they will be consumed quickly.
5. Extreme couponing might save you money but, it can be addictive and possibly harmful to your mental health. There's another popular television series out right now on A&E, its called "Hoarders." The show attempts to rehabilitate people with mental disorders that cause them to hoard or stock massive amounts of unnecessary items in their homes. It might seem cool at first when your mom comes home with 1000 boxes of Colgate toothpaste but, when the walls start closing in around you, you may wonder if you even have the ability to produce enough tartar to warrant the castles of toothpaste. Next you will wonder if moms gone mad.
To put it all in to perspective I will give you my analysis of the whole "Extreme Couponing" craze right now. The way I see it is like this;
If you have the time, patience, and all the other crap I talked about in "The Bad" section of this article, then by all means go out and get your coupon on. I am not going to sit here and tell you that you can not save money by doing this. Even with all of the negative things I've said about it, extreme couponing could be a good thing. If you do it right you could take care of your household needs in a way that is both convenient and frugal. In addition, you could follow in the footsteps of some extreme couponers who give back to the needy by donating items that they got for free. But please, before you get started I want to make sure that one thing is clear to you. Even if you end up getting some items at no cost due to excellent extreme couponing you need to know that, NOTHING IN LIFE IS FREE. You will be working EXTREMELY hard to get these deals, that in itself will be hard work..
"There ain't no such thing as a free lunch (TANSTAAFL) " -Old adage