You see, reality TV did to couponing (and the couponers who are on the show) what it does best: make it (and them) look cuh-razy.
I'm not sure what I was expecting. It's a reality show with "Extreme" in the title. Nonetheless, I guess I was hoping for something a little more educational and a lot less voyeuristic. What we all got was people spending hours and hours collecting coupons and hunting down deals and paying a few bucks for a thousand dollars worth of groceries. It's really, really, REALLY impressive, but as a person who teaches classes on couponing, it seemed out of reach even to me.
So I'm going to clear up a few of the impressions that I think the show may have given.
Obviously, the more time and energy you spend collecting coupons and tracking down deals and shopping, the more stuff you're going to get. But you really need to consider the value of your time. Personally, I don't want to spend 2 hours at the checkout line. Sure, I've had plenty of transactions take longer than average because I was using coupons, but it doesn't take THAT long to scan a stack of coupons. (Unless you're using 700 coupons. Then it takes a looooong time.)
Many of the couponers featured on the show also spent hours in front of the computer plotting out their deals. As I mentioned in this post, I find the majority of my coupon deals on coupon blogs, so I do spend time online figuring out where I'm going to shop and what I'm going to buy. I make detailed lists and get my coupons all organized. This takes up about an hour of my week. . . not 10 hours.
2. I need to stockpile hundreds of bottles of detergent, mustard and sports drinks.
Do you know how many bottles of mustard I have in my house?
Two. . . one regular and one spicy brown.
That said, we're about out of both of those and there's a good sale at my grocery store, so I'll probably pick up 3 or 4 on my next trip. Not 60 like one couponer featured on the show. For serious, people, who buys 60 bottles of mustard??? (Although TLC didn't mention it, I imagine she donated a lot of those.)
The stockpiles we're seeing on the show are really huge, though. Stockpiling is an important aspect of couponing, but you really only need to stockpile enough to last you until the next sale. Some items go on sale every 6 - 8 weeks, some every 6 months and some just once a year. The bottom line is that you don't need to stockpile 5 years worth of detergent because it'll go on sale again in another month or two. So relax.
3. When you use coupons, you are going to have a lot of stress and problems in the checkout line.
I've had cashiers who were grumpy about coupons and customers in line behind me who were irritated that it took an extra 3 minutes to scan my coupons, but I've never had a register lock up on me because I bought so many items. I've never had a nervous break down at the store.
When you first start couponing there is a level of anxiety at the checkout since you're still learning how couponing works and not completely confident that you got all the math right. If you've had a bad experience at a particular store or with a specific cashier, that can cause some stress as well. That said, if you buy 50 items at the grocery store and have a coupon for 42 of them you shouldn't really have too many problems. Since the show features people buying $1000 - $1500 worth of products and using hundreds of coupons, the odds of things not going well go up significantly.
4. I have to dumpster dive or steal papers from my neighbors to get lots of coupons.
If you have the space and time to build a large stockpile (or want to be able to donate a lot to your local food bank or other charity) then having loads of coupons will go a long way. There are a lot of ways to get your hands on extra coupons and you don't have to jump in a trash can or steal to get them.
(Side note: When people "dumpster dive" for coupons they aren't going into an actual dumpster. They're looking through recycling bins. It's just newspaper, phonebooks and other random papers in there, so it's not as gross as it sounds. They're not sifting through banana peels and coffee grounds or anything.)
I won't go into great detail on coupon sources (as there's a bunch of info on that here, here, here, and here), but here are the most common coupon sources for couponers:
- A subscription to the Sunday paper
- Buying extra Sunday papers at a discount on Monday
- Printable internet coupons
- Family/Friends who don't use coupons
- Online coupon clipping services
- Emailing manufacturers to request coupons
None of those sound crazy, right?
I don't want to rant and rave about Extreme Couponing (because it IS drawing some attention to the wonderful world of couponing and I CAN. NOT. stop watching it), but from what I've observed, the show is more of a hindrance than a help to new couponers. In spite of how couponers are depicted on the show, couponing can be a small and manageable part of your life. It can be something that allows you to make sure you and your family have the things you need AND save lots of money. Nothing all that extreme about it.