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Extreme Couponing: A Way to Save or a Big Waste?

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While it seems nothing could make more sense than using coupons to shave a dollar here and there off your grocery budget, this age has taken coupons, just like sports and fashion, to the extreme. Extreme couponing is where people buy hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars worth of groceries but pay only a fraction of the cost, thanks to coupons.

They use newpaper coupons, internet coupons and even purchase coupons on sites like eBay. They clip for hours, organizing their finds in binders, tracking their savings on spreadsheets, visiting several retailers, and building literal stores in their basements and storage rooms to house the excess. So even though the savings are undeniable, the reasons for avoiding this practice are also obvious.

1. Waste of Time

The time it takes to track down, clip and organize these massive purchases is only the beginning. The time spent driving to multiple locations, carefully shopping for the correct brands, sizes, and specifications, not to mention researching the coupon restrictions and limitations of particular retailers can rack up quickly. Couponers on TLC’s hit show Extreme Couponing remark that they spend no less than 40 hours (and usually much more ) on couponing every week.

Granted, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, with the average coupon saving about $1.44, and assuming a person can clip one relevant coupon per minute, that couponer is “earning” in savings an average of $86.40 an hour. This is an incredible amount, but oversimplified as it does not include driving time, shopping time, or even if the person is actually able to use these coupons.

Clipping 60 coupons is far different than using 60 coupons. We all know that many coupons die unheralded deaths in coupon envelopes, drawers, and under refrigerator magnets. And that’s not to mention that 60 coupons clipped in an hour seems unlikely, unless you clip everything you come across, which leads to our next point, namely…

2. Waste of Money

If you buy mainly fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, meats and organics, coupons will most likely not help you one iota. The main distributors of coupons are packaged, highly-processed food products, frozen or canned goods, health and beauty products, and paper goods. These companies are looking to build brand loyalty by offering a temporary price reduction on an otherwise costly item. Processed food items are ridiculously inexpensive to make, so the company is making a significant profit even with the coupon. The coupons that are most frequently redeemed, according to a Coupons Inc report, are ready-to-eat cereal, yogurt, refrigerated dough (i.e. biscuits or cookie dough), portable snacks (i.e. pudding cups, chips), and canned/frozen vegetables. So by exposing oneself to the advertising effects of coupons, inhibitions against a congregation of sugared, fatty, or otherwise unhealthy food products are lowered. This is not the best (and definitely not the healthiest) use of your dollars.

But say you do find something remotely healthy, or otherwise necessary or helpful like paper towels and antacids. If you buy it in unusable quantities (like often seen on Extreme Couponing, where people have stockpiles of 50 bottles of pain relievers and 3,000 rolls of toilet paper), it’s still a waste of money. Many of the perishable products and medicines will undoubtedly expire before they are used. And while the paper goods and some beauty supplies will not perish, they take up another valuable resource–space.

3. Waste of Space

The folks who participate in extreme couponing often have to build bunkers in their basements or spare rooms to contain all their excess goods. Literally, these people are building their own “stores” to shop through. Unless you are preparing for the apocalypse, this seems almost like an organized form of hoarding.

While it’s up to each person how they want to use the room in their home, food storage is not one that will add to the value of the home when it comes up for sale, nor will it add to the value of one’s life.

4. Waste of Mental Space

Some argue that having stockpiles gives peace of mind and allows them to better care for their family, even going as far as saying it gives them financial security and the increased ability to go on vacations. These are all wonderful upsides, but the downsides are also true: extreme couponing turns shopping into a competitive sport where the person’s life revolves around double-coupon days, getting to the stores first, spending hours researching for the best deals, and organizing hundreds of coupons, watching the checkout clerk like a hawk to make sure s/he rings up everything correctly, and then there’s the occasional (and increasingly more common) argument with store managers over coupon policies (stores have begun limiting coupon usage due to overuse by some shoppers). The headache and hassles of getting free food, not to mention the ethical boundaries that must be ignored when arguing that a buy-one-get-one-free coupon can be used in conjunction with an in-store buy-one-get-one-free sale to equal two free items, break your “stockpile” peace of mind into pieces.

5. Waste of Calories

Epidemic problems with weight are plaguing Americans, and this has not diminished with the Great Recession. The junk food promoted in coupons does not help the problem, and extreme couponing compounds it. What will you do with 10 bags of chips, 20 boxes of sodas, and hoards of packaged snacks, frozen dinners and lunch meats? Well, if you don’t want to let them expire (see: Waste of Money), you’ll eat them. Maybe you’ll have parties every weekend. Most likely you won’t. Watch the waistline and cut calories, not coupons.

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