Against my better judgment, I watched two episodes of Extreme Couponing last night and found that the new TLC series oddly fascinated and infuriated me on so many different levels. Like the patrons at the stores where these women shop, I couldn't stop look away as four full carts of groceries shrunk down from several hundreds of dollars (in one case nearly two thousand) to next to nothing. On one hand, it was kind of impressive. But on the other hand, that's only if you discount (no pun intended) all of the stuff they already have at home, the fact that they don't need most of these items and the amount of time it takes them to get this stuff.
The four women featured in these two episodes ranged in age and family size but they all referred to their purchases as their collections and displayed them proudly. They've raised beds to fit hundreds of rolls of toilet paper beneath them, or built special grocery store-like shelving units that perfectly showcase the boxes upon boxes of laundry detergent, cereal and canned goods that they've amassed. They seem thrilled that their homes are more well stocked than a 7-11, and almost all of them have an OCD-like determination to make sure that everything is neatly displayed.
I'm not against them saving money -- I think that's fantastic -- but when one woman is purchasing 32 bottles of mustard and her family doesn't even like mustard? That's some ridiculous hoarding mentality right there, and doesn't really save you money since you didn't want the products in the first place. One 24-year-old girl fretted that she wouldn't have enough food for an upcoming party she was hosting, but she had more than 40 bags of chips already housed in her pantry. Is she feeding a whole town? And she informed her husband that after the party, they'd have to go back to the store to make sure that they replaced whatever had been eaten. Growing up, I had friends whose mothers and grandmothers kept scores of canned goods in their basement in case of nuclear war or some other disaster, which I sort of understand, but it seems that these couponing women have become obsessed with the art of the deal regardless of what the items may be. When one of the women said, "Being able to coupon is what is allowing me to enjoy my life," I got chills, and not in a good way.
They all seem to get some sort of thrill/panic out of watching the poor cashiers ring up their carts (often in multiple, separate transactions) and then sit for like 15 minutes and scan coupons. If I saw them coming, I'd be begging my manager to take a break. For them, it's almost performance art. You've gone beyond saving money when you have to call in several of your friends to come down so that you can take advantage of a particular deal that is limited to one per customer. Also, spending more than five hours in the supermarket seems like an inefficient use of time. Perhaps you could pay 30 dollars for three baskets of groceries instead of 75 cents and save yourself three hours of life? Or is your life so worthless? Seeing how obsessed (not frugal - obsessed) these women are just makes me hope that someone intervenes for their sake and their family's. And yet TLC is content to indulge (and exploit) their deep-seated issues while presenting them to viewers as thrifty homemakers. And why exactly are the grocery store employees applauding them?
And then there's the matter of what they're purchasing. The great deals they get? Those aren't on nutritional perishable foods, by and large. They're on mass quantities of processed meats, sugar cereals and high fructose-filled beverages. One woman had to buy 35 bottles of Maalox. Perhaps, if she added some vegetables to her diet, maybe she wouldn't need so much. I'm no Jamie Oliver trying to change the world, but I do think that if you're limiting your food shopping to what you can get a good deal on, chances are you aren't making the healthiest choices available.
Even worse, with such extreme quantities, it's unlikely that most of those items will ever actually be consumed. It's one thing to want to be prepared for the worst (as one husband put it, "If there's a zombie apocalypse, we'll be OK for two years"), but even with a large family, most of that stuff will expire, unopened and unused. That's not saving; that's just wasteful.
And finally there's the time factor (and not just the hours spent in the actual store). Some of these ladies spend hours and hours clipping the papers (some of which they have to buy, which should count against the money they actually saved), scouring the internet for coupons, harassing grocery stores about their double couponing policy and creating Excel spreadsheets to figure out the exact breakdown of how the transactions should be processed. If they really wanted to help their families, those organizational skills could be put to much better use.
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See how the stars of Extreme Couponing defend their behavior.
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