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Extreme Couponing: Saving Is Not Earning- and More

August 15, 2011 · 16 comments

in Home & Garden, Personal Finance

I love coupons.  I grew up clipping coupons for my mom, and I saw all the savings that could be attained by using coupons the right way.  I think coupons are a great thing, which is why I somehow find myself drawn to the show ‘Extreme Couponing’.

This past weekend, I caught a rerun I had not seen of Extreme Couponing, and I felt this show sent the completely wrong message to viewers.

Do You Really Need An MBA To Save At The Grocery Store??

In this episode, Tammilee Tillison lost her job years ago, which was difficult because she was the majority breadwinner in the family. What concerned the couple most was the thought they would not be able to get up and travel when a cool trip came along as they had been able to do in the past.  So, Tammilee decided to start using coupons to save money at the grocery store.  Sounds logical and wise, even if the stockpile the couple had already accumulated looks like it could feed my family of five for at least a year.

As the show goes on, the narrator tells viewers how Tammilee’s MBA helped her to organize and utilize her coupons each week.  I found that somewhat frustrating because it can imply to the typical viewer than you need a vast education in order to save money on groceries. Well, I have an MBA myself, and I think my 15 year old daughter could do just as good a job as I myself if she were to undertake the task of making a grocery list and matching coupons to sales.  Not to take anything away from the extreme couponers, but I think that as long as you have basic math and filing skills, you are capable of saving money at the grocery store.

Next, Tammilee talks about how she ‘earns’ so much money by saving on groceries that she doesn’t even need to work anymore.   Come on!  How many boxes of cereal can you seriously stockpile?  I believe they had 65 boxes at the start of the show.  Can two people possibly eat through that much cereal before expiration?  Considering I spend less than $10,000 a year on groceries for my family, which is more than twice the size of Tamilee’s family, I don’t see how couponing can make up for an entire income.  Is this woman just trying to justify not working so she can focus on her hobby?  Or, does she truly believe that a person with an MBA can’t make more than $10k per year in this market?

Finally, it turns out that much of her savings is used toward vacation spending.  This point got me the angriest.  Saving is not the same as earning!  For example, the couple was $500 short of their goal of going on a cruise for the husband’s fortieth birthday.  So, Tammilee’s plan was to buy enough food at the grocery store for next to nothing so they wouldn’t have to spend much on groceries over the next month.  OK, that sounds plausible.  However, when the total at the checkout came to over $600 and they only owed $17, they decided that savings would allow them to book their trip because they saved more than $500.

What??

Lessons Learned From Extreme Couponing

There are some things that people need to understand when ‘extremely’ using coupons:

  1. Saving money is not the same as accumulating money.  In the above example, the coupon indeed saved a lot of money.  However, that money didn’t just leap right into their bank account because they used coupons.  Many of the items they purchased would take over a year to use up (for instance, bottles and bottles of Soft Scrub).  The savings obtained from having a stockpile accumulate over time.  If you budget $100 a week for groceries and only spend $50, then you could move that extra fifty dollars into savings or into another spending bucket. However, I am sure this couple did not budget $600 a month for groceries if she has been such an extreme couponer for years.  It is true that stretching a dollar as far is possible is indeed valuable.  However, it isn’t the same as earning a paycheck.
  2. If you need to use up a large part of your home for your stockpile, then maybe you should get a smaller house and have a smaller stockpile.  In the show I watched, the couple used 1/4 of their house as storage for groceries.  Logically, that means they really could get by with a home than is 25 percent smaller.  That in itself would be a huge amount of savings, and wouldn’t require much work like couponing does.
  3. Unless you are making minimum wage and work part time, you can make more money in the labor market than you can by clipping coupons.  Realistically, I would think one person would typically go through 50 dollars in groceries a week.  For the couple in this show, that means that they really only eat about $5200 worth of food each year if you pay full price for it. Considering the woman appears to spend at least 20 hours a week on couponing, then she is making about $5.00/hour on her endeavor.  (That is assuming that she spends zero money at all on groceries and gets all items for free basically.)  Call me crazy, but I think this woman could probably make a little more money by actually using her degree in the workforce than sitting around the house all day with her scissors and coupon organizers.
  4. Be careful that coupon clipping does not become an obsession.  Hobbies are great, and saving money is great.  If you can combine the two, that is even better.  However, hobbies can sometimes spill over into obsessions and compulsions.  I admit that I enjoy the thrill of seeing how much money I can save each week. However, tracking sales and clipping coupons does not take up much of my life at all.  Life is about balance, and if you are spending the bulk of your time on any one task (especially one that does not ‘generate’ income), then it is possible you may need to step back and evaluate if you truly are using your time wisely.
I do enjoy the show Extreme Couponing, and I love when they feature the shoppers donating food to the needy or making care packages for the military.  What I don’t like is all the fake drama the show likes to create (‘oh no, the babysitter didn’t show up and now I have to take my 83 kids to the grocery store with me’).  What bothers me most though is that to me, Extreme Couponing is almost like the show ‘Hoarders’.  I don’t mean that these people are hoarding necessarily, but clipping coupons and shopping seems almost like an unhealthy obsession for many of these people.
(Special note:  I am not saying there is not value in saving money in groceries, it is a priority for me every week.  Many SAHP and others stretch the family income as far as possible by saving money with coupons and shopping only during sales.  My point is that the person in this show seems to be substituting couponing for a job, and I just don’t see that as an even swap.  If someone gave me a hundred dollars toward my shopping bill and I only spent $17, then that is earning money if I get to keep the difference.  However, if just spend less, that is more about living frugally and being smart with money.  I do recognize there is definite value in both saving and earning, you just can’t use the two words interchangeably.)

 

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

krantcents August 15, 2011 at 11:30 am

Anything extreme cannot be maintained! I would recommend putting aside any savings from couponing, sales, and discounts into savings. Very few would ever do that, but that would definitely be savings.

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Kris August 15, 2011 at 9:14 pm

I guess for myself, I know that I use my coupons and sales and have adjusted my budgeted amount for groceries accordingly. However, I do agree that putting aside that savings can be a good thing for week-to-week shopping.

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Money Reasons August 15, 2011 at 1:19 pm

I watch some of that show this past weekend (my wife had it on when I walked into the room). Previously, I never watched it. I found the show very anti-green with respect to the environment and the waste of buying perishable foods that the family can’t consume before the expiration date.

What wasteful and inconsiderate people. Afterall, if I went to the store to buy one of the shelf items that these extreme couponers bought, the shelf would be bare (thanks extreme couponer jerk).

What’s really sickening is how everybody appauds at the end and tell thecoupons what a great job they did and compliments them. Sad, truly sad…

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Kris August 15, 2011 at 9:15 pm

I always wonder how they get their dairy products and such home without it getting spoiled since it takes so long to get through the checkout and get the items home.

I hate when I go to the store and my item is already out of stock at 9:00 am on a Sunday because some extreme couponer has swept through.

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Kaycee August 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm

This applies to alot of things not just groceries. How many blog posts (elsewhere) have I read that say something like wow, I just bought “X” a for $99 because the normal price is/was $199. And I saved $100. Guess what, if you hadn’t bought it at all, you’d have saved $199 @@ This applies to wants not needs, for the record.

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Kris August 15, 2011 at 9:19 pm

I couldn’t agree more Kaycee. You aren’t saving unless it is something you need. For instance, if I get free bread, that is saving. If I get free licorice, I really didn’t save anything because I wouldn’t have bought it in the first place.

Great point.

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Suba August 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm

A lot of the item that can be stocked (from my limited couponing experience) is processed food. I understand stocking up toilet paper, but the people I see on TV, they all have 100 pasta boxes, 500 candy bars… They might be donating them (I really hope they do) even then it is too much junk to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

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Kris August 15, 2011 at 9:22 pm

You are right Suba. The items have to be processed, or they would spoil pretty darn quick. I know this couple had a lot of garbage like ‘Reeses Puffs’ and such, which is pretty much just empy calories, although it may be fortified.

I think they do donate more than what the show talks about, at least that it what it seems like from the backstories I have read.

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Julie @ The Family CEO August 16, 2011 at 4:48 pm

I’m not a fan of Extreme Couponing, and I haven’t seen this episode, but I’ll play devil’s advocate a little bit.

I don’t think you need an MBA to coupon (that’s ridiculous) but it does help to be organized and strategic in your thinking. I don’t think it’s something that everyone could do at that level. Not because they’re not smart enough, but because they’re not wired in a particular way.

And there’s no way she’s replacing an MBA level full-time income with couponing. Although, maybe she worked part-time before or she’s saying that she saves enough with couponing that they’re able to get by without her former income.

Finally, I get what she’s saying about the vacation. She’s taking the $500 she would have spent on groceries and putting it toward the trip. Normally, I would agree with you that getting something on sale isn’t “making” money, but if it’s something you have to have — like food — and you’re able to reduce the amount you spend, it is a little like making money. And tax free money at that.

I have a feeling (or maybe I’m hoping) that a lot of these people donate their excess to charity. The show doesn’t highlight that though, because they’re appealing to the sensational stuff – the excess, the hoarding. Shame on them for that. It’s why I didn’t watch past the first couple of episodes.

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Kris August 16, 2011 at 10:41 pm

I agree Julie, they do need to focus more on how the food also goes to food banks. When I wrote this post, I looked up the couple and they do have their own website. Apparently a lot of their food feeds relative and is donated. The show needs to highlight that.

Regarding the money for vacation, I don’t see how it can go to savings. If she has been extreme couponing for years, there is no way she should be budgeting $150 a week for just two people for grocery shopping. Plus, they have to spend more than what is shown in this episode because milk, fruit, and vegetables don’t last a month.

It does appear they can get by on her husband’s salary now, but it seemed like she did have a full time job (although it wasn’t specified).

Thanks for the in-depth comment!

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gharkness August 20, 2011 at 6:30 am

Your number one point is so obvious that it’s almost laughable that anyone (espeically with an MBA) would miss it. Which leads me to wonder: is she selling these groceries that she got mostly for free for, say, half off? I have no way of knowing whether she is or not (so this certainly isn’t an accusation), but it’s the first thing that came to mind, and packaged foods at a low price attract buyers!

Even if she donates some of the excess, apparently that would still leave plenty to sell. Just a thought.

I got here via the KC award. Interesting blog! 🙂

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Kris August 20, 2011 at 9:22 am

I didnt even think about the option of reselling the groceries.

It really seemed like this becomes an addiction for many. I guess that is better than gambling or drinking, but some of the justifying seems almost delusional.

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First Gen American August 23, 2011 at 10:36 am

I know someone who’s always telling me how much money they are saving. They definitely fit into the shopaholic category and have multiple versions of the same thing (like 2 breadmakers for instance). I always bite my tongue because I immediately think that not shopping at all would be a much bigger part of savings.

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