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‘Extreme’ Couponing? What About ‘Balanced’ Couponing?

April 13, 2011 · 29 comments

in Home & Garden, Personal Finance

The new show ‘Extreme Couponing’ on TLC has gotten a lot of attention lately, and I admit, I have watched a few episodes.

Extreme Couponing features individuals that are ‘gifted’ at the art of getting a good deal at the grocery store.  No, not a good deal, but an unbelievable deal.  I saw one shopper have a retail cost of $1800 for her items  at the grocery store, and it was reduced to $103 after sales and coupons.  Many others on the show have had similar success on their shopping trips.  However, not all purchases seem to make any sense.  For example, one woman bought 62 bottles of mustard, and her husband muttered ‘but I don’t even like mustard’.

How much mustard can one family use?

We are a family of 5, and we use maybe 2 bottles of mustard a year.  Not to mention that when I do buy mustard, I always have a coupon and I buy it on sale, so it costs about a nickel.  I have never run out of mustard, and I don’t have to worry about storing 61 bottles of mustard somewhere.

On the other hand, I do stockpile some items.

If  I can buy an item for next to nothing (usually because I have a coupon and it is on sale), I will buy as many of that item as possible, within reason.  Ideally, I only buy as much of that item as we will use until it goes on sale again.  If the item is totally free, I will get as many as possible and donate what I won’t use.  However, I refuse to buy just because I can.  There are a lot of people out there that really need to get their groceries at a low price, and I can’t justify grabbing every last bottle of something when I don’t need it.  Plus, I don’t have unlimited storage space, and if I am not going to use something, it is still a waste of money no matter how cheap it is.

Savvy Shopping, Or Hoarding?

When you see inside the homes of these extreme couponers, you will notice that shower stalls are stuffed floor to ceiling with toilet paper products, kids have toiletries stored under their beds, etc.  Every spare inch of many of these homes are used like a pantry. One family had hundreds of boxes of cereal stored on shelves.  Who can eat that much cereal?  Instead of making room and shelving these items, these people should  keep what can be reasonably eaten before the expiration date, and immediately take the rest to a food bank. 

Many of the shoppers on Extreme Couponing are absolutely obsessed with grocery shopping, and couponing takes up a big part of their lives.  Some people even involve  their friends in their obsession.  I saw one episode of Extreme Couponing where a woman had to call and ask 5 of her friends to come up to the store early on a Saturday morning because she misunderstood the terms of a ‘spend 50 dollars, get 10 dollars back’ deal.  Each friend had to come up to the store and represent a fifty dollar transaction so the couponer could receive the ten dollar rebate.   I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could ask my friends to get out of bed at 7:00 am on the weekend so I could save ten bucks.

Watching these episodes makes me wonder how much money these people could make if they put an equal amount of time, energy and planning into a job or home-based business.  Saving money is great, but when so much effort (and space) is put into such an endeavor, it may not be as worthwhile as it seems.

My Approach To Grocery Shopping

Saving money is great and so is having food on hand.  However, I don’t think saving money has to be a full-time job.  I follow a more balanced approach to grocery shopping, which I developed when I became a stay at home mom.  Since I was not actively earning money, I felt my job was to stretch my husband’s paycheck as far as it could go.   The following are my tips for grocery shopping:

  1. Pay attention to prices.  If you don’t know what an item normally costs, you won’t know a good deal when you see it.
  2. Pay attention to sales cycles.  Learn how often items you usually buy go on sale.
  3. Scour the weekly grocery store ads
  4. Do not assume that an item on display is actually on sale.  Quite often, the items at the end-caps are displayed that way to trick you into thinking they are on sale!
  5. Be willing to shop at more than one store.  For instance, I buy a lot of  health/beauty items at CVS because they have a lot of great deals.   I have saved a ton of money buying many items at CVS instead of at the grocery store.  Again, you gotta know your prices.
  6. Clip coupons, but only for items that you would normally buy.  If a Sunday paper comes out that has a lot of coupons that you would use, go buy a couple extra copies of that paper to get the more coupons.
  7. If possible, do not be brand-loyal.
  8. Look at the per ounce price of items when you shop.  Bigger is not always better.  Also, if you buy a smaller item and use a coupon, it may cost next to nothing.
  9. Combine store sales with coupons.
  10. Stockpile items that are a great deal.  Buy as many of that item as you will use until the next time it normally goes on sale.

As you can see, it takes time to become an expert shopper.  You have to learn prices, figure out which stores offer the best deals on certain items, and more.  However, the tips provided above allow for a balanced approach to grocery shopping.  No, you won’t save 95 percent at the grocery store, but you also won’t have to treat your house like a giant pantry.  Also, your friends will still like you and won’t avoid your phone calls.  🙂

So, do you use coupons?  How much do you usually save at the grocery store?  I have been off my game for a little while now, but ordinarily, I save between 45 and 55 percent.  Even though I am not saving as much as some others, I am still happy with what I am able to bring home from the grocery store for the money.  Also, if you are or know an extreme shopper, I would love to hear about it in the comment section!

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Moneycone April 13, 2011 at 7:40 am

Might work for some I guess! I tend to go overboard – one reason I don’t have a costco membership (I used to) as well! But a very interesting concept (and great entertainment going by the popularity of the show!)

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Kris April 13, 2011 at 4:48 pm

I do enjoy the show. I laugh when they play dramatic music at certain points and such. Like there is anything overly dramatic about grocery shopping?

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Nicole April 13, 2011 at 7:41 am

Donna Freeman has a great post on this topic today. She notes that the woman she interviewed who was also on the show gives away a lot of what she coupons for charity. Maybe a food pantry could use that mustard.

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Kris April 13, 2011 at 4:47 pm

I will have to go check out Donna’s post today. I get the feeling though that many of these people do hoard the food. They are very proud of their stockpiles, and since things are put away so nicely, it seems like the intent is to keep the items as opposed to donating. But, I could be wrong.

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The Biz of Life April 13, 2011 at 8:52 am

Coupons aren’t always the best deal. You still have to be a very disciplined shopper to save bucks. Often time coupons lull people into buying extravagances they wouldn’t normally purchase and can actually increase the grocery bill. On the other hand, if you are an extreme couponder I’m sure you can save some serious bucks, but the casual couponder often ends up paying more.

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Kris April 13, 2011 at 4:46 pm

I agree Biz – coupons are only good if you use them wisely. I will try something new if I have a coupon and can get it real cheap. Other than that, I am not a fan of spending in order to save.

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Jacq April 13, 2011 at 9:28 am

Kris, I used to think that I had food hoarding tendencies. But then I kind of realized that I just LOVE cooking so much and always wanted to have on hand whatever I could throw together without having to go to a store. So I actually NEED quite a variety of food to make that happen. Which reminds me that I need to eat down my freezer again in preparation for summer defrosting and traveling…

Canadians don’t have loads of coupons. Like I mean nothing compared to you guys. And what there is is usually for processed stuff, so I don’t buy it since we eat half assed paleo most of the time.

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Kris April 13, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Jacq- it is always great to have ingredients on hand. I was so mad the other day when I realized I was out of elbow macaroni- that has never happened before!

I buy a lot of non-convenience items with coupons. There seems to be a greater variety of coupons than there used to be!

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First Gen American April 13, 2011 at 9:36 am

Wow…nicole was right. Extreme couponing articles all over the web today. I have a post on extreme couponing, my love of food and obesity today.

My approach to shopping is much like yours. On average I save 20-40% on my grocery bill but I still spend a lot. I almost would rather go without an item than buy something for full price when I know it goes on sale all the time.

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Kris April 13, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Oh I usually go without if something isn’t on sale or I don’t have a coupon. However, that has bitten me in the past. For instance, I could buy one of those big family pouches of tuna and make a dinner with it, at a cost of 3.69. In the end, that is cheaper than eating out. Because of that logic, I have allowed myself to pay full price for some things.

Life is a collection of tradeoffs I suppose.

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Little House April 13, 2011 at 9:57 am

I’ve never understood the extreme shoppers who buy things they normally wouldn’t, or to the extent that the items will expire before they ever get used. I think I am a balanced shopper. I buy most items on sale, and with a coupon when possible (but not always), and I’m willing to shop at a few different stores for the best prices, like Vallarta for meat and produce. The only item I’d say I hoard, but that’s probably not the right word, is toilet paper and paper towels. But I don’t have to stuff them under my bed because I’m running out of room!

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Kris April 13, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Little House – I hoard certain items too, like salsa and paper products. However, I don’t think anything has ever expired. (With a family of 5, you can never have enough paper products. Well, maybe the people on this show do, but ordinarily not…)

You do sound very balanced. You seem to know your prices and where to shop for different items. That goes a long way when it comes to saving.

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Crystal @ BFS April 13, 2011 at 10:08 am

I use 3-6 coupons a month and save $5-$10. Our biggest savings lately is that we find great deals on Smart Ones and Lean Cuisines for lunch and buy our proteins and frozen veggies for dinner in bulk from Sam’s Club. We are very brand loyal to certain items, so coupons do come in handy on those. 🙂

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Kris April 13, 2011 at 4:40 pm

BFS- you are saving a ton just by taking your own lunches!

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Money Reasons April 13, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I think if they enjoy the extreme couponing as a hobby, kudos to them, as long as they do as Nicole (and my wife) think and give the excess food and merchandise to charity.

I like your approach much better though. A balanced approach is the best approach 🙂

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Kris April 13, 2011 at 4:40 pm

It is great if items are given to charity. It is just shocking to me to see the amount of time people put into couponing, and the depths they go to by involving their friends and such. Believe me, if we hit bad economic times, I would make sure my grocery bill was as low as possible. However, you really don’t need 62 bottles of mustard. For some, it really does seem like a form of hoarding.

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Money Reasons April 13, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Life is too short to put that much time into an activity like extreme couponing. While I find it fascinating for a moment, I don’t think I could ever do it.

It was funny when you said the husband said he doesn’t even like mustard 🙂

I wonder if it’s almost an obsession with those that go to such extremes? Like the principle of Freegans, interesting sure, but count me out…

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Kris April 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm

MR, I totally think it is an obsession. When I first starting trying to maximize my savings, it became a game for me. It was fun and I could see where people could get somewhat carried away, but definitely not like that.

Thanks for reminding me about Freeganism!

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krantcents April 13, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Good ideas! I try to avoid extremes anyway. I would add starting with a list before going shopping. We try to buy household items at Target which has the best prices in our area. We also buy chicken and beef at Costco for the same reason. My wife has also mixed in vegetarian meals to keep the cost down.

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Kris April 13, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Krantcents, you are right, I forgot to mention the importance of making a list!

You should post some good vegetarian recipes on your site!

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Kaycee April 13, 2011 at 9:48 pm

The bigger / better question is what grocery store takes 62 coupons for the same item at one time? @@ 5 is the max here.

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Kris April 13, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Kaycee, that is a really good point. I shop at Kroger and Meijer, and I honestly don’t know if they have a coupon max for a product. I bet those cashiers want to run away way they see the extreme couponer heading to their lane. I also wonder what happens to all those perishable items when they spend hours shopping, hours checking out, and hours putting things away.

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Dave@50plusfinance April 14, 2011 at 12:37 am

I used to coupon quite a bit but it became to much work. Chasing deals became an obsession. It was exhausting. I quit completely. I still use coupons but only rarely and won’t touch one under $1.

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Kris April 15, 2011 at 10:30 am

Dave- it does have to be a balance, that is for sure. It can become a game, which can make shopping more tolerable. However, if it crosses into obsession (like for the people on the show), it may be a little unhealthy.

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Deidre April 14, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Wow…this is what not having a TV will do for you 🙂 I have not been able to watch the Extreme Couponer’s at work 🙂 though I am a bit curious to see how they manage it.

I used to try doing coupons but admit I’m not very good at it. I do better at watching sales and buying discounted items.

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Kris April 15, 2011 at 10:17 am

They manage it by driving their significant other crazy and recruiting their friends to help. Oh, make the kids clip too. You also have to find a resource for tons of coupon circulars. Based on what I have seen on the show, it is as time consuming as a job.

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Edwin @ Cash The Checks April 22, 2011 at 5:02 am

The extent of my stockpiling consists of buying items from sams club. I just hate throwing away expired items more than I love getting a good deal.

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Kris April 24, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Edwin, I hate tossing food too, it breaks my heart. Sometimes I find a stray vegetable or expired yogurt and I get so frustrated. Oh, I actually had to throw out some pasta recently because it expired. I didn’t know pasta could expire, but I am a food nut, so if it is expired, it goes.

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