Anyone watching the latest trend in reality television probably has drooled a little bit after learning people are saving hundreds of dollars on their grocery/shopping bills by clipping a few (thousand) coupons. Some of us might even be envious and consider taking up the couponing lifestyle themselves. Who wouldn’t want to get cartloads of groceries and household cleaners for a few bucks?
Is Extreme Couponing a Waste of Time?
But like much of reality television, there is some lack of actual reality in the programming. The editing room cuts out a lot of things you don’t see to condense the show down to television format.
So let’s take a dose of reality. Here are 6 reasons why extreme couponing may not work for you:
1. You Have a Real Job
It may not be made as apparent on each television show where extreme couponers are featured but if you listen closely, those who are saving hundreds on their shopping bills also spend more time during the week looking for and organizing coupons than most of us work in a week. We are talking about working 40 to 60 hours every week. If you saved a couple of hundred bucks you are still only talking about minimum wage earnings on an hourly basis. In other words, you would be better off working a high paying part-time job!
Clipping and tracking the volume of coupons needed to reap big savings is a full-time job in itself. With as much time as you spend at the office and as little time available to devote to your family, couponing probably will not be high on the list of relaxing ways to spend a weekend.
2. You Probably Don’t Even Like the Products
Consumers don’t tend to use coupons for things they don’t eat or use. For those indulging in extreme couponing, the use of coupons means the products they buy are limited. Not all manufacturers offer coupons so shoppers are forced to limited their selections to save a buck. While some families may be willing to always try new things and forego their loyalty to certain products, most Americans stick with what they like no matter how much extra it costs. Parents of picky kids will also have a heck of a time convincing young ones to try new products every week.
3. Coupons Theoretically Make Us Spend More
Unless a recipe calls for it, you probably don’t always pick up 10 cans of pork and beans at one time. However, most coupons being distributed today have a purchase requirement before the savings can kick in. Sure, you can save a $1.00 but do you really need 8 boxes of powdered sugar at one time?
You would save more money by buying only what you need rather than spending triple or more just to save a dollar. Having a grocery category in your weekly budget is the best way to save. If you always shop and stay within your budgetary guidelines you will do alright.
4. Most Coupons are Not Good for the Waistline
Manufacturers who want to gain profits, especially on new products, will often offer pretty decent coupons to gain consumer interest. Unfortunately for most families, the coupons are for products that are not necessarily the best for our health. Most coupons are for pre-packaged, processed foods which are generally not healthy or remotely near the four basic food group categories.
Instead of shopping strictly by coupon, it makes more sense to shop by a quality diet guidelines to ensure you are eating and spending smart. Some health experts recommend shopping on the perimeter of the grocery store rather than inside the aisles. Why? The perimeter contains your fresh items: fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy. But this is not where you find most coupons. When is the last time you found a “buy 1 get 1 free” coupon for apples? There are other ways to save on groceries without sacrificing quality.
5. You’ll Spend Money to Save Money
The extreme coupon users featured on the various shows make it look easy to access a billion coupons for each shopping trip but the reality is that you’ll probably have to spend a good amount of money to support your coupon habit.
While there are many coupon-related sites online (e.g., Rakuten, etc.), you’ll have to pay for the toner and paper to print them out. You’ll also likely need to pay for several newspapers and do a lot of begging of your friends and family to score more coupons. You also need to consider your storage capabilities for the products you bring home. Shelving, storage area, and extra appliances all cost a lot of money – probably a lot more than you can actually save using coupons. There are coupon cutting services where for a fee you can order a certain set of coupons, but that digs into your “profits” from couponing, too.
6. Extreme Couponing Can Be Wasteful and Unethical
In certain instances, buying in large quantities pays off and is a good thing. But if you buy 10 gallons of baked beans, will you really use all of it before it goes bad? Where do you plan to store three pallets worth of toilet paper? How much of your home is dedicated to housing the items you got at a discounted price? It is easy to mentally justify getting something for free, but if you never use it then you’ve wasted time and energy finding the coupon, buying the item, and throwing the item away.
Additionally, some of the tactics mentioned by extreme couponers border on coupon fraud. Things like changing your IP address so you can print multiples of the same coupon are probably legal, but what about ethics? Is it right to fudge the details every time just to get another item at a discounted price? There are other ways to save on groceries without sacrificing your ethics.
We would love to hear from dedicated, hardcore couponers out there. How much time do you dedicate to couponing each week, and how much do you save on average? Leave a comment — we’re dying to know!
Tisha Tolar is a co-owner of Trifecta Strategies, LLC and the author of Gen X. When she is not busy being a fiction writer, she writes personal finance articles for several web sites, including Moolanomy.com.
I have just gotten into couponing and although I do not consider myself an extreme couponer by anymeans I do think it saves my family a great deal of money. I average between 30 and 50% when I go to the grocery store and I also include health and beauty items in those purchases. People make the assumption that coupons are not included for healthy foods. This is a poor assumption. I recently received a coupon for cereal, the coupon gave me a choice which cereal I wanted. I could have gotten the sugarloaded cereal but I opted for a… Read more »
It is what it is.. Couponing is a part time job, I know cause I have lived it. Lets go back YEARS.. I did this, not to that EXTREME.. but I did have a lot of toothpaste, cereal etc. I also was able to GIVE a ton! In Arizona the stores LIMIT the amount of coupons they will double for the same product. so 3 like coupons for 3 like products, so buying in EXTREME amounts takes many trips to the store. After years of couponing I quit doing it, as of late started it up again. I would never… Read more »
@Stacie – My job as a writer is to express different view points to my readers. The point of this piece was to show essentially that the reality of ‘reality’ tv shows like the extreme couponers is not necessarily going to work for everyone. Certainly coupons do save you money – that is what they are made for but they are also created by manufacturers to help market their products. For those who want to put the time in, coupons can really make a difference in a family budget. I am not denying that. I can easily write a lengthy… Read more »
I love the angle of your piece – forcing people to look at the un-reality of these reality shows. One other thing that should be noted is the exception that most stores who participated in Extreme Couponing made for promotional purposes. ALL stores have a coupon policy in place that was basically eliminated when these extreme hoarders, sorry, extreme couponers, promoted their stories. As a strategic couponer, I find that I save most on my health and beauty products (I can’t tell you the last time I paid for toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner or razors), allowing me to spend some of… Read more »
@Stacie: You are definitely allowed to voice your own opinion. I agree wholeheartedly with this article, primarily because I tried couponing for a while. I bought the papers, I followed the blogs, I clipped, clipped, clipped, and it wasn’t cost effective. I would say less than 5% of all the coupons I’ve ever seen are for fresh fruit. I have seen some where if you buy X item you get a discount on Y item (like cereal and milk), but that is usually something on a sticky pad in the cereal aisle or attached to the box… not something out… Read more »
I find couponing a real challenge for us since we donèt use boxed products. I also work full time and couldnt afford 35 hours a week to find deals.
Strategic couponing is super easy and to be honest all couponing is easy these days. I subscribe to a blogger that blogs deals for my local stores, safeway fry’s cvs walgreens etc. She tells me what’s on sale and what coupons will match the sale. When she lists the coupons she tells me exactly which circular they came in and what date it was put in the paper. I promise I don’t spend much time on couponing. It has changed drastically over the years. I used to save more by buying just store brands and now I save more with… Read more »
If you eat minimal processed foods, don’t eat meat, and don’t eat dairy, couponing doesn’t do much, whether you’re shopping at Safeway or Trader Joes. I don’t consider “healthy” cereal to be healthy food – it’s just less unhealthy than sugary cereal ( though if you read labels, you might be surprised at sugar contents).
I have seen produce on sale occasionally, but not enough to cut my grocery bill in half on a regular basis.
We’ll use coupons if we have them, but I don’t seek them out because it’s generally not worth the time.
@Heather: We do eat a lot of meat and dairy, but the coupons aren’t frequent enough to really make a dent.
Well, I just started couponing a couple of months ago. I drove 40 minutes to krogers in a small town as I was shopping knowing this stoere doubles 1.00 I was treated badly like THE PRICES WERE HIGHER and Iwould not go there again.
I think couponing is a great way to save money for some people, however it is definitly not realistic for all people. I live in a very rural community in utah, and not a single grocery store will double coupons, combine coupons, etc. The only store around here that does anything to help couponers is walgreens but the prices are marked up so much because of the small store size and options that you don’t really end up saving any money. I wish that I could save as much money on food as people say they do with coupons but… Read more »