6 Reasons to Reconsider the Extreme Couponing Craze

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The height of frugality? To legally obtain merchandise for free – something for nothing. This is what drives extreme couponers, who have mastered the art of combining discounts on household products to eliminate some or even all of their cost. And it gets some of them on TV reality shows like TLC’s Extreme Couponing.

But as the Wall Street Journal reported recently, major retailers are now cracking down on this practice. So maybe this is a good time to ask: Was it ever really worth it?

Even when you get a product for free, it still has other costs. Here are six reasons why most people maybe shouldn’t aspire to be extreme coupon collectors (or TLC reality stars)…

1. Value your time

It’s not easy to search for coupons, organize them, and present them at your local retailer in just the right configurations. While there are plenty of stories about people who walked out of the grocery store with $80 of food for $5, they rarely mention the hours it took to plot their purchases.

Tip: Many people can make money with other activities in their spare time. Keep track of how much time you spend on this hobby and decide if it’s actually more worthwhile than other opportunities.

2. Be particular about what you consume

I wouldn’t take home most items sold in the supermarket even if they were given to me. Many are unhealthy or simply not to my family’s taste. But extreme couponers take home cartloads of random goods – I saw one episode of TLC’s show where a woman bought a dozen squeeze bottles of yellow mustard – so I wonder: Do they really want, need, or use this stuff?

Tip: “Free” is just another price point, and price should never be the only factor in your shopping habits.

3. Go for bigger discounts

We have a saying in my family: “Pinch twenties, not pennies.” Are grocery store coupons really the most valuable discounts you can find?

Tip: If you are going to spend your time searching for great deals, set your sights a little higher than 10 cents off a packet of tuna fish. Far more lucrative deals are out there, from “travel hacks” to a myriad of savings on the Money Talks News Deals & Coupon page.

4. Look for non-coupon savings

Grocery store purchases make up a huge portion of a family’s budget, but there are ways to save money without going coupon-crazy. Sometimes, coupons can cost you more – especially when generic products cost less even with the brand-name coupon factored in.

Tip: Focus on the unit cost of each item. For example, each week I find that a different-sized container of the same brand of orange juice has a lower price per ounce. And check out 7 Things You Should Always Buy Generic.

5. Don’t ruin everyone’s day

It must be terrible to find out that the person checking out in front of you has a folder full of coupons and that they intend to present them to the cashier for the next 10 minutes. And it doesn’t seem like fun to always be bickering with store personnel over the maximum discount allowed by the terms of each offer.

Tip: Be aware of anyone in line in front of you who has a huge binder with them. And if you do engage in extreme couponing, be polite and forewarn your fellow shoppers in line.

6. Have fun

Some people like to flip through every page of the Sunday paper and clip coupons – it’s relaxing as well as money-saving. But unless you are one of them, do you really want to spend your time off pursuing this hobby?

Tip: Frugality is important, but unless you’ve taken a vow of poverty, it’s not an end unto itself. Never forget that saving money should be a means to a better life, not just free stuff.

While I admire the ingenuity and dedication of extreme couponers, I question the value of their pursuit. I have yet to be convinced that extreme couponing is how my family should be spending its leisure time.

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Comments & discussion

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  • http://www.facebook.com/julie.vergari Julie Vergari

    I do look for bargains and use coupons but only for things I would buy anyway or things I wanted to try and that I will use.  I don’t just use coupons but buy sale and clearance items and try to combine these baragins which sometimes results in paying nothing or very little, but I also don’t spend too much time on this.  I love paying the lowest price I can for things but am in no way extreme about it.  I am also very aware of what a “good deal” is so just becasue I have a coupon for something doesn’t mean it ends up being the best deal. I compare per (ounce, pound, etc.) prices and generic and store brand vs. “name brand”.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AT7O525YMCZVAWQXKFNMYJFN6E Sheri

    It is because of these people that many stores are now changing their coupon policies, which in turn hurts the “average” consumer who may use  only a few coupons, but it benefits them most because they are getting good discounts on things they already use.  For example, Price Chopper used to double coupons up to and including $1, now they only double up to 99 cents.  Dollar off coupons were my best way of saving a few bucks when I could get them doubled….now it is not worth my effort and have taken my shopping to another store where their regular prices are cheaper to begin with and I use a coupon only infrequently.

  • Anonymous

    I found a fun app on iTunes called Play2Win, that rewards players with free prizes or discount coupons.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DPOAMOUGO4TRDJFIYZGCBZ3K24 maryp32806

    I’m with all the other comments here.  I use coupons regularly…for items that I would buy any way.  Sometimes I stock up on things that we use a lot of IF they are on sale AND I have a coupons for that item – but other than that I don’t have enough storage space to store 12 bottles of squeeze mustard.  The stores in our area stopped doubling coupons years ago – I didn’t know that any store still did.  A few stores will offer BOGOF – but beware of those and check your prices.  Stores will frequently almost double the item price and then office BOGOF – hint – it’s not free when you paid twice as much for the first one.  I only shop at 2 stores, I know my prices, and I save between $5.00 and $10.00 per week on coupons.  I load the savings on to my Starbucks card for my husband and I to enjoy a coffee and a bit of time away from three teenagers – it works for me!

  • http://www.MekhongKurt.com Mekhong Kurt

    This article makes some good points about extreme couponing. I would look at the stuff places like grocery stores send out weekly with their sales that week. There’s usually at least one or two things you’ll perhaps want, and sometimes there are outright great deals. And often no coupon is required.