Extreme Couponing – Where Is The Line Between Smart Shopping, And Greed?

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Im sure that you all have heard of this phenomenon by now, either from the TLC show or elsewhere (I admit that I have watched this show, despite my hatred of reality TV).  Some of you may have seen some of these people in action, whilst out on a shopping trip.

First things first, I am not against the practice of using coupons. Coupons are a great way to save money, especially on the necessities (or those items that would otherwise be out of your price range). But in my mind, there is a difference between savings, and going overboard and just being greedy.

When it comes to the show extreme couponing, the photo above is more or less what the average couponers “stockpile” will look like. Some focus more on food (as did the one above), some on other items and necessities (such as toiletries and cleaning products). But all have one thing in common for the most part, that is, having what one may think is WAY more stuff then a family can use.

I am an avid couponer myself. I collect and use coupons whenever I can, my main coupon  sources being 2 widely distributed Canadian coupon flyer’s (Smart Source, Redplum), as well as store apps/loyalty programs, and a digital rebate program called Checkout 51 (one gets “cash back” for purchasing various items that change weekly. After you incur a balance of minimum  $20, you can “cash out” and get a check sent to you. I already got my first one, and used it to pad my savings account).
For maximum savings, I check all my weekly flyers and combine coupons with promos whenever I can.
While the savings is no where near what is apparently “possible” in the US (according to Extreme Couponing), its certainly worth the effort. And I do have a small “stockpile” of toiletries and cleaning and  items that I was able to pick up on the cheap using coupons in the last year or so from a number of retailers.

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Yeah, I am not being compensated for advertising by P & G, SE Johnson or Unilever, so you can guess what I have (as if its hard to guess lol).

Like I said, SMALL stockpile (I have purchased food with coupons, but only a few items. Not worth photographing). But despite the seemingly small amount of cleaning items, they will get me though at least the next few months, if not longer. Not to mention that the supply is usually replenished periodically as I find and take advantage of good offers (and yes, everything is organized according to when I purchased it, and used in that order. It may be a bit obsessive compulsive, but its how I like to keep things organized).

This is my idea of using coupons effectively. When it comes to items such as toiletries, there is no expiration date, so if you can get a good deal, may as well take advantage. In my mind, it never hurts to have a little extra on hand.

But notice I said a LITTLE extra. Which is where I draw the line.

On the show, some of these people have one room dedicated to storing their stockpile, that isn’t bad. But there are others that have their “stockpile” occupying almost every free inch of their homes. Everywhere from in the shower stalls, to under beds,  to taking up space  in children’s bedrooms and closets. What that says to me is not “wow, what a thrifty shopper!”, it more says “What a selfish hoarder!”.

I can understand that one wants to get the best deals when shopping, and now more then ever (in the rough economic times that we live in), its important to pinch every penny we can. But one has to ask themselves, where the line between smart preparation, and just being flat out greedy, is.

One of the things that I have noticed when it comes to the show (extreme couponing), is the shown stockpiles, never seem to be really, “utilized”. Some describe their stockpile room as being like their own personal store, and in most cases, it literally looks that way. It looks like a store that has been fully stocked, but has not seen any customers shopping it.

One thing about my personal “stockpile” is that it is ever changing. I only recently replenished my body washes and deodorants to what is shown (I let myself run out. Something that does not happen often). And my cleaning products used to have 2 bottles of detergent, but they were used up. Its more then most probably have on hand at any one time, but its used.
When I see these huge stockpiles on the show that are perfectly faced and presented, yet seemingly untouched, I ask myself, what am I missing here?

I am told that the stockpile helps keep the shoppers family going, and has helped them save a lot of money on the essentials. Which is great. But why then, do those “stockpiles” often look, untouched? I work at a store, and I know what a partially full (but faced) shelf looks like. So why do I not see that?

And then there is the matter of dust and dirt.
If someone has been extreme couponing  for a long time, and has  products on hand (often uncovered) for very long periods of time, things get dusty after awhile. I see it with my stuff that sits for months at a time. Am I to believe that these people took the time to dust literally every square inch of their stockpile, in anticipation of the shows arrival?

Which leads into my next observation, which is all of the products in these homes looking like they are brand new, as if they were just purchased the day before.
I suppose it would be a tad on the paranoid side to suggest potential meddling at the hand of the network, the retailers (or all of the above), but given some of my observations above, it makes me wonder.

One of my bigger pet peeves about the show and its contestants, is the bulk purchasing of food items, ESPECIALLY perishable items. Though purchasing 300 bags of croûtons or 200 bottles of ketchup does put a bit of a time limit on how long the products can be kept, its the mass purchase of things like cheese and yogurt that gets me.

I know that a good deal can be hard to pass up, believe me. But even though my house consumes quite a bit of yogurt on a weekly basis, there is still no way that we would use up 100, 50, or even 20 tubs/packages in the shelf life that they have. yet some of these people purchase even more then that!

You may be thinking, that not all of these people JUST buy for themselves, and in cases, you are right. Some purchase to help family, friends and maybe even local food banks. But the food bank donors, you really do not see many of them on the show.

While I am not against the concept of saving money, there is a difference between being smart, and just being greedy. And no matter how you rationalize it, most extreme couponers ARE greedy. And this is not just me saying that, I have reasons for coming to that conclusion.

I see many of these extreme couponers averting the greed claim by saying that the items are not just for THEMSELVES, but also for close family members and friends. Those relations close to them are having troubles, so were just doing what we can to help them out.

Fine.

But the fact is, if you are completely clearing store shelves of any one sale product just because you can, I find it hard NOT to conclude greed.Oh yeah, your shopping for more then 1. Well do all the receiving parties REALLY need 20 bottles of soap?
I am reminded of a bit of news last year that came out of Southern Alberta, back when the flood crises was happening. Banff and Canmore (and areas) were totally cut off, nothing could get in or out for 5 days (including store deliveries). At some point, an unfounded fear about the safety of the city of Calgary’s water supply started spreading, and many residents reacted by mass purchasing bottled water.
One news outlet interviewed one of these residents in a big department store, after he had loaded 6 cases of water into his cart. He said that he heard that other stores were beginning to run low, so he purchased enough to support his family and close friends, should it be needed.

Yes, him, his family and a few around him (in HIS social circle) will benefit from his purchasing of the water. To hell with the 2 to 4 (5?)  other families that may have had to go without, because you and those like you were thinking of YOUR inner circles.

And the same goes for these extreme couponers. Clearing the stores shelves may help out you and your family/friends/whoever for awhile, but what about the other 20, 30, 40+ customers that just want 1 or 2?

The argument changes a bit, if a good part of the haul goes to a charity or a food bank. But buying ridiculous amounts for you as well as a small number of those close to you, is NOT a charitable act.

Then there is the affect on the stores themselves.

Watching the show, a lot of the time you will see the store managers watching the transaction with smiles (often clapping with the rest of the customers when the transaction is complete). But I have always wondered what is REALLY going on in their heads. If its genuine gratitude, or just a show put on for the cameras.

Being I was curious, I hit up google, to find another angle to this article (“Does extreme couponing hurt stores?”). I found quite a bit of material, but I had to be careful with it all, because most of it was either released by (or heavily biased towards) the industry itself. But having read though a fair amount of it, some patterns started to emerge.

When it comes to coupons, the 2 main players involved in the transaction are the retailers and the manufacturers. While manufacturers put out most of the coupons we receive, retailers also put them out. But the most important entity that we have to worry about, is the affects to the  retailer.

Theoretically, manufacturer coupons are not a financial liability to retailers, because they are subsidized either fully or partially, upon submission to the manufacturers. Store coupons on the other hand, are out of the stores profits (as are double or triple coupon events).
While having these big sales and doubling or tripling coupon amounts (or both at the same time) is a great way to bring in consumers, it is at a loss. However, the average consumer who may have one or 2 coupons for a few items, do not make much of a dent.
But those that clear the shelves by  taking advantage of many multiples of the same coupon (especially cumulatively, the more consumers that do this), DO have a negative affect on profit margins.

The initial reaction to me pointing this out may be “Who cares?!?! They make enough money anyway!”. I admit, this  is a thought that has passed though my mind before.

However, just like with shrink (theft), the expenses and losses of the retailers are often reflected in the prices of the products sold. Which means (theoretically speaking) that not only will the majority of customers be deprived of purchasing a product by a minority number of customers, but those majority of  customers may also end up paying for the product (in part) in the end anyway.
And the rest of us also suffer, when manufacturers and stores start implementing tougher coupon policies.  While stoping a lot of the  revenue loss associated with the abuse of coupons, it may also throw up unnecessary hurdles for the rest of us. Consider the retailers in the US that are not only tightening policies on coupon usage, but are also discontinuing double or triple coupon days. These policies, while driven by a few, are now affecting all.

I would like to add this bit on to the end, just as a bit of a personal rant.

Quite a few of the contestants on the show, come from religious backgrounds. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with that. But a few have referenced “god” and divine intervention  as being the driving force behind their activities. I have even heard one minister say she likes to preach the “gospel of extreme couponing” (“Jesus saves, so he wants us to save to!”).

To be fair, I may be not remembering the quote correctly, or may be taking it out of context. But in my opinion, anyone that can rationalize or liken the act of extreme couponing (or ANYTHING concerning consumption in general!) with god or Christianity, has clearly not read the bible, or fully absorbed all that it says. The words “Greed” and “Gluttony” speak volumes about the activity of extreme couponing.

I think that it is safe to say that I will never watch the show “Extreme Couponing” again.

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