Oh, reality TV. We love you because after a crazy day at work, you make our our own problems seem manageable … at least compared to Real Housewives drama-fests.
But when it comes to the new TLC show Extreme Couponing, we watch the participants with a mixture of interest and—dare we say it—envy.
The new show features coupon clipping professionals who pull off feats like bringing $1,900 of merchandise to the grocery store checkout and paying only $103. That’s a 95% discount!
And they do this normally-frumpy coupon clipping with panache. There’s the sassy and adorable “Double Saving Diva,” twins, who do their grocery store shopping with matching pink and purple sweaters. There’s the “super mom,” who feeds her brood of seven on $160 a month while sporting heels and a pair of size two jeans. And there’s the 24-year-old who paid off her $10,000 credit card bill with the savings.
This isn’t just for grandmas anymore.
But, could this work for a normal person? Ask yourself whether you have:
A Lot of Time
Six hours clipping and sorting, five hours at the checkout counter, and midnight trips to the store … say goodbye to free time.
Instead: Make it a party. Six hours is a bit much, but we loved that the 24-year-old threw a party for 20 of her friends on $26. If there is one time when a few hours of preparation might be worth it, this is it. (It also helps to budget for your party.)
A Lot of Storage
During commercial breaks, TLC runs ads for Hoarders—and the parallels are striking. Hoarders cram their living room, the space under their children’s beds, the garage, and anywhere else they find a spare inch, with stuff. Ditto for Extreme Couponers, except that all their space is devoted to neatly organized, discounted goods.
Instead: Be discerning. These extreme coupon clippers will pick up anything that is on sale. We say, get what you would have bought anyway, just do it for cheaper. Stack the manufacturer and grocery store coupon, send in the mail-in rebate, and top it with a member card discount. And forget about the 26 bottles of Maalox.
Little Concern for Health
Coupons frequently apply to packaged, processed foods rather than fresh produce, and in the long run, that will cost you. One woman did throw a whole armful of yogurt in the cart, but then another bought 150 Butterfingers. Really?
Instead: Seek out the healthy food. Stores like Whole Foods and organic brands like Stonyfield put out coupons every month. Also, if you’re going to stock up, note that January is the best time to look for health food deals, when manufacturers take advantage of Americans’ collective resolution to lose weight.
An Indifference to Waste
One discount chaser has a wall-to-ceiling shelf of 4,000 diapers—and no kids. And the “Coupon King” owns 1,000 tubes of toothpaste. If you have any interest in living sustainably, this just isn’t for you.
Instead: Donate it. The “Coupon King” would have even more if he wasn’t a huge supporter of the troops abroad. If you get really good at the coupon game, we know a few women’s shelters who could actually use a thousand tubes of toothpaste.
To keep track of the thousands of coupons you’d amass, you’d need an organization system that rivals an accounting firm’s. You will test the limits of friendship and marriage as you carefully count out 150 cans of tomatoes. You must enjoy leaning over the cashier’s shoulder as she scans the each and every item from the four shopping carts you brought to the register. And when you get home, you will need the energy to neatly stack a pickup truck’s worth of food.
Instead: Organize. You don’t need to be obsessive, just mildly organized. One coupon clipper kept the deals on her smart phone. Another used a binder with clear sleeves. Whatever the system, make sure you have everything in order before you hit the store, or else you might have a mess on your hands at the cash register.
(While you’re at it, get your house organized with our spring finds for under $10.)