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6 reasons to ignore extreme couponing

Maybe you get the product for free, but it comes with other costs.

By Stacy Johnson Aug 3, 2011 8:51AM

This post comes from Jason Steele at partner site Money Talks News.

The height of frugality? Perhaps it's 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):

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.

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. Post continues after video.

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.

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."

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.

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.

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Aug 8, 2011 6:19PM
My sentiments, after reading the above article, is that the author obviously has not ever couponed and probably  has no need financially to coupon.  I personally think there are many more topics out there to put  down and/or criticize than couponing!  Yes, in order to truly save, it does take organization and time devoted to it.  However, for some people, the means justifies the end.  For example, my roomate has 4 boys - a 3 yr old, twin 9 yr olds, and an 11 yr old.  I have an 11 year old son.  So between us we have 7 in our household, we are both single moms, and for us, and many others out there ike us especially in our dreadful economy and in face of continually rising grocery prices, a penny saved is a penny earned...or in the case with our couponinig - dollars saved are dollars earned, therefore allowing us to buy many more groceries for our children for much less the cost.  Could I do better things with the 6+ hours a week that I spend on my couponing? Yes.  But then so could everyone find better things to do wtih their time on any given subject matter...for instance going to the gym....however, going to the gym provides to that person their personal rewards and benefits, as does couponing for thoses of us who coupon.  So I simply say, don't knock it til you try it and even though you may not be feeling the crunch of today's economy or have 7 mouths to feed, plus rent, plut utilities, plus car notes, plus insurance, plus bank notes, plus clothing, shoes, school supplies, pets, etc....but don't be knocking something that has the potential and does save thousands of dollars each year!  For me, it is a WONDERFUL feeling when I can sit there and watch my $650 grocery bill be diminished to only $200 after in store sales, in store coupons and yes, all of those coupons I spend 6+ hours a week clipping and organizing along with my store lists!!  That frees up $450 every two weeks to go toward and for us and our children for other things that are needed, or allows us to go do fun things, quality things with our children, or just simply allows us to have breathing room financially and not feel as bad the terrible crunch that todays economy has put on so many middle income, or less, families!!  Even if its something you may not choose to do, or need to do for that matter, don't be writing such articles making it sound like a waste of good time or make it sound useless or even bad to do.  Be grateful that you yourself obviously does not need to coupon...but keep in mind that things in your life could possible change in the future and you may very well find yourself having to coupon. 
Aug 8, 2011 6:35PM
oh, and as far as anyone being behind someone with a huge binder who is giving the cashier tons of coupons so that they can save money for their don't have to stay behind that person.  Simply just go to another register rather than stay behind that person, then complain for days on end about it!  Like I stated in my other post, some people have no need financially to coupon and that's well and good - but more people than not have been affected by our economy especially in recent years....and if this is one way that they can truly save money, especially with rising food cost, then more power to them.  I wish we were either wealthier so as feeding  7 people - 5 of which are growing boys - didn't hit our wallets so bad or poorer so that we could qualify for food stamps like so many people are on today...but like so many, we are in that in between bracket - the middle income folks and we have a large family.  Just remember wh?en you are behind someone using a lot of coupons - you don't know that person's circumstances or how many people that person may be responsible for feeding, so try to be a little patient.  It won't  take forever for the coupons to be applied and then its over and done with.  Couponing has indeed increased as so many families now experience unemployment, losing their homes, downsizing, decrease in wages or income, sickness in the family of one of the bread winners....there are so very many reasons out there for so many people that have had to turn to couponing, so please don't be knocking it or the people who are couponing!  And like I said, if you do get behind someone with one of those big binders or that is otherwise going to be using a lot of coupons....just go to another register - that's pretty simple isn't it?  And as far as the whole frugality/saving money comment that Ms Johnson so callously made - duh - these people ARE saving money by couponing, and the fact of the matter is that it is THEIR choice and THEIR right to do so without the needs of being criticized for it by this Ms Johnson.  Live and let live.  Of course, there are some people out there, obviously, who are going to complain and criticize about any given thing because it is their nature, and they obviously do not have the insight to see or understand that this does indeed save people money in a time where the economy is at its worst and prices are soaring!  Attack the companies that are constantly raising the cost of food and living, not the people who are just trying to survive and better feed their children!!  If you don't choose to coupon, that's you.  But don't knock the people who do!  My goodness, it is ONLY couponing!!!  Not robbing a bank or something!! lol
Aug 8, 2011 6:42PM
I've seen the TV show and can't help but think of the dog in the manger story, especially the mustard buyer.  She bought every bottle on the shelf.  Imagine the poor single mom coming along behind her, thinking, "My kids love mustard and I can finally afford it with this here coupon."  Picture her disappointed expression.  I grew up in a big family and was taught to never take more than my fair share.
Aug 9, 2011 12:15AM
Couponing to save money is one thing.....I use my fair share of coupons, clearing the shelves is something different. Couponers that clear shelves so no one can get the deals are the ones that get me. Oh and the ones that call corp and complain just because a store limits their items....Store policy is store policy...getting 2 items instead of 20 is no reason to call corporate and try to effect someone elses livelihood.
Aug 8, 2011 6:45PM
I agree with this article. I tried couponing and I found that most food coupons were for items that I would never eat and would definitely never feed my child. The useful coupons were for personal items like deodorant and cleaning items like detergent. The time spent trying to get the 'extreme' deals was hours per week. I work more than full time as I am active duty military and a single parent, so this was way to much of time to devote to saving a few dollars. It was definitely not worth it. I look for sales, shop at the stores with the best consistent low prices, and I eat the food that I want to eat, not the packaged, processed goods that can be gotten by coupons. I like my style much better and so does my daughter, and that is the best option for my family.
Aug 3, 2011 12:52PM
I share the sentiments but there was one thing missing:  I can sure use the discount or freebie but I do like for the people I do business with to make a fair profit.  Getting something for nothing means someone else got nothing for something.  We do what we can to make ends meet but Ayn Rand was not right.  Greed is not good.
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