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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Extreme Couponing goes too far.

I think extreme couponing is worse than just stealing your food. Seriously. What seems like a great way to save money for one person merely raises the prices for the rest of us.  At least if you steal your food you only take what you need. I hear your rebuttal now, it's "sour grapes and I should clip coupons, too!" I believe that's the extreme couponers way of justifying unethical behavior.

The way extreme couponing works, and I'm sure I'm not explaining it well, is that you buy so many multiples of an item that is both on sale and you have a coupon for, that you end up actually making money, which you then use to purchase the stuff you really need, stuff that doesn't go on sale or have coupons- like milk and fresh produce.  I'm sure there is more nuance than in this explanation, but that's the idea, right? You also split your purchases into multiple transactions to get the largest possible return on all these coupons. Now I'm all for saving a buck and (you can ask my husband), I'm the cheapest person on earth, but I am disgusted and horrified by this trend.

Here's why- if you have to buy 40 boxes of a product you haven't tried and don't know if you family would eat, as one woman did on the last episode I saw, in order to make enough money to buy your veggies, you are wasting that product.  In her case it was couscous. Let's say they didn't like it, now they have 39 more boxes.  Oh sure, they can donate it somewhere, but here's what I bet happens, I bet it sits in their pantry until it expires because they keep thinking they will try it again a different way and maybe it'll be better. And then they donate the expired food or toss it. Meanwhile, those of us who DO like couscous have to pay a higher price on ours because the store just had to pay someone to take home 40 boxes and throw them away. On that same show a family without pets had a coupon for catfood. She put in a request that the store order extra cases of this particular brand, because she need to buy a large number of packages in order to maximize her return. She filled a shopping cart with catfood for the cat she did not own.  Yes, she planned to donate the food to the local shelter (and I am happy for the shelter) but what do you think is going to happen to the price of catfood now that the store had to give away all that? I have a cat (two, actually) and if each of those packages was $7, she easily just took hundreds of dollars of product she didn't need, so she could buy a couple things she did.

I'm sure many of you are reading this and thinking how you'd love to get stuff for free and what kind of idiot (Lisa) would not?? And hey, I love free stuff! Give me a coupon for a free box of catfood and I am all over it.  Send me a coupon for half off my gallon of milk and I will be in line.  But here's the deal- we use both catfood and milk at our house. I already know I enjoy (if you will) both products.  Give me a coupon for an item I've never tasted and I will happily get my one (or two if the coupon is buy one get one free) and try it out. I will not fill my pantry with a food I might not eat for the sake of saving a buck. I would happily take a product for review that I've never tried (in fact, I'll have a software review soon and I have ads here on this very blog) but I won't do it at the expense of everyone else and I won't take an unreasonable amount.

Additionally, have you ever noticed which products have coupons? Sure, sometimes it's toilet paper or Windex, but usually it's pre-packaged processed food- like Hamburger Helper or Pop-Tarts. Yeah, we eat both those things, but we don't have a pantry full of them. In this age of obesity and couch potatoes, do we really need to eat MORE of that stuff? But Lisa, how'm I supposed to afford milk if I don't buy Hamburger Helper? Yeah, I know, times are tight. They are for me too, but it doesn't help if extreme coupon shoppers are making it worse out there.

There are some stores, like Walgreens, who have a system of Register Rewards that often lead to free items as well. For example (and I'm making this example up rather than find a flyer, but this is how it works), you buy 2 of a certain makeup brand and you get a coupon for $5 off your next purchase. Your next trip you find an item that also offers rewards and use your $5 coupon to get another reward coupon. The trick is, the rewards expire very quickly and you have to keep buying stuff to keep it up. Miss a week and you start over. You can certainly game this to maximize your return (sorry to repeat that phrase, but I'm so sick of hearing it) but here's how it's different to me- it's a system created BY Walgreens, for use AT Walgreens. You can't walk into any store with your Walgreens Register Rewards and spend them. And I've yet to hear of anyone buying three shopping carts worth of crap they don't need to get a free bag of apples.

This has also changed the way people behave when shopping for other items. It doesn't hurt to ask for a discount, no, but if the store refuses, or doesn't give you the item for less than cost, don't take it out on the store.  Give away too much for too little and you'll soon discover that your town no longer has an Ace Hardware or a Small-Town furniture store or an Independent Bookstore. You'll be buying all your food at Wal-mart because the local Grocery Mart can't compete. You won't have a bookstore or a fabric store. If you ask for more than they can give and then refuse to shop there when they can't give more, don't be surprised when it's gone. I just read that north Texas Kroger stores will no long double coupons, because they are losing money. One of my local grocery stores (not a chain) has large signs in the window that they will no longer accept any coupons printed off the internet, because of fraud. We continually hear cries of "buy local" and "buy independent" but at the same time those stores are going out of business because they are forced to compete in ways they can't. No profit= no stores.

To be clear, I don't have a problem with coupons. I don't have a problem with saving money or getting a good deal.  If you can buy all your groceries and save more than you spend I'm happy for you- if they are the groceries you'd have bought anyway.  If you find a great Groupon and get free ice cream cones for life, more power to ya. If you are a pro at spotting the free nugget day at Chik-Fil-A or the free scoop day at TCBY or whatever, that's awesome, I wish I had that ability.  My issue lies with buying bulk quantities of stuff you don't need in order to get the things that are really on your list. Or buying your 38th package of toilet paper because you needed some eggs. These are the things that drive up prices for everyone.

And don't even get me started on how I feel about getting caught in line behind someone who believes themself to be an extreme couponer...

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  1. I am right with you on this, Lisa. My second cousin is an extreme couponer and it is just ludicrous. I wonder if this type of thing is just another aspect to hoarding behavior. I find it wasteful...and a little sick. Like you, I use coupons from time to time...but I cannot see buying up dozens of product I don't even use to get something else I really want. I can see that ultimately, the stores will find a way to stop this - it seems like such a fraud for what the coupons are really meant to do which is to help people save a little on items they normally buy. Well written article. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Posting another comment because I forgot to follow the comments...

  3. I love this post. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts - I never want to be frugal at someone's expense.

  4. Amen.

    Owning or managing a (retail or otherwise) business really makes one more aware of the actual costs involved, doesn't it?

  5. PS: Sort of random but maybe helpful. Our local small town grocery store offers a discount if you purchase a case of something. (They have a big case sale about every six months, but the option is available on everything all the time.)

    The discount is anywhere from 10 to 50 percent! And, the best part is that the store owners actually encourage it, because it boosts their purchases from their suppliers. (I used to buy disposable diapers this way. Huge discount - cheaper than on sale at the discount stores. The business still purchases toilet paper this way.)

    The tricks are:
    - you need dry, pest-free, climate-controlled storage space,
    - buy only those items which you know you will use before the expiration date (remember most canned goods will keep well past this date),
    - and don't purchase a case of foods (like crackers or Bisquick) that quickly go stale.

    Another hint is to find someone to split the cases with you. (Get the money up front!)

  6. I completely agree with what you've said. Most of what's shown on that show is absurd and much of it is set up strictly for the show. There have been many complaints regarding coupon fraud by the shopper and stores actually changing their policy just to be on the show.
    I do coupon and have found it gave us a lot more breathing room in our budget. I have a large family and 1 income so we need all the breathing room we can get. I do buy things in quanity but never more than we can use before it expires. I've been really frustrated with the show because it's shown people some really horrible habits and made it seem like it's okay to do that. Many of the regular couponers at most of the respectable matchup sites are extremely frustrated with the bad name that show is giving us. I follow the rules set up by the store and the manufacturer religously and always am considerate of my fellow shopper (i.e. no shelf clearing!). I believe that most people are like me but the bad few have been the ones given attention and are now acting as an example to others.

  7. I haven't watched the show, but it sounds annoying as hell. but surely this isn't a widespread trend. Who has the time?

  8. Honestly, I have no idea what this even means. I guess I haven't heard of extreme couponing and don't understand how buying tons of one product can actually make you money? I'm not a coupon clipper--I generally find it's not worth my time for the little money I would save. I do wait for coupons to places like Buy Buy Baby or Babies R Us and if Target is doing a special where I buy two of something to get a $5 gift card and I would normally buy the item anyway, then I do. I find that coupons can actually lead you to buying products that you wouldn't normally buy anyway. For example, go a coupon for 50% off a book at Borders. If I didn't have the coupon I wouldn't buy the book, but because I have the coupon, I feel compelled to use it to save money. Does that make sense?

    Knew about Kroger though.

  9. I'm so glad you posted this! I am definitely a coupon clipper and I spend time each week matching up coupons to sales to get the best deals. It definitely saves us money on our grocery bills (along with other things)and as long as I have the time to do it, why not, right? We stock up on things that we use and have a "dry pantry" that keeps extra paper goods/pastas/canned goods/etc. That being said, I think extreme couponing is a completely selfish and greedy act. Buying only what your family uses is incredibly important, not only for keeping prices from rising, but for all the reasons you said. People may say they have the good intentions to donate their extras, but most of the time they don't and the items get wasted. And wasting food is one of my biggest pet peeves.

    Great post, Lisa!

  10. I also don't understand why getting 50 boxes of Pasta Roni or Hamburger Helper gives people such a high. Sure, families eat it, but it's not like it's EXCITING food!

  11. I concur heartily, although I would extrapolate your thesis to include all couponing, regardless of frequency or volume. Besides being a tad tacky and declasse, one supposes if the "extreme" version has built-in opportunity costs, then so must the mechanism, as a model, as a whole.

  12. I found this post really interesting Lisa! I love the idea of getting more bang for my buck but not like this. I would rather use a coupon for something I need than buy tons of stuff that I don't need. Except I never seem to be organized enough to even remember to use coupons unless I find them at the store while I am shopping :)


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