Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why I'm content spending $2.35 on toothpaste

Ugh, sorry for the wall of text. Blogger hates me today and doesn't give a darn about the spacing I've tried to insert. Last night was the series premier of a new reality TV show, Extreme Couponing (cue Dan leaving the house). I've actually been looking forward to this one. Who wouldn't, when the previews included sound clips such as "that's basically 99% savings." I mean, who doesn't want to save money? There were two episodes on last night, and while I'm not going to recap them, I'll bless you all with my thoughts and some highlights. All of the 4 women whose stories were featured in the two episodes have large areas of their home dedicated to food and product storage. There were blurbs all over Twitter and Facebook about how Extreme Couponing should have been named Hoarders: The Beginning. A couple of the ladies had either a huge basement or pantry for all their goods. But two families had to stock their stashes all over the house. In one, the mother of 7 children (whom she referred to as her litter) had some 1,400 rolls of toilet paper under her 2-year-old's bed, and "he doesn't even know!" Soup was stashed in the kids' playroom. Another mom of six had 75 boxes of cereal in her master bedroom closet, which she called her favorite room in the house. She even said her stock pile was almost as beautiful as her family. Bascially, all these people had amassed enough stuff to keep their families alive in the event of the zombie apocalypse, or for 3 years, whichever comes first. And how can they afford all this, because we know 75 boxes of cereal alone is worth more than many household food budgets? Well, couponing of course. Some of the ladies are able to be stay-at-home moms thanks to their efforts, but couponing is a full time job. They get anywhere from 3 to 12 Sunday papers a week to collect coupons. Then they make massive grocery shopping trips. Everything is organized down to the penny. In many stores, there are policies that necessitate multiple check-outs. One woman had to split her load into eighteen separate transactions to maximize her coupon potential. One couple bought all the same products but checked out separately to double the savings because the store's policy only allowed the doubling of one coupon. For the same reason, another couple had to call 5 friends to come to the store to stand in so they could beat the store's policy. I mean, this is serious effort and planning. All that planning pays off, though. The women featured saved anywhere from 91 to 99% on their groceries. Some were even paid to take stuff out of the store when coupons resulted in a negative balance on some items. They got free toilet paper, vitamins, cereal, and paper towels. Granted, it took some of them two hours just to check out, but it is definitely well worth it when you can say you walked out of the grocery store with $1,900 (OMG) worth of stuff for $103. Yeah, jaw dropping. Now, my issues. First, there's one thing they don't tell you or show you on this show, and it's something I know because I work with some serious couponers. Most of these ladies probably pay a service to keep track of what coupons are resulting in big savings. The taping showed them picking up their papers, circling deals, clipping coupons, and la-de-da-ing off to the store. Not so much. Coupons and deals at the store generally don't coincide. So there are services (or you could do it yourself if you are insane) that keep track of which coupons were issued and when and instruct you on how to organize them. You may have to hold onto them for a month before you can get your best benefit out of them. Some of them will expire. I know people who keep from 2,000 to 3,500 coupons on hand. Then, when the weekly circulars come out, the service alerts you to deals and points you in the direction of the stash where the helpful coupon should be for you to use. It's not as cut and dry as "clip and shop." It takes serious effort and organization, which I don't have. Also, as I mentioned, these ladies are using multiple transactions. I mean, they had spreadsheets of the order that things had to be rung up in order to not miss any savings opportunities. One extra can of corn in a transaction and they'd ::gasp:: pay full price. There's no way in hell I'm going to sort out exactly how to split up orders into 7 or 13 or 18 chunks. I'm just not. I'd personally be embarrassed to ask a cashier to go through all this song and dance. Second, I get that spending less than $10 on a year's supply of stuff for a whole household must be exhilarating, but what are you going to do with it all? I'm not spending my life living among groceries and convincing my kids that cans of soup are appropriate playroom decor. "Hey mom and dad, just pull up a seat on our paper towel chair! They were free!" No. Just, no. Granted, I realize I wouldn't have to hoard as much stuff. But at this point in my life, I just don't find it necessary to have 120,000 sheets of toilet paper on hand at all times. Also, I'm not judging what people feed their families, and I'm the first to admit we eat junk sometimes. But from what I've seen in what they're buying, it's a LOT of processed foods. Boxed cereal, while delicious, isn't what I'd consider the most healthy thing. And they're not buying Kaashi. They're buying Pops and Trix. Sugary stuff. There's also a ton of crackers, sodium-laden soups, hot dogs, etc. I didn't see any fresh produce in any of the carts. I try my hardest to avoid purchases of processed foods. Most of what goes in my cart is fresh meat, veggies, and dairy. I buy Dan crackers here and there, and I keep soup on hand for Crock Pot chicken, but most of what I buy has to be baked, grilled, broiled, roasted, or steamed from it's raw state. Like I said, I'm not saying we always eat the best food, but I don't see the point in saving 95% on processed foods when I try so very hard to make us the freshest meals possible. And I know this could change when we have kids, too. I understand the value in convenient food. Just for now, couponing to fill my shelves with boxes and cans isn't my style. It's definitely all fascinating though. There's a part of me that's jealous of the fact that what they spend on a year's worth of groceries is what I spend on a week's supply of Chobani yogurt (I may be exaggerating). But there's a trade-off, as there is with any choice in life. I'll keep my sanity and pay full price for toothpaste for now. What say you? Did you watch the show? Do you engage in extreme couponing? Non-extreme? Are you content like me to just pay what things cost? How do you save?


JMJE said...

I have been hearing a lot about this show on the Internet today. It sounds pretty crazy. I am a half ass couponer. My co-workers are really in to it so I started trying a little bit. There are websites you can look at that tell you what is on sale for the week and what coupons to use. So some weeks I will look at it and print coupons or take ones I already have and save a lot. I got some free noodles and cheap pasta sauce, etc. And I would never do multiple transactions. But some weeks I'm just like, that is way to much work, I'm just going to the store and buy stuff the way I usually do. Plus I only store food in my kitchen and I don't even have a pantry so no crazy stocking up for me. A lot of the stuff I buy doesn't have coupons that goes with it. But from what I've heard, the people on this show are crazy.

BrownEyedGirlsMom said...

I think excessive couponing is insane. At what point do they stop purchasing stuff and actually eat into their mass quantities? And seriously as if none of that crap goes bad! Plus my dollar per hour is worth more than the time it takes to plan, clip, shop, gas, etc. They need to do a cost benefit analysis to include their time spent to offset the savings.

Shana said...

You are totally right. They are hoarders. And the stuff they buy is junk.

I started clipping coupons when J and I bought the house. I had a huge pantry and decided to stock up on stuff. Then I fell into the habit of buying things because I had a coupon...and then not eating/using those things and throwing them out later. I realized that this was not, in fact, saving me any money.

So I will now sometimes use coupons, when I happen to come across one that for something that I use often or when I get the ones from the grocery store for $1 off my next order. Also...when we moved into the new house we got a ton of coupons for $ off order and take out meals, so I've been using those.

But I'm with you...I'm not going to become an insane couponer any time soon!