On April 6th, 2011 a weekly series is going to start airing on the TLC network called Extreme Couponing and this has me a bit worried. The pilot episode aired back in December of last year and created quite a buzz in the couponing communities. Many viewers of the show became interested in couponing and how to save so much money on their groceries. The problem is that the show Extreme Couponing portrayed some of the coupon shoppers in a bad light. To be honest, the show portrayed some of these people as crazy, obsessive hoarders who have let their coupon shopping and stockpiling habits take over their lives.
Now I don’t know these people personally, and I cannot speak if they have a problem or not. I do know that the media can have a way of editing a bit to take whatever spin the show wants. This is “Reality TV”, and with most reality TV they want a sensationalized angle on it. The owners of Hotcouponworld were asked last year to be on the show as well, and we turned it down because we had the foresight to see that the show wanted to portray extremeness and we just are not that extreme when it comes to couponing. We instead prefer to call it “Hardcore Couponing” not “Extreme Couponing”.
So what is the difference between Extreme Couponing and Hardcore Couponing?
Time Spent Couponing
Time is money. The average member here at HotCouponWorld spends 14 hours a week couponing. This time encompasses shopping trips, clipping and filing coupons, and planning shopping trips. Of course being an average number means that some people spend more time and some people spend less. When you are new to using coupons you will probably spend more time at it because there is a learning curve as you acquire the skills needed. Some of the couponers featured on the show Extreme Couponing spent an awful lot of time on what is supposed to be fun, money saving hobby. Balance is important.
Hardcore couponers instead know that while there is some time and work involved in couponing, that it should not be an all encompassing thing. Our spouses, children, work, houses, friends, other hobbies and activities deserve our time; in fact they require our time to maintain a healthy mindset and outlook. Spending 40 hours a week or more on couponing is no longer a hobby but a job and unless you treat it like a job other relationships and priorities can fall by the wayside. Life before coupons is my own personal philosophy.
Hoarding or Stockpiling?
Last week I was out to coffee with a friend who knows that I am a “Coupon Queen” and she wanted to learn more about how to save money with coupons. But the first thing out of her mouth was “I want to learn how to coupon without being a hoarder”. And too often, since the Extreme Couponing show aired this has been a common theme. While it is true that part of hardcore couponing is to stockpile there is a different between stockpiling and hoarding.
Stockpiling is when you purchase extra items that you family needs and will use within a reasonable time frame. These are items that you have purchased at a lower price point so that you don’t run out and have to go buy the items that you need and are forced to pay full price. Your stockpile is reasonable for the size and needs of your immediate household and is based on the storage space you have in your home. This is going to vary greatly from household to household. If you are a small family of just two, then your stockpile should be much smaller than the stockpile of a large family of 6.
If you live in a large house with a basement your stockpile may be bigger than someone who lives in a small apartment with little extra storage space. Also the reasons for stockpiling and sales and promotions can be a determining factor is how must to stockpile. Some people stockpile based on their desire to have a 3 month, 6 month, 1 year, 2 year or more stockpile on hand in case of emergency or job loss. Some people have great double coupons and extraordinary sales in their areas so they actually may need to buy fewer items to stockpile because those deals will come along more often. On the other hand those with a stable job and income may decide that they don’t need to stockpile as much. Or if someone lives in an area where the deals are a little harder to come by they may decide to stock up while they can as they are not sure when that deal will come around again.
Hoarding on the other hand is a mental disease where people let what is supposed to be a tool to help you save money take over their lives and homes. If you have stockpile in your home that you cannot use before it expires or goes bad then it is a problem. When your stockpile takes over valuable living space in your home then there may be an issue. There can be a very fine line between hoarding and compulsive shopping and being a smart coupon shopper. If you have a tendency to buy things that you don’t need, want or will use then couponing may not be the right hobby for you.
Couponing is a Hobby not a Job
I have mentioned a few times in this article that couponing is a hobby and I want to reiterate that point again because this is where the line can get blurred for a lot of folks. Most people have a hobby of some sort be that gardening, collecting stamps, painting, ceramics, model trains, or scrapbooking. However one of the fun aspects of couponing and one that makes it different than most hobbies is that this hobby saves you money. Most hobbies are in fact expensive. But like any hobby there are always those people that take it a little too far. My own father for example was a remote control car hobbyist when I was growing up and he took it a little too far at times. Spending more hours on his quarter scale race cars than he did spending quality time with his family, spending $400 for a set of tires for his little race cars and just generally letting it get out of hand. While I love my father, his obsession with his hobby led to resentment with his children because of the money and time spent on it instead of on his family. It was only when my dad’s prize race car that was on display in a local hobby shop store window got stolen did it all come to a clear realization that he had taken his hobby too far. Couponing when done in an extreme way too can come crashing in on you if you let it. Too many hours spent on the computer researching deals (yes I know that goes against what I should say as a site owner of a site that is set up for researching and discussing deals), clipping and organizing coupons, shopping at every grocery store in a 30 mile radius, filling up rooms that could be used for family use it all is too much. A long time ago there was an episode of Wife Swap that featured a couponer who filled her bathtub with toilet paper and paper towels. This was obviously too much, at least in my eyes. Stockpiling paper goods in a bath tub making the tub unusable for what it was designed for, taking a bath or shower, is over the top.
I will say however that some of the coupon shoppers featured on the show Extreme Couponing are website owners or bloggers and they have taken couponing past the hobby point and have made it their job. Keep this in mind when watching the show, that some of these folks have made couponing a full time career so that they can teach others how to coupon. I too spend a lot of time on the computer working, managing a large couponing community, posting deals and checking out what deals others are posting on the site. But I treat it like a job with dedicated work hours. However, I don’t stockpile just for show and to say “Look at how big my stockpile is”. I have a large family of 6 (2 adults and 4 children at home), a young adult child who no longer lives at home but still “shops” at mom’s stockpile and 6 pets. I also live in a house with a large garage so my stockpile is reasonable for the house I live in and my families’ size with one wall of shelving in my garage, two freezers and a closet inside my house for health & beauty products. My stockpile does not take up living space in my house. There are not shelves of pasta in my husband’s “man cave” in the basement!
Following the Coupon Rules
A few weeks ago I wrote an article on Coupon Ethics that spoke on some points about couponing within the rules and guidelines set forth by the stores and manufacturers. And I honestly feel that we as part of a larger couponing community need to be mindful about how our actions affect other couponers. What is shocking to me is that the show Extreme Couponers has featured some coupon shoppers that shopped and went against the stores policies all the while the store personnel cheered them on because they were getting free publicity out of being featured on the show. I have heard some rumors even that future shows are going to show a couponer that decodes coupons (decoding is a no-no, that is when you find out what item the coupon will scan for instead of what the coupon says it is for). I hope that these rumors are untrue because decoding coupons is unethical and wrong and it may guide more couponers into this shady practice. There are so many deals to be had using coupons the right way that there really is no need to coupon unethically like that.
Also I have seen recent changes at some stores nationwide in their coupon policies and I secretly feel that these changes have come about because of the Extreme Couponing show. For example Kroger stores in parts of Texas will be stopping their double coupon and triple coupon promotions starting April 13th, 2011. This is sad news in this grocery market and I wonder if other stores will follow suit. It is important to understand and follow the coupon policies set forth by the grocery store you are shopping at. When stores see an influx of abuse and misuse they change their policies.
Remember that there is a balance one must find with any hobby and couponing is just that, a hobby. Thinking about your household’s needs and finding what works for your family and your time is important. You have the power to create that balance in your life by setting limits on how much time you will spend on this hobby, where and what you will stockpile.