Yesterday, members from this site and other online couponing communities were featured in a front-page article of the Wall Street Journal entitled “Hard Times Turns Coupon Clipping into the Newest Extreme Sport”.
Instantly, people on Twitter were tweeting about it, and bloggers were likening people with stockpiles to hoarders. Sadly, the article and the subsequent video that went with it, went for the “extreme” shock value of what stockpiling is all about. The video commentary that went with the story was quite offensive – calling extreme couponers “crazy and insane”. It wasn’t what I’d expected when I was interviewed for the story. My personal take on stockpiling is about the economic value of having a pantry. That wasn’t evident anywhere in the story.
So, I’m going to give you the other side of the story. The one the Wall Street Journal missed out on, and the side that makes the point that stockpiling, extreme couponing, whatever you’d like to call it, is purely about economics.
Stockpile theory is a very simple premise…
First, make a list of the most important food items in your diet. Also make a list of non-perishable household items your family uses on a regular basis. If you have pets, include items for their care as well.
Then look at the average weekly consumption of any given item. How much cereal do you eat in a week? How many times do you cook pasta, feed the dog, wash your hair, brush your teeth?
When you find the average weekly consumption for your list of items, multiply that amount by 52 weeks in a year. That’s the amount of “inventory” your family should reasonably consume during the entire year. However, one should also consider the value of non-perishable items. If the sale price is right, or the item is free, then it’s not unreasonable to stock up on more than a year’s supply of light bulbs, toilet paper, toothbrushes, or shampoo.
Then, look at the shelf life of a given item. In the Wall Street Journal article, I was quoted as buying “50 jars of peanut butter” and some people commenting thought that was excessive. However, peanut butter has an 18-month shelf life and I use one jar per week. So a 50-jar purchase made all in the same week at the lowest seasonal price is not unreasonable. In fact, the savings on that one item was over $150 for the course of the entire year. If my family’s consumption is one jar per week, rather than making 50 trips to the store to pay full price each visit, one trip to the store to buy what I need at rock bottom prices is much more economical.
Some items don’t have that kind of shelf life, and subsequently, they run on shorter cycles. Steep discounts on oatmeal and granola bars happen twice a year, and the sales tie in quite nicely with the 6-month shelf lives on those products. So understanding the simple principle of “First In, First Out” is helpful for maintaining a stockpile of perishable goods.
Foods that are still within the expiration but have a chance of not being consumed should get donated to a local agency that accepts food donations. The great thing is, you can do so and get a charitable tax deduction for the donation. For some, the value of the tax deduction of the donated goods offsets the cash outlay for the goods purchased for personal consumption, making the cost of grocery shopping either a break even proposition, or a profitable experience.
In the peanut butter example, that $150 I saved can now go towards stockpiling some other items for future use. Stockpiling isn’t about over-consumption – we consume our pantry items at a regular rate of consumption. My family rarely consumes more than one jar of peanut butter a week. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean my children are gorging themselves on peanut butter.
I liken the savings in my household to the retained earnings of a business. Stockpile savings is like profit after business activities. It’s net after-tax dollars that can be either taken as a draw for fun things (like family vacations and piano lessons for the kiddos) or it can be reinvested into the personal finances of your family – ie, fully funding a 401K, paying down debt, buying a first home, going back to school – things that create economic value and build wealth for your family.
A good business manager is rewarded for cutting costs, managing inventories effectively, and creating wealth for the company. We don’t call him crazy or insane. Instead, he’s given more stock options, raises, and promotions. Those of us who fall into the “extreme couponing” category are doing precisely the same thing except the wealth is being created for our personal financial gain. If I put $10,000 into a 401K account, I’d be doing better than most Americans. But if I could put $10,000 in the 401K, and then shaved $10,000 off of my planned purchasing, the dollars I saved couponing could actually do more for me than the money I’ve saved in the 401K because it’s cash dollars I can spend right now and use for other investment vehicles.
Are there people out there that are clinical hoarders? Absolutely! We’ve seen from shows like A&E’s “Hoarders” that an estimated three million Americans suffer from hoarding. Interestingly though, you never see people in those shows clipping coupons as a means of feeding the obsession with accumulation as it relates to the disease.
Could there be people who coupon who do have a hoarding illness? I’m sure there are. But the people you find at sites like this, using social media tools to save thousands of dollars a year – the obsession isn’t in the accumulation of stuff, rather, it’s in the security of having finances and an inventory of goods that will get them through hard times. For some, the economic gain of stockpiling is what’s kept them ahead of the recession.
Interestingly, Hotcouponworld has a disproportionate amount of members and site visitors that are in high-income earning household compared to other sites on the net. The bulk of our members are either working towards or have achieved some level of post-secondary education. That tells me that many “extreme couponers” do so because they have a grasp on what it takes to achieve wealth, and for those who have amassed some level of security, why pay full price and deplete those resources faster than necessary?
Once upon a time in American history, having a supply of food on hand was considered to be a sign of wealth, security, and prosperity. Today, one-tenth of the country is on foodstamps and food insecurity is a sign of the times. People who have used modern day marketing tactics to their advantage to accumulate a stockpile are doing better than the average American. It makes you wonder if our ancestors didn’t have the right of it that the material things in life that mattered most were the ones that covered basic needs.
As I spent some of yesterday responding to commentary on different blogs posts about the article, one thing struck me. One commentator posted that he “prayed the economy would get back to “normal” because of all the extreme couponing happening out there”. My comment back was that for those of us who have been doing this, we’ve been at it long before the economy tanked. For many of our members, having a stockpile is what has kept them in their homes and ahead of their friends and neighbors as they lost jobs and had houses foreclosed upon. But, believe me, we too wish the economy would get back to normal. The there might just be a little more elbow room at the grocery store!
A more interesting article from the Wall Street Journal would have been one that portrayed the economic security of having a 3-month, 6-month, or even 12-month pantry on hand, how it’s keeping people secure, how it’s putting food into the community food system, and how smart shoppers are using it as a low-finance, wealth creation tactic to stay ahead of the recession.