Thursday, June 16, 2011

Extreme Couponing.... Extremely Unrealistic!

I live very primitively and do not have cable in my home, so before today I had never seen the TLC show "Extreme Couponing" I actually watched an episode online today and now I see why ever since I have started to coupon myself and teach others how to do it I have heard more than a few times "I want to learn how to buy $2000 worth of groceries for $5"
Well let me go ahead and set you strait.... that ain't happening!!!  Like I said I have only seen the show once, but I have heard several testimonials on what happens when the cameras are turned on.  I can tell you this, couponing can save you plenty of money, you CAN get things free, but if you want to do what they do on TV you need to realize the reality of what you are watching.
Here are just a few things that Extreme Couponing DOESN'T tell you.....
First and foremost, you have to remember that when you go to the grocery store there will NOT be cameras everywhere, they will likely NOT close off the register just for you, you will NOT have a cashier that will be happy to see you coming with a buggy full of multiples of the same item and a handful of coupons, and managers and other store patrons will NOT clap for you when you get your grand total!! 
Secondly, yes you see people take their grand total from hundreds upon hundreds of dollars down to pocket change, but more often than not they have a couple hundred toothbrushes and a dozen each of shampoo, toothpaste and body wash to thank for that.  (I'll explain later)  It is highly unlikely that they are buying the normal things you and I would buy at the grocery store in a normal trip. 
They DON'T tell you that these people they are profiling have spent countless hours compiling, clipping and filing coupons and doing matchups to get the deals they found.  The show is only a half hour and the one I saw profiled 2 different shopping trips so that comes out to 15 minutes per customer; I can promise you that if you wanted to get their results you would spend WAY more time than that preparing!  The show I saw said that the customer spent over two hours in the checkout line alone!  You have to remember that these are people who are on TV and from what I have read on the "couponing blog circuit" some of the stores featured in these episodes will bend the rules for the sake of the cameras so it is unlikely that you could even get those same results.
They also DON'T tell you that these customers find a good deal on one particular item (such as the aforementioned toothbrushes) where they are lucky enough to get those items free, and they acquire hundreds of coupons for that particular item in an effort to impress the cameras.  The higher they can get that total before coupons and the lower they can get it after the coupons the longer their 15 minutes is going to last.  The lady featured on the episode I watched has apparently became a YouTube and Internet star since her episode aired. 
Now again, I have only seen one episode, but based on what others have told me about other episodes and some of the online reviews I have read about the show in general it seems to me like some of the people portrayed could very easily go over next door to "Hoarders" and extend their 15 minutes that way.  The whole point in couponing is to save money.  It defies logic to me if you have a years worth of toilet paper, yet you are still buying toilet paper!  The whole point of a "stockpile" is to purchase a particular item in bulk quantities when you find an outstanding deal on it, so that you will not have to purchase it anymore and you can put the money your would have spent on that item towards something else.  If you stockpile, use your stockpile!  Otherwise it's just taking up space in your house!

So what CAN you expect when you coupon shop?  It really depends on how far you want to take it.  If you want to build a huge stock pile that takes over your house and be a contender for the TLC show you are going to spend at least 30-40 hours a week collecting coupons, cutting coupons, filing coupons, going through grocery store ads, making a list, and getting ready to shop.  I don't know about you but I don't have that kind of time on my hands! 
For me, I have no desire (or room) to keep 100 boxes of cereal in my home!  So my goal is to have about two weeks worth of perishables, and about a months worth of non perishables, and I typically keep about two months or so of toiletries on hand.  I spend about 5 hours a week total on couponing.  That includes cutting coupons, which I normally do on Sunday afternoon (after my nap!) going through the ads and online matchups, and making my list.  I make 2-3 trips to the store a week.  I usually go to the drugstores on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning and the grocery stores on Wednesday.  Every once in a while if I happen to have extra time I'll hit the drug stores a second time to check on items they  may have been out of or to see what kind of clearance deals they may have. 
You can expect to save an average of 40-50% on your everyday grocery budget.  This includes food and toiletries.  The beauty of a stockpile is that when you get a surplus of a particular item you can take a break from buying that item until your stockpile is diminished.  Like I said before it defeats the purpose of a stockpile if you just continue to buy the items.  If you get a great deal on body wash then stock up on it and take the money you would have spent on body wash and put it towards building your stockpile on other items.
You can expect to change the way you make your grocery list and meal menus.  I used to think that if I made a menu for the week and shopped according to that list that I was saving money... WRONG!  Well not entirely, that strategy does help eliminate impulse buying, so it does save you SOME money.  But I have a better way!  Make your shopping list based on the deals you can get that particular week.  Then go home and make your meal menu based on what you have in your pantry/freezer.  For example, I made a shopping trip today and spent $38.56.  This included meat, dairy, snack foods, fresh fruits/vegetables, canned beans, canned biscuits, and baking essentials.  I made my list based on what was on sale AND what I had coupons for.  I then made my menu for the next week based on those items (added to what I had in my pantry already).  So instead of spending my normal $100 per week on groceries, I spent less than half that.

The biggest lesson I can teach you as a beginner is that this is an art that takes time to develop.  You will not go into the grocery store or drugstore on your first trip and save hundreds upon hundreds of dollars (well maybe, but not likely).  The first time my friend Jamie and I went couponing I messed up my CVS transaction so bad I was sure they were gonna bar me from ever coming in there and confusing their cashier again!  I was a nervous wreck when I left that store!  Now when I go in the sweet cashier just smiles and holds out her hand for my envelope full of coupons!  She knows me, and we have built a relationship!
A lot of couponing is trial and error, you will learn what works for you and what doesn't.  You may not be the kind of shopper that wants to do 15 different Walgreens transactions in order to get the best deals on things, or you may be the kind of shopper that is content with only one of the sale items at a time.  That's okay.  We all shop differently and we all have different things that work for us and our families.

I hope I was able to debunk some of the myths set forth by TV shows and help you learn what it means to be a REAL couponer, not an EXTREME couponer.

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