A few years ago, humble and ubiquitous coupons exploded in pop culture with TLC’s hit reality show “Extreme Couponing.” The show depicted the habits of America’s most savvy couponers, who clipped and saved thousands of coupons to buy hundreds of items for mere cents.
It seems like trickery or witchcraft — and indeed, some elements of the show do rely on the magic of television — but for the most part, these dedicated couponers are using straightforward math to compile the necessary savings for incomparable deals.
Anyone can become a professional couponer and work toward a truckload of groceries for pennies on the dollar, but first, one must understand how exactly this level of couponing works. Read on for more information on the ins and outs of professional couponing.
The Myths of “Extreme Couponing”
The subjects of TLC’s hit reality series did much to popularize the coupon craze. Many viewers were inspired by the truckloads of groceries for chump change, and they attempted to complete their own extreme couponing feat. However, many were dismayed when they couldn’t come close the success depicted on TV. The fact is that TLC’s cameras did more than merely record the couponers’ experiences.
To take advantage of the publicity offered by the show, many stores provided the starring couponers with special sales, including one-time-only coupons that would help lower the final cost. Additionally, the series usually shows happy and encouraging cashiers and floor managers, who are eager and willing to help the extreme couponers with their hundreds of items. Some novice couponers who visited the same stores shown on television have been dismayed to find that managers are unwilling to extend the same deals to shoppers without film crews.
Outside of TV-land, most stores have a hard limit as to the number of coupons they will accept for any given item or transaction. Additionally, most stores will be exceedingly displeased with couponers who remove hundreds of items from shelves and expect outrageous discounts. Though the series is produced in a documentary style, viewers should be fully aware that the cameras have as much power to slash prices as coupons do.
As the title of this post suggests, extreme couponing is tantamount to a full-time job considering the massive amounts of time and effort the endeavor takes to pull off. Though clipping a single coupon may not feel strenuous, extreme couponing requires hundreds if not thousands of individual coupons, and clipping all of these from the daily advertisements can take hours. Many professional couponers employ machines to aid in this process — paper cutters are excellent for rows of even coupons — but even aided by technology, couponing is time-intensive work. Worse, coupons usually have a period of validation of about a month, which means enterprising couponers have less than four weeks to compile their discounts and plan their purchases.
Hundreds of loose coupons are easily lost or destroyed, negating the toil of clipping them and preventing an amazing discount at the grocery store. Avid couponers may boast a coupon organizer, but professional couponers require more space and organization than those fold-out slots can provide. Thus, many turn to binders of protective sheets, like many kids use to safeguard baseball card collections.
Recently, couponers have been taking advantage of an alternative to hundreds of paper coupons: the Internet. Online coupon sites provide countless deals and discounts, and many will organize the digital coupons paperlessly on the Web. Plus, searching the myriad coupons online is much easier than spending days flipping through newspaper inserts, as websites offer search bars that can direct couponers directly to the products they need.
Even after an extreme couponer has spent untold hours with scissors in hand, and after she succeeded in securing hundreds of dollars’ worth of groceries, she may encounter yet another obstacle: storage. Usually, professional couponers don’t come home with exactly one of the items they desire; instead, extreme couponing forces shoppers to purchase dozens of the same item, like 96 bottles of ketchup or 42 packages of frozen waffles. All of the goods brought home from a successful extreme couponing feat must be organized and stored safely for later use, and the spatial needs of cartloads of groceries can take up significant portions of a home.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with using a manufacturer’s or store’s coupon to receive a discount on goods, but robbing a store of an entire shelf of stock inconveniences not only the store’s employees but fellow grocery shoppers as well. Additionally, even so-called non-perishable food has a “best by” date, and hoarding foods beyond their expiration while preventing others from partaking of them is not only rude, it is wasteful. Many extreme couponers donate some of their haul to charitable organizations, which is magnanimous, but it might be just as beneficial to use coupons for their intended purpose — for small discounts on small purchases.