Confused Coupon Philosophy

I’ve been trying to pin down my coupon philosophy in light of Extreme Couponing, a new show on TLC.  We don’t have cable, so I’ll miss out on seeing this show regularly, but the clips that I’ve watched online are definitely eye-opening.  The amazing part to watch is when these shoppers check out at the grocery store, using coupons and shopper cards to get up to 90% off (yes, that math is right).

Here’s the premise: Folks who get an adrenaline rush off of saving money buy dozens of Sunday papers for the coupon inserts and proceed to wipe out a grocery store’s supply of cleaning products, Gatorade, toilet paper, pasta, etc. — all from strategically compounding coupons to essentially create money and shut down cash registers.  Then they stock (what I would call) fallout shelters in their homes, storing up gross amounts of stuff “just in case.”  One clip indicated that one of the featured shoppers had enough supplies to sustain his family for sixty years.  Wouldn’t that be the time to stop shopping, then?  No way, says the shopper; this is his high.

Instead of strategically compounding coupons, maybe I should use the word sneakily; the grocery stores eventually catch the discrepancy and bar future shoppers from using the money-making coupons.

I am not very good at clipping coupons.  I am a regular at CouponMom.com, but the tagline “Cut Your Grocery Bill In Half” certainly doesn’t apply to me — the printing and clipping just makes me feel industrious.  I enjoy getting the store coupons from using my HEB shopper card, but I mostly just like to look at them.  Last night, I sorted through my own stash of coupons, finally realizing that none of them would ever see the check-out.   My coupon apathy is not because I don’t want to save money; I just don’t have the time to commit to all of the research involved.

One woman on the show explains how she spends six hours in the grocery store the day before a big haul, cataloging all of the in-store deals so that she can go home and find more coupons to match.  In theory, that’s not a bad idea.  We might save a lot if one of us did a perusal trip, planning our menu only around what’s on sale — we could even do that with the HEB weeklies we get in the mail (and usually throw away automatically).  The thing is, we already only buy store brand groceries; are there really that many deals beyond that?

Which leads me to another point BJ and I talked about when couponing came up:  What’s the purpose of coupons in the first place? They are sales promotions, of course.  They aren’t trying to help you save money; instead, they’re trying to direct you toward buying particular products.  If you buy everything with a coupon, then the corporations are the ones making your shopping list.  That feels a little funny, but I think it’s true.  The first time I tried coupons (after maybe two months of marriage), I collected all of these coupons for the trip, but our bill didn’t change a bit.  The reason was that in order for the coupons to apply, I had to buy brand name products: products that, even with the coupon, were still more expensive than the store brands.  How frustrating!  I think BJ even commented on how morose I looked walking to the car that day.

There’s a threshold of effort with couponing where I believe it makes a difference, but we’re not at a place where we can commit to crossing that threshold — yet.

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