The highs and lows of parenting and real estate.

Super Couponing – Unmasked

Did you watch that new show, Extreme Couponers on TLC last week? The one that should be subtitled: Slightly More Functional Hoarders Whose Families Have Yet to Stage an Intervention? I watched it. I mostly felt compelled to tune in because my husband has apparently been telling his coworkers, “My wife totally does that.” I think it’s cute that he pays enough attention to notice that we have coupons in the house, but not enough to realize we don’t have 1/3 of our living space devoted to a stockpile of free or nearly free items.

So just to set the record straight (especially if you’re one of Jason’s coworkers); extreme couponer, I am not. I do, however, have a small collection of things we use regularly like toothpaste, broth, tuna fish, hair dye, etc. Yes, that’s right, I have 15 boxes of dark brown hair dye of various brands upstairs in my master linen closet. I know what you’re thinking: She dyes her hair? But it looks so natural. I would never imagine that someone would make their hair look like that on purpose. I always just assumed she was born folicularly challenged… Hey. That’s not nice. And all over brown is better than, Hey, do you have dandruff? Oh, no wait, that’s just your embarrassing premature grey problem.

Now that we’re on the same page about my hair color, you’re thinking she’s a wack-a-do who has a two year stash of hair dye squirreled away so when the apocalypse occurs she’ll still have nice brown roots in her fallout shelter underground, aren’t you?

Let me break it down for you:

At the salon I get my hair cut from, a dye job plus a tip = $65. So 15 dye jobs over two years = $975

If I purchased the dye every six weeks or so when I need it (when it’s not likely on sale) = $10/box = $150

Purchased in bulk when hair dye is on special and I have coupons for it = $2.50/box = $37.50 for two years of lovely brown roots.

See there, now you get it. Now you don’t think I’m a wacko; you understand that my hair dye squirreling away leaves me with tons of extra cash for boxed wine and fancy gardening gloves. I’m not going to detail out my home bikini waxing system, but suffice it to say it’s also a financial boon for our family.

I do have a bone to pick with that couponing show (besides the fact that it feeds the OCD nature of people who should really be institutionalized for their own health and safety). It completely over-simplifies the coupon shopping process. It makes it all seem so easy you start to wonder why you’re the only sucker who pays $213 for $213 worth of groceries.

Take for instance, a typical shopping trip as evidenced on the show:

  • Crazy woman in her mid-30s with nothing to live for but her children and family obsessively checks the internet for things she can get for free.
  • Crazy woman dumpster dives and miraculously comes up with unused coupon inserts that are not smeared with moldy Chinese takeout.
  • CW uses a paper cutter and gigantic binder system to catalog her billions of coupons.
  • CW goes to ONE unnamed grocery store with her henpecked and/or inebriated husband in tow.
  • CW dumps fully stocked shelves of mustard and pasta into her cart.
  • CW carefully organizes her purchases on the conveyor belt at the checkout line into several different transactions in order to circumvent the store policy of a maximum number of items purchased at the sale price.
  • Entire store cheers as CW’s total drops from $1273 to 37 cents.
  • Friendly store employees help CW and henpecked husband out to their car with their purchases (AKA: practically stolen merchandise).
  • CW lines up all of her practically free things with labels facing the same direction and lays down to cuddle with the love of her life, The Stockpile.

Now compare it to a typical shopping day at my house:

  • I make a list of all of the meals we will eat for the next week.
  • I make a list of all of the ingredients we will need to purchase to make all of these meals.
  • I ask Jason if there’s anything he needs me to add to the shopping lists. He responds with, “We’re low on toilet paper and paper towels. But I swear to Allah if you buy that cheap single-ply crap again I’m going to go to the grocery store and pick out the most expensive toilet paper I can find and pay retail! Don’t tempt me, Woman!”
  • I add ‘high quality toilet paper’ to my list.
  • I use an online database to cross-reference the stuff we need with what’s on sale and what I have coupons for. I discover the only things super on sale this week are laundry detergent, Rice a Roni (which we already have 43 boxes of) and processed cheese slices (which none of us will eat).
  • I clip my coupons and organize them by the 6 different stores I’ll have to go to get the best prices on everything.
  • I start at Walgreens.
  • As I’m pushing my cart into the door I plan my attack. I need Revlon hair dye, Aussie shampoo and conditioner, Swanson chicken broth and Purex laundry detergent. The Walgreens circular says there is a limit of 3 for the hair dye and detergent, and 4 for the broth (I can apparently buy as much shampoo and condition as I damn well please). I have enough coupons for 6 of the detergent and they’re super cheap, so I really want to maximize my savings there. I also need to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, so I could possibly buy one set at the pharmacy and then the second at the front checkout to avoid having to ask if I can do separate transactions. But then I’ll still look like a weirdo. Is the risk of humiliation worth the potential savings? Um… $1 X 6 + $2.50 X 5… and subtract the… carry the 4… Maybe?
  • I decide to attempt the double set and start off in the food section looking for chicken broth. There are only 5 cans, instead of the 8 I need. Stupid. Moving on to the hair dye and shampoo and condition. Plenty there. Finally over to the laundry detergent aisle where I find an empty shelf. The cheap detergent’s been totally raided already. The humiliation risk has now officially outweighed the savings potential. I remove the extra can of chicken broth and the 3 extra hair dyes and place them on the empty detergent shelf, because the idea of tramping back around the store replacing them correctly when I still have 5 stores to go of this nonsense makes me want to drink the bleach conveniently located next to the detergent.
  • I check out with my meager savings.
  • I decide the cheap laundry detergent is worth a trip to a second Walgreens. Five miles away I find another Walgreens and hit pay dirt in the detergent aisle. I take my 6 detergents to the front checkout lady and ask her if I can do two transactions. She responds, “No, I really can’t do that. I’ll get in big trouble.” I say, “OK, well I’ll put them back and come right back…” and she takes them out of my hands and says (to me and the 3 other women waiting in line behind me), “No, it’s OK, I’ll do it for you. Hey listen, do you watch the news? My son was killed in an altercation at a bar two weeks ago. I found out when I was watching Young and the Restless and I saw him on the news…” I say, “I’m so sorry,” and sneak out awkwardly while the women behind me hug her.
  • Next stop is CVS. At CVS I’m only getting contact solution. The awesome deal here involves ‘extra bucks’, which are coupons for money that can be used toward anything in the store on your next trip. With my coupon and the extra bucks on this item, it will be totally free. But that’s only if I remember to come back in the next two weeks and spend my extra bucks. Chances of this occurring: 45%
  • In the car after CVS I reevaluate my list. I have four stores left and 1 hour until I need to be home to start making dinner. The deal at Safeway was only bacon for $3.99 and Diet Coke for $3, neither of which are screaming deals. At Bashas I’m only getting milk (which is also cheap at Fry’s) and Albertsons just has yogurt and chicken, neither of which I desperately need. I decide to scrap it all and buy everything else at Fry’s.
  • At Fry’s I’m so exhausted and frustrated I just throw shit into the cart without really checking prices. I buy 6 bell peppers for $12 and hate myself a little bit. My total before savings is $338. After coupons and store savings it’s $212. Not bad, but no one from Extreme Couponing will be calling me anytime soon.

So I’m calling foul on the show. If it really goes like that, I need someone to come teach me how to make it work. Clearly I’m failing.

19 Responses to Super Couponing – Unmasked

  1. This economy is tough. I think everyone that is finding ways to cut costs and save $$ is smart, but extreme couponing, not so much! Like you I check the 4 major grocery store ads and make my list around what is on sale that week. I add digital coupons to my store card and think it is a “bonus” when it is on sale AND I have a coupon! I enter the list into my blackberry and try to get to each store during the week to maximize my savings…when all else fails I go to Fry’s too!

    • That’s smart that you use your BB. I haven’t gotten that high tech yet. I still use a piece of paper and a pen.

  2. I agree! I’m posting about this topic soon too!

  3. Elizabeth — Thanks for this post — I saw an bit on Nightline about super couponers, and some of them are great (the ones that actually buy normal groceries), and others are just like hoarders.
    I think you will look fine with grey hair, but not yet. Wait until you’re close to 40 to make the switch.

  4. Yep, they are total hoarders but feel justified since they saved all that money..ugh. I feel happy when I use one or two coupons with a transaction.

  5. Do you ever feel like the extra time and gas you’re spending, however, sorta kills any savings? Not being a kill-joy, I’m just wondering. I’m also trying to save as much $$ as I can, and I’ve been doing it, mostly, but maximizing my gas usage.

    • yeah, I definitely think the gas cancels out some of the savings. I rationalize it that I’m still on the positive side if I go to 5 or six stores because I used to go to one grocery store 5 times a week.

  6. I think they need to do a show where these CW teach people like you and me how they do it. And see how possible it really is or isn’t. (I secretly think it might all be a sham)
    That being said, you should totally use dealstomeals. We kind of do the same thing you do where I make a menu and then my shopping list of what I need. I tried CS and couldn’t make it work for me. Even with the database it was too time consuming and too hard to figure out how to save enough to make it worth it. With dealstomeals it’s only $5 a month and every Wed. they put out their own really simple itemized database saying what grocery stores have better deals than Walmart, Costco, and Sams Club and if there is an inad coupon to go with it. It really works for us and is so so so much easier than CS. Plus they have a menu each week that is based on that weeks deals. (I’ve found some great recipes) If you go to the site, it let’s you try the first two weeks free.

  7. I was reading that some of the couponers are cheating the system–they’re buying items that scan the same but are not the item named on the face of the coupon, and are way cheaper. So..if the cashier doesn’t notice and honors the coupon–and the store gets audited by the manufacturer, they can refuse to reimburse the store. In that sense it could be constituted stolen merchandise.

    • Wow, I haven’t heard about that. It’s a whole crazy mobster scene out here in suburbia!

  8. I was totally on that online coupon thing too for a few months but being that it’s only me and Jon…. I decided to drop the internet support(save the $14 per month), use a modified coupon plan from the internet version and only go to Fry’s where i save the most money as compared to all the other grocery store. Considering the cost of gas… I couldn’t justify driving to Safeway or Bashas. I then stopped hounding my sister for her Sunday inserts and i just stick to 1 Sunday paper delivery with an occassional load onto my Fry’s card for non-clip coupons. I found that I saved pretty dang close to what I saved before because of the decrease on the $14 per month non membership. Plus my husband started to have actual “preferences” on what kind of toothpaste, toilet paper, etc… so to avoid a home strike on brushing his teeth i had to acquiesce. I do still get over 30% savings consistently and I get these wonderful Fry’s customer mailing specials for free stuff! Couponing though is definitely a way of life and I cringe when I enter a grocery store from poor meal planning and end up purchasing something that I know I could’ve save at least a few bucks on. Its definitely worth the effort.

  9. This is exactly how it goes with me. Glad I’m not the only one going crazy attempting to save on groceries. I thought I was nuts. Thank you for sharing.

  10. More hair dye?

    • That was last weekend before I had acquired my billions of boxes of hair dye. Now I’m going to put the hair dye buying on hold for awhile.

  11. Hopefully you (i.e. Jason) planted peppers in the garden.

    • Totally did! although Laura told me about how jalapenos and bells can cross pollinate, so now I’m worried we’re going to end up with hot bell peppers!

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