July 24, 2006 Freebies and Free Stuff Mail Call
Creative Commons License photo credit: bchow

By now you’ve watched the TLC series, Extreme Couponing about how a family pays less than $10 for over $500 worth of groceries.  And, while I admire the technique, time and patience it takes to cut costs in this manner I don’t believe that it’s for everyone.

Processed Foods Dilemma
Unless you’re into eating loads of processed foods like chips, canned foods and cereal then I’ll pass as this is my number one reason for not utilizing this in my grocery shopping routine. I primarily shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joes and 90% of what I buy are organic fresh fruit, vegetable and meats. The other 10% of what I buy are from CVS and Harris Teeter for toiletries and cleaning supplies.  I follow a clean eating diet unless I am eating out so most of the foods in my kitchen are perishable fruits and veggies.

Buying More Than You Need Just Because It’s On Sale

Totally defeats the purpose of buying what you need to save money. From what I gather on the show, extreme couponing requires that you buy high quantities of certain items forcing you to stockpile in pantries, basements and garages them even if you have no immediate use for them.  It’s a waste of money to have your home double as a mini-mart in the name of saving money.   Still, I understand that some extreme couponers do so to help others, and if that is the primary goal then I get it.  But to overstock my pantry just because I can save some money on a can of peas?  Nah.  I like to buy what I need as I go along.  Now if I see something that I can store in the pantry on a major sale, I will buy it but that usually doesn’t happen for me since most of what I buy is perishable.

Time Consuming

Extreme Couponing takes time which I simply don’t have.  My friends that do this tell me that it takes at least a year to get all the coupons you need to save as much as you see the families do on TLC.  Then there’s the actual time needed to search through the papers and shop at various supermarkets hunting down deals. One accounts details the couple spending 4-5 hours in the supermarket? Do you know what I can get done in the supermarket? It takes me 45 minutes to get in and out of Whole Foods for 2 people. 4-5 hours is just onerous.

Extreme Couponing Fraud?

I’ve watched the news clips about the methods with great interest and read some forums about just how this is done.  There seems to be some question as to whether or not the methods used are indeed above board. Some would call it coupon fraud?  Here’s an example.  Let’s say you have a coupon for $1.  It says you can use the coupon  on a 20 oz can of coke instead of the 12 oz can of coke.  Cashier doesn’t pay attention and you look the other way and voila, there you have it.

The Frugalista interviewed Bud Miller, executive director of the Coupon Information Corporation about the issue:

FRUGALISTA: In the videos, it looks like this shopper, J’aime Kirlew, was using coupons labeled as being for one product, but buying a different product from the same manufacturer. Is that really a big deal?

BUD MILLER: It’s a criminal act. You need to use the coupon only within the terms and conditions printed on the coupon. In English and Spanish or whatever the local language is. A coupon is a contract and an offer. You have to follow those terms. Bar codes are a method of processing coupons.

FRUGALISTA: I’ve heard people say that the bar code is the “real” writing on the coupon, so the acceptable uses of the coupon are really whatever it’s coded for, no matter what the words say.

BUD MILLER: They’re wrong.

FRUGALISTA: I can see how bad this would be if you are taking a high-value coupon for an expensive product, and applying it to a much cheaper product. But what if the product is around the same price, like a company’s regular toothpaste brand and then the new version with a new feature advertised on it? Do manufacturers really care in a case like that?

BUD MILLER: Yes they do care. Coupons generally have their own budgets. That goes into the whole accounting system … controlling expenses, managing the business.

The good news is that the new bar coding system should eliminate most of this. (Stores are) in the process of transitioning (now). (This is why on some coupons now you see two bar codes): you’ve got the older one and you’ve got the newer codes … They’re all in the process of moving towards it.

Let’s just use the coupons for their intended purpose shall we?  The following is not a conversation you want to have with your cell mate:

You- “What are you in for?”
Cell mate “Grand Larceny, you?”
You- “using a save $1 coupon on a 12 oz can of coke instead of a 20 oz bottle

So there you have it. I simply refuse for the reasons stated above. Granted, yes, I do struggle with my grocery bill being $400-$500 just for two people. I feel it should be more in the range of $300 and that will be my goal for this month. If someone knows how to extreme coupon between Trader Joes and Whole Foods show me the way! I plan on experimenting with organic produce delivery this month and see how that shakes out at the end of the month with our budget.

Do you have any tips on extreme couponing with organic fruits/veggies and meats? I am waiting on Whole Foods to get with it and offer real coupons for things that people buy consistently.

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