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6 Reasons Why I Stopped Extreme Couponing

By Christy Rakoczy

couponsWhen people talk about the practice of extreme couponing, they throw a lot of numbers around about how much you can save on your grocery bill, and how much stuff you can get for free. However, what isn’t stated is how much time they have spent on the practice. You probably also won’t hear about the fact that a lot of the “savings” come from buying products that aren’t needed, wanted, and that probably should not be purchased.

How do I know all of this? Because I was an extreme coupon shopper myself from 2007 to 2010 – but I haven’t cut a coupon since.

Why I Stopped Extreme Couponing

1. Freebies Aren’t Really That Desirable

Extreme coupon shopping typically involves combining store sales with manufacturer coupons to get items for free or very cheaply. In many cases, you can use not only store and manufacturer coupons, but “money-off” coupons as well (such as coupons that offer $5 off of a purchase of $20 or more).

When I was a coupon shopper, the goal was always to get enough into an order to use a money-off coupon. However, the goal wasn’t just to buy products – the goal was to use the coupons to get products for free. Often, I’d shop at drugstores like CVS, Rite-Aid, and Walgreens, which are prime retailers for extreme coupon shoppers. This meant buying things like diabetes monitors, toothpaste, and cold medicine.

These items (especially diabetes monitors) often can be acquired for free with coupons – the monitors are free because the test strips are expensive, and the manufacturers want to get you hooked.

The problem, of course, is that I didn’t need the items I was buying. The coupon craze created an incentive to buy unnecessary goods. While I could resell them (and sometimes did), they often sat on shelves in my house for weeks or months, taking up space. The acquisition of these unwanted free items also made it seem like I was saving a lot more than I actually was. Often, when you hear about people getting $500 worth of stuff for a few dollars, they are buying whatever is free without concern for whether the products are useful.

2. The Same Items Continually Go on Sale

Another major problem with extreme coupon shopping is that to maximize your savings, you are limited to buying items that are on sale or that coupons are available for. The problem with this is that the same items go on sale and have available coupons week after week, which can lead you to buy these items repeatedly. Some people claim to save hundreds or thousands of dollars – however, these savings sometimes come from buying 20 tubes of toothpaste or 15 boxes of Rice-a-Roni.

3. Extreme Couponing Often Leads to Stockpiling and Hoarding

Extreme coupon shopping typically goes hand-in-hand with stockpiling, which is the purchasing of a large quantity of a single item when combining coupons with a store sale to make the item free or significantly reduced in price. For instance, when a pasta sauce sale lines up with an available coupon, you might buy 10 jars of the pasta sauce. This habit can quickly lead to a massive surplus of items in your home that must be rotated and organized so you can access them, and often, food products become spoiled and are wasted. What can be even worse is that you may not have enough food storage in your home, and the items may start to encroach on your living space.

couponing can lead to unhealthy food choices

4. Bargain Shopping Often Leads to Unhealthy Choices

The practice creates another problem: You may find yourself compromising healthy eating. While you may hear that you can get deals on produce or even organic fruits and vegetables, the reality is that these kinds of deals are few and far between and they don’t provide the thousands of dollars of savings that you so often hear about from extreme coupon shoppers.

Instead, the vast majority of the coupons available are for junk food, ready-to-eat meals, frozen foods, and processed lunch meats. When you buy this stuff all the time instead of healthier foods, your health takes a backseat to saving money at the grocery store.

5. Coupons Are Often Used Illegally

When I was an extreme coupon shopper, I would frequent forums and participate in discussions about the use of coupons. While I don’t do that anymore, I do watch extreme couponing shows occasionally.

One thing I’ve seen on these TV shows is that some people purposefully use coupons incorrectly. There are many ways to use coupons improperly, from photocopying Internet coupons, to using a coupon for a different product than it’s intended, to sharing coupons that are not supposed to be shared. This used to be a big issue for CVS, as the company would send out $4 coupons to new customers, who would then share the coupons on Internet forums to be used by countless people each week.

While I never participated in these practices, I could see how it would be tempting to do so – especially when caught up in the couponing craze. It is also pretty clear that such scams happen often, as numerous articles have appeared in mainstream news outlets about coupon abuse.

It may seem harmless to use a coupon to buy the wrong product or a sample size instead of a full-sized version. However, the fact is that someone, somewhere, may get in trouble or have to pay for your improper use of a coupon.

6. Couponing Can Become a Time-Consuming Obsession

Lastly, a major problem with couponing is that it can become a time-consuming obsession. To truly experience significant savings, you can’t have just a coupon or two – you need to get the coupon inserts every week. You need to buy multiple newspapers to have enough coupons to get several items for free, and you need to organize all of those coupons so you can access them when you need them. Many extreme coupon shoppers carry entire binders full of coupons.

Buying multiple papers, organizing the coupons, reading up on the deals, making shopping lists, going to multiple stores, and checking out while using 100 or more coupons can take huge amounts of time. Ultimately, it may not be time well spent if you are saving thousands of dollars on things that you don’t need and shouldn’t buy.

Final Word

While using a coupon or two to buy a product you would buy anyway can be a good way to save money, extreme couponing is often a hobby that yields little except aggravation and the annoyed looks of other shoppers in the stores. Buying something you don’t need – or even acquiring it for free – isn’t a bargain. And extreme coupon shopping is a sport that encourages mass consumption for the sake of supposedly “saving” a few dollars.

What do you think of extreme couponing?

Christy Rakoczy
Christy Rakoczy earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Rochester and her Juris Doctorate from UCLA School of Law. She is currently a full-time writer who writes both textbooks and web content related to personal finance and the law. She and her husband and two dogs split their time between Florida and Pennsylvania.

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  • Guest

    I can see how extreme couponers get caught up in the madness…and in some cases, addicted. What disappoints me the most is how some couponers (not all) are completely dishonest about how they combine, switch, and completely take advantage. I once watched a lady walk into a store with a handful of instant rebate stickers (the kind you peel off the packaging as you are checking out). Since she was walking IN to the store, I couldn’t help but wonder where she got these stickers (from another store, perhaps?). As chance would have it, I ended up behind her in the checkout line. The cashier was wise to the practice, and questioned the shopper about where she got the stickers. The shopper explained that she had just peeled them off the items as she was walking to the checkout line. I obviously knew better, and I think the cashier did too. The cashier tried to explain that she couldn’t honor the instant rebates, to which the shopper reacted and made a scene. A manager eventually arrived on the scene and pulled the shopped to the side to explain. The ironic thing in my mind is that she was trying to buy 10 or 12 cans of spider spray…I think this may have been one of those times when a couponer buys something they don’t really need. :)

    • Jmildner0760

      Why don’t you sell your stockpile or donate them.I do couponing too,but not to the extreme.Right now I just buy enough for a couple of months,and when I’m about to run-out I re-stock again.I think that show extreme couponing mislead a lot of viewers.Where I liveyou can only use 4 coupon on same item and were not allowed to separate orders.

  • http://www.budgetforwealth.com/ Long Pham

    Finally! Someone said it. Thank you!

  • Carla

    I don’t use coupons very often because of #4. I generally only purchase whole fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, bulk nuts/seeds, teas, coffee beans, herbs, oils, etc. Very few items I purchase come in a package. It happens, but not very often. I use coupons for household and personal care items such has hair, beauty, skin care, cleaning supplies, etc. I use most of the coupons at the co-op, natural food stores and Whole Foods. Sometimes I use them at drug stores.

    I never understood the coupon madness either. Maybe its because I have no dependents (children), don’t eat processed food and live in a modest sized apartment so there’s not space for cases of XYZ.

  • takabanana

    I’ve seen this first-hand from my ex when we were married. I was extremely proud and amazed at what she was able to do, on average, saving 80-85% off of all receipts.
    On the otherhand, like #3 and #6 – you have to be organized and have a lot of time. We calculated the hourly wage of someone spending the time (I think it was 5-6 hours per week for her) doing the “couponing” setup each week; although she later realized her ROI was better when/if she buys the coupons pre-clipped off of eBay. In her case, couponing was “earning her” more money than her full-time job (which didn’t pay well) so financially it made sense – but for many, it probably wouldn’t (unless you consider the value of “fun” if they find it an enjoyable hobby or even obsession).
    The biggest thing for me is #4 – you end up getting a lot of unhealthy processed stuff. I’m divorced now, and I don’t have time, patience, or the organizational skills for couponing – but in return, I am able to buy much healthier foods for myself – and luckily, I have an Aldi near where I live so my costs are better than average.
    All of these points are very true – I’ve seen them first hand. I still have a closet full of toothpaste. Haha..

  • Christy Rakoczy

    takabanana, that is interesting that you calculated out the hourly wage and that it turned out to be worthwhile. Was she “earning” money because she was saving it on products she would have bought anyway or did she resell some of the things she bought?

    Good point Carla on the space issue and on having dependents making a difference. We have no kids either and it doesn’t make sense for us to get all these products just for the two of us and then have them not get used.

    And LOL to the commenter on the spider spray. I guess if she really did have a spider problem, maybe she was desperate to get her multiple bottles of spider spray at a discount!

  • http://couponsinthenews.com/ CouponsInTheNews

    Christy, do you use coupons AT ALL anymore? Do you think there’s a middle ground between being extreme and just saving a little here and there? Or were you just so burnt out from extreme couponing that you thought it was better to go cold turkey? I’d be very interested in hearing more from you about your perspective on all of this (but don’t have a way to contact you except through commenting on your very interesting article!)

  • Christy Rakoczy

    CouponsInTheNews, once in a great while I will use a coupon if there happens to be one for a product that I was definitely going to buy anyway and if the coupon happens to come to my attention. I find, however, that I make smarter shopping choices when I don’t let coupons make my purchasing decisions, so I don’t even look at the coupon section in the newspaper any more.

  • bindersfullofcoupons

    I also think there’s a happy medium… I am already saving quite a bit and have not changed what we are buying. I’m just buying it in different ways. I’m not looking to get my bill down to $2.50 a week, but I am looking to bring it down by at least 20-30% if I can. It does pay to shop around, and to be aware of promotions that can be combined with coupons. Also knowing what stores have the best prices on certain products can be really helpful. For instance this week I have a few 0.50 off Del Monte pineapple. I could go get a pineapple for around 2.50 at a local grocery store, or I could go to Aldi, where pineapples are 0.99 without coupons.

  • Christy Rakoczy

    Good points on knowing the prices of things at different stores bindersfullofcoupons. Of course, that does mean you have to go to different stores to do your shopping, which depending on where you live and how close the stores are to each other may not be convenient for everyone.

  • http://stretchyourdollarwaukesha.wordpress.com/ Skirnir Hamilton

    Seems to me there should be a happy medium. IE to me never using coupons is throwing out the baby with the bath water, but one shouldn’t buy stuff just because one has a coupon, or it is cheap, etc. And one can not run out to a store for just one freebie. Makes little to no sense. I do try and combine my exercising bike rides with my walgreens or CVS run, so I don’t worry so much about the gas to my once a week trip, but I also don’t tend to go if it is only for one freebie. IE there are other things that I buy there when they are cheap, primarily 2 liters of soda. I try to buy what we like, and do stock up on what we like when the price is good. Do buy some stuff I wouldn’t buy if it wasn’t free or cheap, to try a new thing, etc. But don’t buy multiple, unless I am donating it.

  • Marym173r

    marym173r

  • Dturk

    I don’t stockpile. I have enough for my kids and myself, and I donate the rest.

  • zid

    i was wondering how long does it take for you to reduce the stockpile to zero after you stop extreme couponing… probably you still have the items when you are writing this…

  • Hipfanatic

    An easy way to prevent over-couponing is to make your list of needed items first, then match coupons and deals to the items you actually need. Set a pre-determined amount for stock-piling or those great deals you don’t really need, say $10 or $20 per shop. And never, ever buy something you know you won’t use (like blood monitors??)
    I can’t imagine how jars of tomato sauce (or tubes of toothpaste) could ever possibly go bad. I like to have a bit of a stock-pile so that when the Easter/Thanksgiving/Christmas food drives happen, I have something on hand to donate.
    Between couponing and price-matching, I have cut my weekly grocery bill by at least 30% and usually only have to go to one store (gotta love price matching!).

  • Rick Jackson

    I think that is a one-sided opinion. We stock pile items that we use on a daily bases. We also provide many thousand of dollars in product to our local foodbank and it is a great hobby it keeps us ingaged in an activity that is rewarding on many levels. We save money, able to use name brands, give back to the community and have fun win, win, win.

    • C.T

      Of course it is one sided. It says why SHE stopped extreme couponing.

  • Lumeenamage

    I loved this article. I am what you would consider a moderate couponer. My husband and I are on a very strict budget due to health and disability reasons. This has forced use to become very organized and savvy when it comes to planning our groceries. I plan all meals for 1 entire month and buy everything we need in 1 trip. This forces us to buy necessities. We only buy all the stuff that we need once per month and we don’t return until the next. I always take the time to review all the available deals, promotions and flyers for our monthly shopping trip and use any existing coupons I was able to collect that month. Most of the time, I am able to get really great deals and it does save us money. Unfortunately, we don’t have a stock pile since we just cannot afford to buy mass quantities of items at once. To me it’s foolish to buy 20 tubes to toothpaste when that money could be diverted elsewhere. I am happy to see that I am not the only one out there who feels that some couponners are extremely obsessed. I find moderation is best, including couponning.

  • Katrina

    Good article, well written, I don’t agree with everything though. I am a single mom of two, I am certainly a couponer but not to this extreme. To me changing my income is a lot harder than changing what I do with my money. I admit to obtaining some things just because they were free but I also give away a lot of it. I look for coupons for things I would normally buy and I find a lot! I don’t find I’m wasting any time but gaining a whole lot :)

  • Bill Berry

    I buy only what we use and eat. Thanks to these TV shows the price of buying coupons on eBay have skyrocketed. There are a number of good websites which you may buy a set of 10, 15 or 20 coupons, others you can specify the number of each of a product’s coupons. There are tricks to how to using them but in a nut shell it’s when a store like Kroger’s has their buy 10 of a given number of items for $5.00 off which you have to know what the price there is to what we all compare to…Wal-Mart. Companies with their 55 cent coupons are catching on too. When I’m at the register at Sam’s Club they have laminated what’s on sale that week and with humor I say to them, I save more if I don’t buy any of those products. The best I’ve ever done is walk out of Krogers with a 100 bottles of soda for sales tax only but overall 25% was the norm when I factored in the cost of gasoline and distance. For all the sale gimmicks stores do, wherever your local Wal-Mart is; despite double coupons, it was hard to go anywhere else. But do take the Wal-mart coupon policy with you; I have run into a few folks that work there who think an internet coupon won’t cut it but as one register supervisor told me, if it scans, it flies!

  • Bill Berry

    Let me add…as I just posted if you’re working for a food bank or you are donating to a food bank or a church kitchen or men’s/women’s mission…I’m all for you folks into extreme couponing. It’s not a one-sided opinion as one comment suggested but as another also commented; good luck with fresh vegetables and fruit and most meats. I’m diabetic so nutrition is way up on the list of what’s important and it makes no sense to stockpile on items that have the shelf life of honey; indefinite. Don’t get me wrong, I have saved money; it certainly made a difference when I was unemployed. But eBay sellers have just gone overboard with their prices and I find it amusing when they say “You are paying for my time to find, cut, and send these coupons out.” If that were true, all coupons would be priced reasonably the same regardless of the value if you buy the product. I also find it amusing when a seller attempts to sell a coupon which the product is free but the coupon with S&H is more than simply buying the product outright…that’s what these programs have done to the rest of us…it’s more expensive to do any kind of couponing now. To what end?

  • kelly

    Thank you for sharing your story, and having the courage to write about how it eventually affected you. I think you’ve probably touched on a lot of people’s habits they might not have otherwised recognized. I have nothing against extreme couponers, except one. The one decent grocery store in our area is often full of empty shelves for the most common products everyone uses. This store has plenty of employees to keep the shelves stocked regularly and I’m sure those who do the ordering are on top of things. I highly suspect it is the extreme coupon shoppers making shopping extremely difficult for the rest of us. It explains why so many common products are NEVER on the shelves at any particular time and of course, much worse on sale days. Perhaps store management could do a better job of inventory control, but it’s getting extremely difficult to plan a shopping day when not knowing when the extremists have already taken what you need.

    • Meek

      How do you know it was “extreme couponers”? There is a flaw to your logic – if the most decent grocery store is always empty, perhaps you need to reconsider how decent of a store it is. That might be better than imagining a scenario where all the extreme couponers are greedily taking everything.

  • Eco-Freak

    I don’t use coupons because of number 4. I buy a ton of fruits and vegetables and lean meats I also buy a lot of nuts for my protein. A lot of what I buy is at the farmers market. I buy oats in bulk instead of the individually portioned ones. I also try to cut my eco-footprint, and when I do buy “lazy” soup mixes etc, I buy it from bulk, and I put my bulk in a reusable bulk bag. I also buy my milk from returnable glass bottles, and I make my own yogurt/cheese from the milk in those bottles. As for personal hygiene items I buy shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bars instead of bottles. I don’t buy deodorant but I make my own, and I use a diva cup, instead of disposable feminine hygiene products. I use a handkerchief instead of kleenex, and I don’t buy candy/chocolate. I use reusable bags/reusable stainless steel containers instead of ziplock sandwich/ freezer bags. I use reusable abeego instead of cling wrap. There is just nothing that I would need from a coupon. The only thing I could maybe save on is toilet paper. I think in the long run, what I do is much cheaper!

    • Eco-Freak

      I also make my own laundry detergent and re-use the same container, and I get my dish soap from bulk and reuse the same container. I mostly clean around the house with vinegar. I haven’t seen very many coupons regarding items where I can’t make my own and save a bundle, (even with the coupons) or that’s very healthy. Eating unhealthy is more expensive in the long run. I just reuse the head on my toothbrush. I suppose I could save on toothpaste and toilet paper. Unfortunately I haven’t seen many coupons for these items.

  • gigi

    Hmm, I get lots of lipgloss for free. I also use money makers to buy things like vegetables and meat. I just dont think the writer knew how to use extreme couponing in a way that benefited her.

  • NF

    As I watch extreme couponing, I was just thinking

  • NF

    Sorry…had to leave for a second. As I watch xtreme couponing I was just thinking how many coupons are for junk or items already overpriced. I don’t purchase much processed and junk food. I use coupons a lot, but I don’t use them just to purchase items to stockpile. I don’t have a lot of storage and it’s just two of us plus 6 dogs. Yes, I do find a few coupons for eggs, meat, dairy, but they r usually for very expensive products. I take a calculator with and figure out the price per pound or oz after the coupon discount and usually find the store brand equivalent is still cheaper and just as good. Kroger has coupons for their own brands of decent food, so I save even on the store brands. There r a few name brands I’m loyal to, so I will use coupons for those. If I’m not spending money on junky stuff, I can better afford to purchase healthy foods. And I eat well, but I cook my own meals from scratch most of the time(yes, I work FT, drive an hour and a half each day and take care of 6 senior dogs with varying health issues). I may spend more than extreme couponer, but looking at their grocery carts full of cookies, Pepsi and other worthless food, I know I’m eating better. If u really want to save some bucks, besides cooking easy meals from scratch, try making some of the cleaning products u purchase, at home. So easy, so cheap and very effective. By the time u peruse, clip, correlate the coupons with the store ads, do the actual shopping, u could have thrown a decent meal in the crockpot and made enuff homemade stuff(food or cleaners) to last a couple of weeks or more. Then sit down, have a glass of wine and laff at the extreme couponers and their OCD.

  • MoMx5

    I can see how some of this can be frustrating, but if you are aware of the issues its easy not to fall into the bad stuff. I have a huge stockpile of thing we use everyday and cleaning products, I am in Canada and we often get coupons for milk , veggies/fruit, bread, eggs & meat. I have 5 children and went from spending $350 a week to under $100. We donate a lot of freebies (like toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, pads cleaners, pasta etc..) We don’t drink pop, or eat junk food. It is quite time consuming but its my only hobby and I enjoy it. I’ve been couponing for almost a year and have a stockpile worth thousands and cost $50, I’m lucky I have the storage and freezer space.

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