Former ‘Extreme Couponer’ Admits: It’s a Waste of Time

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For obvious reasons, the idea that you can snag hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for next to nothing has become exceptionally popular with today’s debt-ridden, budget-strapped masses. But does the “extreme couponing” popularized on TV actually pay off?

Of course not. The idea seemed unlikely in the beginning and seems even more so now that more shoppers have tried to mimic the astounding money-saving acrobatics displayed on the TLC show Extreme Couponing.

There’s a strong argument to be made that utilizing couponing as something of a part-time job is pointless because, considering the amount of time that’s required, you’d wind up making (or saving, as it were) far more money with an actual part-time job. What’s more, a paycheck is generally considered superior to, say, a stockpile of 50 jars of tomato sauce. Some of the couponing strategies shown on TV have also been proved to be bogus. As a result, even if you had the time and inclination to go “extreme,” supermarkets aren’t likely to play along and let you snag 400-plus rolls of toilet paper for free.

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At least with something like toilet paper, it’ll get used by a family — perhaps not for five years, but it’ll come out of the pantry at some point. In her MoneyCrashers’ post explaining why she quit extreme couponing after three years of active participation in the “sport,” Christy Rakoczy wrote that the biggest problem is that couponers’ homes grow cluttered with goods they don’t need:

When you do the extreme couponing and your goal is to save as much as you can, it’s not really so much about getting useful products as it is about getting products that you can get for free.

That’s how Rakoczy, who doesn’t have diabetes, wound up in possession of 60 or so diabetes monitors.

NPR recently interviewed Rakoczy about how she gave up her couponing habit, which comes across as an unhealthy obsession, perhaps even an addiction. The reformed couponer described how she acted during the height of her “extreme” behavior:

I didn’t have a lot of free time because I was going to stores whenever I had spare time on my hands to try to get, you know, the next deal. A lot of the stuff, the coupons would expire, so you feel like you have to go before they are going to expire. And if the stuff sold out, well, you got to go back again the next day and see if you can find it.

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Dr. Phil’s “Ten Key Signs of Having an Addiction” include several that’d apply here, such as:

• Giving up or limiting social, occupational or recreational activities because of the behavior.

• Preoccupation with the behavior or preparatory activities.

• Frequently engaging in those behaviors to a greater extent or over a longer period of time than intended.

In any event, she quit cold turkey, after coming to the conclusion that “buying something you don’t need — or even acquiring it for free — isn’t a bargain.”

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By definition, extreme couponing isn’t for everyone. It’s extreme, as opposed to mainstream. Nowadays, Rakoczy does what most shoppers do. She clips the occasional coupon, using it only to save a bit on things she’d be buying anyway. She no longer bothers spending hours week in, week out to strategize ways to get freebies — especially not when she has no need for what’s being “given” away.