We’ve all watched the show in complete awe and wonder. The shopper pushes their four loaded-down carts of groceries to the cashier and the ringing up begins; $20.00, $130.00, $650.00. Luckily, the shopper has come equipped with a binder full of coupons and the grand total is…$4.74. I’m usually left speechless for several reasons:
- Where are they going to put all that stuff?
- How much time did it take to prepare for that one shopping trip?
- Did they seriously need 100 Hershey bars?
According to the show, Extreme Couponing, the shopper featured spends an average of 35-40 hours per week preparing for one shopping trip. That’s a full-time job’s worth of buying newspapers, printing online coupons, cutting, organizing and mapping out a plan of attack at the local grocery store. Some may view this as complete obsession while others see it as a way to make ends meet. But, is this type of couponing always worth it?
Time. This may be viewed as the biggest downfall to extreme couponing. Scouting newspapers, magazines, and online ads, then organizing it all is critical to making an extreme shopping trip work. For many of us who work full-time, these are discretionary hours that we just don’t have.
Space. In order to support these large grocery trips, you need to have the available storage space to keep and organize all your purchases. Preferably, this needs to be a pest-free, dry, climate-controlled room so your bounty is not spoiled by humidity or insects.
Expiration Dates. From a food safety perspective, this one worries me. When you see what appears to be a warehouse full of cereal, crackers, cookies, granola bars and condiments, you can’t help but think “how can they possibly eat all that food before it expires?” Expiration dates do not apply exclusively to foods. Medications like Tylenol can become toxic if consumed after its expiration date. A good method to practice is the FIFO inventory principle-First In First Out. Remember to pull older items forward when restocking a similar item.
Nutritional Value. This is my biggest concern with most of the featured individuals’ purchases on the show. Saving hundreds of dollars on a shopping trip is definitely a commendable feat; but what will the shopper pay nutritionally? Loading up on sugary-sweetened cereal, candy bars, chips and soda comes with a hefty calorie bill. Consuming these foods on a daily basis (which you would have to do so they don’t spoil, right?) indicates a diet that is low in fiber, B-vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
I know what you’re thinking, “But Amanda, fruits and vegetables are so expensive!” I’m here to tell you, that is not always the case. First and foremost, sign up for your local grocery store’s rewards program. Often, you are only eligible for the sale prices or “deals of the week” if you have a rewards card membership. You also are entitled to store-specific coupons with many of these rewards programs. A friend of mine told me about the mPerks programs at Mejier and how she saves all the time on grocery items, meat and produce. Did you hear that? PRODUCE! Each week I log on and virtually “clip” coupons that get automatically added to my account. When checking out, I simply punch in my code and just like magic, my grocery bill goes down.
Buying fruits and vegetables in season is another excellent way to save. For a complete list of what’s in season this summer, please visit: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/whats-in-season-summer. Shopping at your local Farmers’ Market is another great approach to purchasing fresh produce in season. In fact, Illinois Products Farmers’ Market sponsored by Springfield Clinic is providing opportunities to earn free “market bucks” for the Illinois Products Farmers’ Market. Each week a new recipe is handed out at the Springfield Clinic booth. Individuals are encouraged to make the recipe and then take a picture of the finished product. Market bucks can be earned by posting the recipe photo to the Springfield Clinic Facebook page. Come join us each Thursday from 4:00-7:00pm at the Illinois State Fair Grounds-Commodities Pavilion.
My intent of this post was not to bash extreme couponing but rather to highlight some of the pitfalls of the experience. I think it’s wise to stock up on items like Ziploc bags, diapers, or cleaning supplies, but there’s no real “savings” to experience with mass quantities of chips or soft drinks.