All the blogs and message boards are abuzz with chatter about the upcoming season of TLC's Extreme Couponing. There are critics and devoted followers digging trenches as if they are preparing for a gruesome battle, one side crying out the unrealistic nature of the show, the other praising the cleverness and skills of the people featured on the show. For my part, I stand somewhere in the middle.
Not paying full price for items and looking for deals was something born of necessity for me. I come from a big family that had very stark times financially when I was growing up. Even as a teenager I was drawn towards yard sales, clearance sections, and discount stores, wishing to get more out of my hard earned money, stretching every penny I could. As an adult, that innate thrift was further refined by my love of history and having friends like Sarah who were similarly minded when it came to spending money. For years Sarah and I have trekked through flea markets, thrift stores, and auctions, picking up things our families needed and occasionally making some extra cash for our troubles. Sarah has a whole blog on her auction life, Sarah the Picker. It was only a matter of time before we sparked on the idea of couponing.
Couponing was not a new concept to me. Several times throughout my college and early marriage years, I started to coupon. I would buy a paper, cut out coupons, sometimes I even made it to the store with them. It was rather time consuming for a student who also worked full time and so it was quickly abandoned before the savings started to show. That's not to say I wouldn't still use peelies, store coupons, and store discounts were they readily available.
This is the point where I shamefacedly admit that I did not start couponing in earnest until I saw the show on TLC, ok not really, I'm not ashamed. I find those who treat new couponers with disdain to be somewhat amusing. I have read posts where people exclaim how they have been couponing for 10, 20, 30 years as if that makes them somehow more valuable or more "real" than those who started last week or last month. They accuse new couponers of ruining couponing, of causing store policies to be changed, of clearing shelves. However, from what I have observed, both from the show and from real life encounters, greed doesn't seem to have any bearing on how long you have been doing something.
Sarah and I sat through a small marathon of the shows one night, laughing at the absurdity of some of the people featured, exclaiming how silly it was to buy a whole cart full of barbecue sauce just to stack in your garage. We understood that the show was not meant to feature the average couponer, it was extreme couponing and in true reality show style, they went there. They showed the Snookies of the coupon world. Women who were simply organized hoarders, people whose compulsiveness lead them to buy items they didn't need simply because they were free or paid pennies for them, seemingly delusional families who didn't think it odd to take up an entire room of their house for toilet paper.
Yet, underneath the absurdity of the extreme, there are valuable lessons in the show for someone interested in couponing. They showed a variety of organizational systems for coupons. They showed the multitude of ways that one might acquire coupons, they showed various stores and how they handle coupons in their stores. Coupon policies were mentioned, and even some coupon etiquette--one of the women who bought a cart full of cat food mentioned that she calls ahead when she has big orders that might clear the shelves. There were other couponers who shopped for charity or donated their excess to charities. In times such as we have, saving money is a necessity for most families and even more are coming to need those donations that charities are receiving.
For all the negativity associated with the show, a new season or repeated episodes of the old season are not a catastrophe. TLC is not looking to film the death knell of couponing as we know it. They are looking to entertain and slightly inform, just as they do with the rest of their shows. Yes, there are selfish couponers and TLC features some of those, and there will be more of them in the general population. There will be those who do not bother to read policies nor care if they clear the shelves that day. Stores will change their policies in accordance to what is trending, whether that be people suddenly rushing in for some newly released game or lugging in their binder full of coupons. There are going to be those who try couponing and quickly give up, because they do not have the time, because they aren't saving 95% on every purchase, or maybe it's simply not fun for them. That's fine, this is my hobby, I enjoy saving money and playing the coupon game with the various stores. I like knowing that should zombies invade tomorrow, I will have enough deodorant to last me until at least next year. A new season on a cable station is not going to dictate what is enjoyable for me.