TLC’s Extreme Couponing: I Don’t Get It

31 May

Desirae shows off her stockpiles.

Last night I caught two episodes of TLC’s Extreme Couponing, a show that follows people who devote countless hours and effort to saving money on groceries with coupons. When TLC calls this show “extreme,” they are not fucking around. I’m talking about women who are able to use enough coupons to pay only $6.50 for almost $700 worth of groceries. If TLC wanted to be even more accurate, this show should be named Crazy People Doing Crazy Things to Save Crazy Amounts of Money.

One episode featured Desirae, a 24-year-old mother and housewife who devotes over 60 hours per week to her couponing practices. The introductory shot of Desirae shows a young, plump woman in glasses and a put-together outfit standing in a dumpster, on the hunt for coupons. That’s right – Desirae makes it a part of her normal routine to dumpster-dive for the pages of coupons that are thrown out with Sunday newspapers. Desirae also maintains several large binders of coupons, organized alphabetically by brand and category.

Like every woman I saw on this show, Desirae keeps a highly organized stockpile of her discounted goods in her basement.  Rows upon rows of packaged food, bottled drinks, and cans of vegetables line Desirae’s cellar. Desirae proudly points to her stockpile of razors. “These razors have a retail value of $4,000,” Desirae beams. Somehow I doubt Desiree will have a need for $4,000 worth of Bic razors in her lifetime. I’ve decided that she’s certifiable.

Later on in the show, after we see how Desirae collects her coupons, we follow Desirae on a shopping trip to her local Albertsons store. After literally shutting down the store’s register with her hundreds of items and hundreds of coupons, the store manager has to make a call to Albertson’s corporate offices to approve the massive purchase. After the manager and a flustered cashier finish the transaction on a tiny calculator, Desirae pays 55 cents for over $1,000 worth of groceries. Very impressive.

Jessica and her stockpiles - ready for a war. Or the rapture.

Desirae, like many of the women featured on Extreme Couponing, appears to get some sort of high from saving money, and, in some ways, cheating the system through the use of coupons. I could not help but wonder if things would be different for women like Desirae if they had actual jobs. One may argue that their job is taking care of their family, and that couponing helps them to do that. I do think that if the 60 hours Desirae spends each week on her coupon habits were spent on work for pay, that perhaps things would be different. Maybe Desiree would not be so worried about money. Also, does it not it seem odd to spend 60 hours on saving money while exerting the energy one would spend at a normal job?

I understand the American mentality of wanting a bargain. However, the ladies of Extreme Couponing take this mentality to, well, the extreme. Another episode featured Jessica, a very pretty housewife (whose husband appeared to be three times her age) who explains to the TV audience how a coupon for $3 off clearance vitamins will make her $1 for every can she buys. The math these ladies perform is astounding. It seems that the habit of “extreme couponing” is almost like a mental illness, or a compulsion to save money. I also think it can be compared to compulsive shopping, though in the end, these women are not collecting shoes and leather purses, but name-brand packages of food. Will shelves of cans and boxes of food become a new status symbol following the misery of the Great Recession? Perhaps not, but Desirae and Jessica will surely be prepared for a slew of natural disasters and/or alien invasions for years to come. Fixed Air salutes you, ladies.

2 Responses to “TLC’s Extreme Couponing: I Don’t Get It”

  1. shoutabyss May 31, 2011 at 9:26 AM #

    Great post. I think you just might find a correlation between coupons and processed foods, too.

    I’ve only flipped through the show without stopping but I do have a friend who had a mild version of this. One question: Was the $700 worth of “groceries” all food items, or other household products like mops and deodorizers and things that require you buy “refills” for the rest of your life?

    • Jim June 2, 2011 at 2:12 PM #

      Yes, they buy other things, like laundry detergent. One woman had $1500 of laundry stuff, she paid $25 for it. Another guy had 1000 tubes of toothpaste, most of which he was going to give away to charity.

      As for refills, like air freshener, a woman said the best coupons are for the ‘starter’ kit, not refills. So they buy 20 or 30 kits, use them up and have collected enough coupons in the mean time to buy more.

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