I was cruising through channels today and came across Extreme Couponing on TLC. I had previously considered myself a champion couponer – when we were first married and the kids were small I had a system that allowed me to save about $50.00 per visit. More recently I don’t make the time to coupon, go to online sites and plan a strategy, but I do organize some coupons in my wallet for Target and use coupons at clothing retailers that can certainly add up.
After what I just saw I realize that I don’t even come close to being a coupon champion – I had no idea that couponing to this extreme existed. My initial response was that this was an extremely clean way to hoard (these folks have storage systems in their house that rival the organization and presentation of Whole Foods!). My next thought was that you couldn’t possibly use that much of one product – such as toothpaste or deodorant – in a life time. The narrator then went on to say it was the equivalent of deodorant lasting one hundred and fifty years!!
Some of these folks spend forty to sixty hours a week working on their couponing – cutting, searching the net and printing, filing systematically and creating spreadsheets to determine weekly sales at various stores. Some of the more extreme efforts: dumpster diving for coupon inserts, driving to vacant homes to take the coupon fliers from the drive and front porch and using multiple computers at home to avoid the limit of printing a certain number of coupons per offer. They also keep an updated file of the stores couponing policies and carry them in case their strategic shop is questioned.
I can totally see this as a way to ease a family’s financial burden, or a great way to boost family savings, but I don’t understand filling your home with items that you will realistically never be able to use.
Then the light bulb went off above my head (the old fashioned soft glow kind, not the funky Al Gore kind)! People can use the skills of extreme couponing to do good!! Individuals, groups, schools and service organizations can use this phenomenon to donate items to food pantries, community centers, midnight run groups, and our service men and women.
There are many resources both online through amazon.com that can provide tips on how to begin and optimize your strategy – over 58 search results. This is certainly something people of all ages can do and could be a great project for a classroom, scouts or student service groups. Once the collection and filing systems are set up volunteers would be needed to do the actual shopping and provide storage and transportation to the donation points.
My Family Program has been doing collections for local organizations for the past six years and each time the item or items collected were things within reason – canned goods at Thanksgiving, character band aids for pediatric hospitals, sweatshirts and pajamas have always been generously provided by our families. This month we are collecting tuna, peanut butter and pasta as these are items that either provide protein or can stretch a meal as more and more families are in need of assistance. As we all are experiencing the need to tighten our belts these days couponing would allow my families to continue to be generous without tapping into their own food budgets.
Maybe groups could be formed in communities based on this way of obtaining necessary items for little cost purely for the purpose of donating them?
I still don’t know why anyone would need one hundred and fifty years worth of deodorant, but I love the idea of using this tactic to make life easier for those in need and those who serve.
Edit Post 10/3/11: Did you see that Extreme Couponing is featured on the cover of Time Magazine’s October 10, 2011 Special Money Issue (page 36)??!!