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So is couponing really worth all the time and effort? You’ll find plenty of naysayers who frown on all the clipping and sorting, and plenty of converts who swear by it. But it’s not every day that you find a “reformed” extreme couponer who advises the rest of us to just quit it already.

The online site Money Crashers recently published an article entitled “6 Reasons Why I Stopped Extreme Couponing”. In it, author Christy Rakoczy describes life as an ex-couponaholic. “I was an extreme coupon shopper myself from 2007 to 2010 – but I haven’t cut a coupon since,” she writes. Coincidentally, her article was published just days after the Savannah Morning News’ “Savvy Shopper”, Michelle Rubrecht, wrote a pro-coupon article, entitled “Quit Overpaying for Everyday Needs“. Two publications, two articles, two very different views on the value and vices of couponing.

Here, we present both arguments as a point-counterpoint.

Freebies Aren’t Really That Desirable,” is reason number one that Rakoczy cites as the reason she stopped extreme couponing. Getting something for nothing is the easiest way to generate a “coupon high”. But “I didn’t need the items I was buying,” Rakoczy argues. Combining coupons with sales to acquire drug store freebies like diabetes monitors, toothpaste, and cold medicine “made it seem like I was saving a lot more than I actually was.”

Rubrecht’s solution: don’t buy things you don’t need. “Do not purchase items your family doesn’t like just because it is a good price,” she writes. If you can’t use the freebies you gather, “it doesn’t matter that you were able to get them for free.” Meanwhile, there are plenty of freebies that actually are desirable. Take toothpaste – Rubrecht says it’s one of the first things she discovered she could get for nothing when she started couponing. “It is now two years later and I haven’t had to purchase toothpaste yet.”

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But “The Same Items Continually Go on Sale,” Rakoczy laments. “The same items go on sale and have available coupons week after week, which can lead you to buy these items repeatedly,” she writes. After a while, once you stock up on everything that goes on sale, there’s nothing left to save money on.

Rubrecht agrees that after a while, you’ll see the same things going on sale. But she says to use the sales cycle to your advantage, buying only as much as you need to carry you through to the next sale. Then, when you find you’re out of something and need more, “instead of running to the grocery store and paying premium prices, you will shop from your very own stockpile.”

Rakoczy is not a big fan of stockpiling, though. “Extreme Couponing Often Leads to Stockpiling and Hoarding,” is the third reason she cites for giving up extreme couponing. Sure, you can pick up a dozen jars of salad dressing or pasta sauce when it’s dirt cheap, but items in a food stockpile “must be rotated and organized so you can access them, and often, food products become spoiled and are wasted.” And if you’ve seen the piles of products featured on “Extreme Couponing”, you’ll know what Rakoczy is referring to when she says “you may not have enough food storage in your home, and the items may start to encroach on your living space.”

“Stockpiling groceries is seen as hoarding by people who do not understand how the savviest shoppers shop,” Rubrecht contends. “The bigger your stockpile gets, the less money you will be spending each week.” She advises building a stockpile only of things you actually need – while paying attention to expiration dates so nothing goes to waste. “Seriously, who needs a hundred bottles of barbecue sauce or a room full of pasta?” she asks.

Bargain Shopping Often Leads to Unhealthy Choices,” is reason number four that Rakoczy stopped extreme couponing. “The vast majority of the coupons available are for junk food, ready-to-eat meals, frozen foods, and processed lunch meats,” she writes.

“Couponing isn’t about filling your house with junk,” says Rubrecht. While it’s true that coupons for produce and other fresh products are rare (though not nonexistent), you can use the money you’re saving on other items, to spend on perishables. You won’t get it all for free, but you’ll still be spending a lot less overall. Remember all of Rubrecht’s free toothpaste? “The money I would have spent on toothpaste before,” she writes, “has been spent on other great deals.”

Then there’s coupon fraud. “Coupons Are Often Used Illegally,” writes Rakoczy. “Some people purposefully use coupons incorrectly,” she says. “While I never participated in these practices, I could see how it would be tempting to do so.”

Rubrecht’s solution? Don’t. In an earlier column devoted to coupon fraud, she insists “there is no reason to lie, cheat or steal to save money.” There are plenty of savings available without resorting to fraud – and the fact that other people may use coupons illegally is hardly a reason to stop couponing yourself.

Finally, how much time do you really want to devote to all this? “Couponing Can Become a Time-Consuming Obsession,” is the last reason Rakoczy cites for giving up extreme couponing. “Buying multiple papers, organizing the coupons, reading up on the deals, making shopping lists, going to multiple stores, and checking out while using 100 or more coupons can take huge amounts of time,” Rakoczy writes. “Ultimately, it may not be time well spent if you are saving thousands of dollars on things that you don’t need and shouldn’t buy.”

In an earlier article about the truths and myths of couponing, Rubrecht acknowledges that “couponing does take a little time.” But it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. If you don’t have the time to go all out, start slowly. “In two hours or less a week you can be well on your way to a lower grocery bill,” Rubrecht says.

In summary, there’s certainly a middle ground between extreme couponing and non-couponing. But Rakoczy says she feels better about going cold turkey. “I make smarter shopping choices when I don’t let coupons make my purchasing decisions,” she told Coupons in the News. “Once in a great while I will use a coupon if there happens to be one for a product that I was definitely going to buy anyway and if the coupon happens to come to my attention,” she adds, but “I don’t even look at the coupon section in the newspaper any more.”

Rubrecht, though, is on a mission to prove that couponing doesn’t have to be extreme. “Please stop spending more on groceries than you should,” she pleads. “Even if you only redeem $5 in coupons each week, it’s a savings of $260 a year.” That won’t make you rich, or fill your house with so many products that you’ll never need to shop again, but it’s money in your pocket that otherwise wouldn’t have been there. “There is no shame in couponing,” Rubrecht concludes. “Hold your head high and don’t give up on those friends you haven’t quite convinced to coupon.” And who knows, maybe Rubrecht will convert Rakoczy – again.

One Comment

  1. I think it’s the addictive personality trait in these couponers that leads them to this extreme behavior to begin with. Greed is abnormal. Hoarding and turning your home into an extension of your local grocery store or pharmacy is disturbing. If you’ve got enough mayo or deodorant to last you a year. That should be enough. Let another person take advantage of the same deals. The same bargain, deals, sale, etc. always come back. Try couponing again next year to stock up on items you need. If you’re couponing to help your extended family, local food bank or shelter, that’s admirable. Our country (USA) would be even more successful if everyone would help each other and not treat each other like a competitor, in my opinion.

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