Thursday, April 7, 2011
Last night TLC debuted a new season of Extreme Couponing. As I watched it, I felt like I needed to speak up and make a few things clear for those who are fairly new to the idea of couponing and stockpiling. Is it real? Can anyone get that kind of savings? Yes, it is real. I've done it. (Check out our $1K Challenge video when I bought $1800 in groceries for $36 for a local food bank.) And yes, anyone can get that kind of savings. But let's be real about this--you can't do that every single time you shop. In fact, you can't do that but maybe 1-2 times a year. Or for some of the bigger shopping trips, 1-2 times in your entire life. Why is it that we can't do it every time? There's many reasons why. Sales come and they go. I can't walk in and get 99% savings every single week, unless I'm only getting the free stuff--and many weeks the free stuff are things I don't need. I shoot for an average of 70% - 80% savings, and feel good at that. Does everyone who does this have their house overrun by stockpiles? NO. I have some tips in our Savings 101 section on clever hidden storage, but no, my house is not overrun with stockpiled groceries. I have a small storage room in my basement, about the size of a standard laundry room, and it holds my stockpile, including my two standing freezers. Understand I have a LOT of food in my house--but I don't have it stored in my kids' rooms, or in rooms all over the house. What kind of savings is reasonable to expect when we go to the store? That really depends on you and your shopping habits. Every family shops differently. I don't have kids in diapers nor do I eat only organic foods. Those would both significantly change your shopping totals. I do however enjoy all-natural products, produce and good cuts of meat, plus a good interest in foods from other cultures and countries. If you shoot for 70% savings week in and week out, that is a reasonably attainable goal. Don't expect to do $500 down to $5 every week. That's a special trip, and was done for the tv show. How much is enough? Again, this depends on your family. I teach in my classes to know what you eat with a menu plan, to have a master shopping list with how much you buy on a regular basis, and then to stock up from there. For most items, a three month supply is more than enough. For about 20% of items you buy regularly, a six month to a year supply is more than enough. There are traps that new couponers fall into. Be careful! No one ever thinks they will be the crazy coupon lady. But it is very, very easy to fall into that trap. Many people start this hating shopping, but quickly find themselves at the store five days a week. Why? Because it is like hitting the lottery every time you go to the store. It is exciting! There is a real rush and a real high that comes with it in the beginning. It is very easy to find yourself stockpiling 100 bags of cat food--and you don't have a cat. No one around you has a cat. But it was free, and it was fun, so you did it! Do stores really let you do 18 transactions in one trip? NO. That was a very patient store, who clearly was ready for the "reality" tv cameras. No store is going to let the average customer come in and let them do more than three or four transactions in one trip before they start giving them the evil eye. Some stores will send you home and ask you to come again another day. Remember, stores are not as interested in a high quantity of products sold to oner person as they are in a high number of customers served. They make more money overall when they serve more customers. How many of a product will a store let me buy in one trip? We encourage a ten per trip limit. Any more than that and the store begins to question you or give you a hard time. If you need more that that, either make multiple trips to the store, or inquire at the service desk about special ordering more of a specific product. Again, stores are interested in serving all of their customers, and in having products on the shelves for all of their customers. You can read more about this in our post The Don'ts of Couponing. So, is this real? Or Reality TV? A little of both. The sales and the strategies are real. The ability to get savings that high is real. But there's a lot of staged "Reality TV" in the middle of it. Having five store employees help you bring your carts to the front; being able to do 18 transactions in one trip; getting 1000 boxes of cereal in one trip--all of those are Reality TV. Oh, and the majority of coupon shoppers do not shop in patent leather stiletto boots. We love to find a deal on them and wear them out--but not to the grocery store. What about coupon fraud? Coupon fraud is very real. In fact, one of the women portrayed on the show is currently at the center of a lot of controversy about coupon fraud. According to a story by Jill Cataldo, J'aime (aka the Extreme Coupon Diva) used to have a YouTube video channel where in several videos she proudly showed viewers how to commit coupon fraud. Her tactics used to range from photo copying coupons (which is illegal) to using coupons on items that they clearly aren't meant for. (Like using toothpaste coupons to buy diapers.) Many of our sharp-eyed readers mentioned during the chat last night in our message board that she not only cleared a shelf (big no-no) but that she used some coupons on products they weren't marked for, like French's dipping sauce coupons being used on the yellow mustard. We are very careful here at cincysavers.com to only teach ethical methods of couponing. As the fraud hurts us all. If you're interested in learning more about how you can coupon and get huge savings, we're ready to help you learn! We have many resources to help you get to the 70% and up 'extreme' savings level. Our Savings 101 section is full of great tips on how to get started! Our Beyond the Basics section has tons of articles on ways to find extra savings. We also offer a free savings class once a month. And don't forget our message boards, where we have thousands of super savers sharing deals every day and helping each other learn new ways to save!