I’ve spoken out against the concept of “extreme couponing” a few times already. In search of ratings, television shows — and in particular, “reality” television shows, use creative editing to make practitioners seem crazier than they are, but the concept has caught on so well, some people, in real reality, stop at very little in order to save some money. Never mind that the mathematics behind extreme couponing is often exaggerated; never mind that the typical couponer could earn more money than she saves by spending the same amount of time working more; never mind that excessive couponing ruins savings possibilities for everyone else and increases prices.
The pressure to find the biggest score has couponers breaking laws under the auspices of “savings savvy.” People who still have non-digital newspaper subscriptions have been reporting an increasing number of missing deliveries. These newspapers are being stolen off porches by unscrupulous discount hunters. Walking door-to-door isn’t efficient, however, and many couponers have discovered that they can simply lift stacks of papers earmarked for early morning deliveries and newspaper vending machines.
Earlier this month, an extreme couponer was arrested for stealing newspapers. Legitimate extreme bargain hunters claim that this practice is not common, and this is not a behavior that extreme couponers support. This message is getting lost in today’s culture where super-frugality is a sport, and getting products for bargains, for free, or for even less is more important than either logic, ethics, or the law.
People can certainly be successful without resorting to illegal tactics and without hoarding unneeded products in order to pay less money for needed products, but the competition to win at this game can be so intense that it drives people to do stupid things. And when they’re caught, they claim they didn’t know stealing was illegal.
“Moderation in all things” is a classical philosophy ideal that, when followed, could help guide someone toward a more satisfying life. I don’t always agree with this philosophy, but when it comes to extreme fanaticism about a concept, the purpose will sometimes become secondary to the fanaticism itself. The idea behind extreme couponing isn’t to get as many great deals as possible, and build new shelves and buy more refrigerators to store all these great deals, it’s to spend as little as possible on those items which are necessary.
If extreme couponing has turned into an obsession, especially if it encourages someone to resort to breaking laws to satisfy the thrill of getting something for nothing and reducing the quality and quantity of time one spends on other important things in that person’s life, any possible savings will not make up for the lowered quality of life.
Published or updated August 14, 2011.