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Jolie Rouge
06-27-2011, 08:12 PM
Extreme Couponing: 5 Reasons to Steer Clear
By Farnoosh Torabi | May 6, 2011

I’ve been writing about money for nearly 10 years, and I’ve found that coupon advocates, in general, are a very protective bunch. I was recently critical of extreme couponing - à la the new TLC show with the same name - and, as expected, I got some unhappy feedback from readers.

My position was (and is) that if you’re buying, say, 18 boxes of laundry detergent because you have a coupon, you’ve gone overboard. You may be buying more than what you need - which, in the end, is not smart spending. All things in moderation, right? Janet, a coupon devotee, responded via email and strongly disagreed. “You’re wrong,” she told me. “The fact that I have a stockpile of goods means more family vacations, healthy happy kids, and a mortgage that’s paid off early.”

But like it or not, there are some undeniable costs to coupons, especially when they’re hunted down and used excessively.

Here’s what research shows:

1. Most food-related coupons are unhealthy.

Couponers saved more than $3.7 billion in 2010 thanks to 50 cents off here and $1 off there. But most of those coupons went towards unhealthy products. We rarely see clip-and-save options for fruit, meat or organic foods. Instead, most coupons in the food category are for processed foods and snacks - otherwise known as “junk” food. The top 5 coupon categories compiled by CouponsInc.com in 2010 were:

Ready-to-Eat Cereal
Refrigerated Dough (e.g. cookie dough and biscuits)
Portable Snacks (e.g. pudding cups, cookies and chips)

It’s nice to see vegetables finally making the list. In the past they were nowhere to be found.

Why most food tied to coupons is unhealthy is a case of unfortunate economics. “Coupons are usually issued by big companies with deep pockets, because the setup of a coupon business is quite expensive,” says Hemi Weingarten, founder and CEO of Fooducate, an iphone app for scanning and choosing healthy groceries. Businesses, in fact, spent more than $45 billion on promotional marketing in 2009, including coupons, according to VSS Communications. “Many of the healthy food brands are too small and cannot afford it. And since most produce is not branded, there is not enough of an incentive along the supply chain to provide coupons,” says Weingarten.

Cheap, processed and unhealthy products have some of the highest margins in the grocery industry, too. “They’re very cheap to manufacture, and the brands still make a fortune even after the coupon discount,” he says. “But when you think of your cost to manage diabetes after 20 years of drinking soft drinks, it starts to seem expensive.”

2. Some coupons promote spending, not saving.

Last year, more than a quarter of all coupons for consumer packaged goods - items like cleaning supplies, toiletries and pet food - required us to buy two or more items to get the discount, according to marketing services firm Valassis. These deals entice us to spend more than we should. Let’s say all I need is one box of ice cream. A coupon says if I buy two, I’ll get one free. So what happens? A lover of ice cream, I come home with three boxes, spending twice as much as I had anticipated. The added calories won’t do me any favors, either.

These kinds of coupons take advantage of our cognitive biases. I recently wrote about pricing psychology and the different ways retailers trick us into thinking we’re getting a deal. Behavioral experts have discovered that when we see “free” on a coupon - even if it says “Buy Three Get One Free” - we immediately tend to think the deal has no downside.

3. Coupons encourage us to buy products we normally wouldn’t.

Many manufacturers and retailers create coupons for new products that they want to introduce to the market. There’s nothing wrong with trying new products, but buying something just because we have a coupon can be a frivolous way to spend. According to a 2009 survey by The Food Marketing Institute, 75% of people said coupons had at least some influence on their decision to buy a new product. I recently hopped on Coupons.com to find coupons for beverages.

My choices included:

$1 off a six-pack of So Delicious Coconut Milk
$1 off a six-pack of Snapple
$3 off a multi-pack of Boost Kid Essentials Nutritionally Complete Drink
50 cents off any RelaxZen product

Okay, I’ve heard of Snapple, but I had to look up what the rest of these products were. RelaxZen, I discovered, is a flavored drink “designed to help calm and relax your mind, elevate your mood and feelings of emotional well-being.” I think I’ll pass. Not to my surprise, I didn’t find any coupons for regular milk or orange juice.

If you don’t want to take my word that these products are frivolous - I admit that I’m not a typical household - take it from 45-year-old Adelina Banks, aka “MoneyMagicMom” on Twitter and an avid mom blogger. She’s a single mom of two boys ages 17 and 11 and agrees coupons can entice us to buy unfamiliar products that don’t really have a place in our pantries and shouldn’t have one in our diets. “In the past when I’ve had a coupon I’ve actually felt pressure to purchase the item, to find a way to ‘work’ it into my shopping list,” she tells me. “Coupons are useful but I would never buy around them. I look through the fliers to see what’s on special, flip through my favorite cookbooks for recipes, ’shop’ my cupboard and freezer to see what ingredients I already have, and then hit the store with a list. I collect coupons for items I normally buy - but if another brand, especially a store brand, is at a better price I go with that.”

4. To some, coupons offer a false sense of security.

A popular - though, debatable - claim among some coupon advocates is that money saved with coupons is potentially equal to or greater than money they could earn working. A Wall Street Journal reporter did some math last year and figured couponing is equal to making $86.40 an hour - a conclusion that sparked many a high-five in the couponing community.

Others disagreed with the Journal’s calculations, however. And if couponers are opting out of the workforce because they think coupon-cutting is a more productive use of their time - well, that’s a pretty narrow-minded way of looking at life, says Dr. Ted Klontz, financial behavioral consultant and author of Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Our Financial Health. He’s found that people who are obsessed with couponing trust that as long as they have a stack of coupons - or are in pursuit of more - their financial life is safe. But they are misled, says Dr. Klontz: “If they actually spent that time and energy on their jobs or getting a job, it would be a significantly better overall outcome for them … they would probably be better financially.”

5. Couponing can become an addiction.

At best, coupons can help us save money on healthy foods and household products we would buy normally. At worst, the pursuit can affect our mental health. “There’s a line between being prudent and having the activity take control of you, instead of you controlling it – whether its couponing, exercising, eating, whatever,” says Dr. Klontz. He says the obsession with saving money can take over people’s lives, destroying marriages and other relationships. “There’s a point to which couponing makes sense, and then there are people who step over the line. They fall into the category of what we would call financial hoarding disorder,” he says. If coupon hunting is beginning to occupy more and more of your time - to where you’re neglecting other, more important things, like our well-being, family and job - or if your loved ones are complaining that you’re spending too much time on the web or circulars surfing for coupons, you may have a problem.


Jolie Rouge
06-27-2011, 08:21 PM
Extreme Coupons: TV Show Draws Extreme Backlash
Farnoosh Torabi at CBS MoneyWatch
Monday, June 27, 2011

Last month I described five reasons to steer clear of extreme couponing, and now I think I have a sixth: It brings out the worst in both consumers and retailers.

Industry watchers say TLC's popular reality show, Extreme Couponing -- which depicts coupon-obsessed men and women spending 30 to 40 hours a week cutting coupons to net pounds and pounds of groceries for pennies on the dollar (exhausted yet?) -- may be causing more harm than good in the real world.

On the retail front, some big retailers -- wary of couponing copycats -- are pushing back on former coupon allowances for ordinary shoppers:

• At Rite Aid, shoppers can no longer combine buy-one-get-one-free coupons or promotions -- a strategy that, in the past, allowed customers to get two free items. The chain is also limiting the number of coupons a shopper can use per item to four, as long as there is enough stock. Before, the store accepted "multiple identical coupons for multiple qualifying items."

• Target now forbids "stacking," the act of combining manufacturer and store buy-one-get-one-free coupons, in order to receive both items for free.

Meanwhile, viewers are trying to take on the TV show's tricks to no avail -- and becoming depressed by their inability to replicate the savings achieved by the pros on the show. "Is Extreme Couponing Hurting Self Esteem?" asks Leah Ingram on her blog Suddenly Frugal. Phil Lempert, food industry expert and editor of Supermarketguru.com, told her that "shoppers no longer feel good about saving $10, or 10-to-20 percent. They're becoming depressed that they are not able to buy $1,000 or more groceries for 25 cents."

And, believe it or not, some of the coupon-obsessed across the country have reportedly turned to newspaper theft to take advantage of as many coupon circulars as possible. Some subscribers complain that their papers are missing coupon inserts, while some regional newspaper companies report papers have been stolen from coin-operated racks. Now, that's extreme.

Coupon Dos & Don'ts

Still, as wary as I am of coupon mania, I'm willing to concede that there are some smart ways to use coupons -- as long as you're buying something you actually want or need. Many stores still have lenient policies. Here's some advice for tactfully getting the most out of coupons and some coupon etiquette Do's and Dont's.

Do Know Your Limits. Save time, energy and embarrassment at the register by playing with the rules established by retailers and manufacturers. Visit their Web sites to learn if there have been any updates or changes to their coupon policies.

Do Ask Friends and Neighbors to Leave Aside Papers. Some people actually subscribe to newspapers for the articles, not the coupons. It's perfectly acceptable to ask these friends and family members -- politely -- to set aside the coupons for you to pick up at a later time.

Don't Barter for New Papers. According to a report in North County Times, local publishers say customers are asking to return papers for new ones with fresh coupon circulars. I'm all for trading up, but, really?

Do Start a Small Coupon Swap. Rather than stealing your neighbor's Sunday paper to benefit from the extra coupon circular, create a support system through a small, local coupon exchange. Members can meet once a week in person for 30 minutes to exchange coupons for things they actually would buy anyway. (One person's buy-one-get-one-free instant oatmeal is another person's 50-cents-off cold cereal.) Online exchanges also exist at savingsadvice.com and thriftyfun.com.

Don't Copy Coupons. Many stores mention in their coupon policies that "coupons are void if copied, scanned, transferred, purchased, sold " etc. Again, stick with the official policy. You'll still manage to save a good chunk of change -- and by skipping a long debate at the checkout, you'll also avoid unnecessary delays both for you and the shoppers waiting behind you.

Do Ask Manufacturers to Send Coupons Directly. If you can't find manufacturers' coupons readily on their Web sites, email or call them to request coupons be sent directly to your inbox. That's what many successful couponers claim to do. It sometimes earns them freebies, as well.


Jolie Rouge
07-06-2011, 03:16 PM
Cutting costs at the grocery store often involves stockpiling coupons, planning menus, giving back[o]
Jean Chatzky Wednesday, July 6th 2011, 4:00 AM[/i]
http://www.nydailynews.com/money/2011/07/06/2011-07-06_cutting_costs_at_the_grocery_store_often_involv es_stockpiling_coupons_planning_m.html

Seriously? Couponing can be so lucrative that some people even make money doing it. Have you seen "Extreme Couponing" on TLC? The topic is people who go to, well, extremes to save money on groceries. They stockpile. They Dumpster-dive for circulars. They make couponing a full-time job.

And they save - often upward of 90% on their grocery bill. No, that's not a typo.

Watch one episode, and you'll be thinking about how you can get in on this game. Groceries are one of the biggest household expenses for most families, and cutting that cost creates wiggle room in budgets that is often desperately needed these days.

But if you don't have a double-wide pantry to store your deals - large quantities are often involved - Dumpster-diving isn't your forte, or you don't like bumming Sunday papers off neighbors, perhaps you'll consider Not-So-Extreme Couponing. This method will save money - lots of it - but also save time and space, says Jeanette Pavini, a household savings expert at Coupons.com.

She put it to the test using a stopwatch to plan a menu for a family of four, plus pets, based solely on coupons and sale items. It took her 20 minutes to clip coupons, another 20 to meal-plan.

She saved $114 - about 46% off her bill. By doing this regularly, Pavini estimates that families could save $1,400 a year on groceries in just 40 minutes a week. Here's what you need to do:

Make a list/menu plan

What you buy and eat each week should depend on your store's sales and your coupons. A major key to saving money is flexibility. Stephanie Nelson, founder of CouponMom.com, calls it being brand flexible - meaning you might have to buy a different brand of ketchup or a new kind of cracker to chase sales and discounts.

Take a combined approach

To maximize savings, you're going to need the Web and your Sunday circulars. To stay organized, Nelson suggests writing the date on the cover of each circular. Then search for websites like CouponMom.com and find your local store.

Most sites will bring up the deals offered by that store, as well as items that have an associated coupon. CouponMom.com tells you the date that coupon was featured in a circular. You can select the deals you want to narrow the list, then click print. "Your list will be in the order of the date that the coupon came out, and you can cut out the coupons you need from that circular, then move on to the next," explains Nelson, who says the process only takes about 15 minutes. Be sure to save your circulars for the following week. And note that many sites and store websites allow you to load coupons directly onto your store loyalty card, saving more time and paper.


This is a way of combining promotions, and it's probably the cornerstone of Extreme Couponing: You take an item that is already on sale and add a coupon.

It's also how some people make a profit couponing, says Nelson. "National grocery chains like Kroger or Safeway will have a promotion, so if you buy 10 participating items, you automatically get $5 off your order. That's 50 cents off each item. Those items are also always on sale, and if you also have a coupon, you're stacking three programs and you may actually make money."

Stores have different policies on this, so ask your store manager if you're confused.

Pay attention

Grocery sales are cyclical, meaning the same item will generally go on sale at regular intervals - two weeks, four weeks, six weeks. If you pay attention, you can learn the rhythms and always catch favorite items at rock-bottom prices, says Nelson. "Stocking up on your favorite items at the sale price will save you a lot of money. You can cut your grocery bill by 30% or 40%."

Think outside the grocery store

Tons of stores offer and accept coupons these days, says Pavini. "It's not just about cereal anymore. You can find coupons for cosmetics, entertainment, toys."

Often these coupons are featured on the same websites as grocery coupons - Coupons.com has sections for home entertainment, office supplies, even photography - and you'll find some in your Sunday circular as well.

Pay it forward

If you're able to get an extra box of cereal your family won't eat, or you find a promotion that's just too good, consider donating the extra items to a local food bank. They're struggling now and could use all the help they can get. You can find a bank in your area at feedingamerica.org.