If I happen to buy the Sunday paper and I see coupons for stuff I use or want to try, I'll clip them. And I get a little thrill when I can use one of those coupons in conjunction with my CVS ExtraCare loyalty card; I feel like I've gotten a deal for very little effort. I like being prepared and dislike running out of staple items, so I sometimes buy things in bulk, providing I have the space to store it.
So I was excited when TLC rolled out promos for "Extreme Couponing." I'd heard about the concept. I like saving money -- who doesn't? Maybe I'd pick up some tips from these coupon ninjas.
The only thing I picked up was a resolve never to become one of them. I was stunned and put off by the bizarre behavior, and yet I watched every episode. That's not so hard to figure out: No one would watch a show where nice, normal people occasionally managed to save nominal amounts on shampoo and dog food. Bo-ring.
Call this extreme the sanitary version of one of TLC's other shows, "Hoarding: Buried Alive," a show I also watch with the same absurd fascination. They're not that dissimilar. Both feature people who spend way too much time in stores and pack their houses full of things they couldn't possibly consume or use all of . Extreme couponers proudly show off their "stockpiles" -- meticulously organized shelves full of packaged food, drinks, laundry detergent and paper goods, all scooped up for pennies on the dollar, or for nothing at all. The difference seems to be that with hoarders, there's clearly an illness involved. With extreme couponers, the root more often than not appears to be bald greed or a desire to get one over on The Man.
To be sure, some of the couponers do seem to be motivated by thriftiness -- the Great Recession hasn't given way to a Great Recovery just yet -- and that makes some drastic measures understandable. Feeding a family on a budget is a challenge even in boom times. And some clippers go noble, donating excess to shelters and assembling care packages for soldiers overseas.
But then you see the woman who has ceiling-high piles of diapers -- for babies she doesn't have yet (nope, she's not pregnant). Another who sweeps a shelf clear of mustard, while her hapless husband reminds her, "You know I don't eat mustard, right?" The man with a barrel full of deodorant sticks in his basement. The pregnant woman Dumpster-diving for coupon inserts. Or the woman who wouldn't identify her source for her many coupons, saying only that God provided them.
This couponing phenomenon has consequences for other people, too. How'd you like to be the cashier who has to ring up an extreme couponer's order for an hour or more? What if you do eat mustard but had the misfortune to walk into the store after someone who cleaned off the shelves just because they could?
"Extreme Couponers" recently ended its first run. But before you get sucked into a marathon of it over the summer, remember that despite it being on The Learning Channel, there's not much in the way of education -- it's more like a celebration of abusing the system (and the system is taking notice and cracking down). But TLC has been light on learning and heavy on lurid for awhile, so that 's no great shock. It's weirdly entertaining, yes, but caveat emptor.