Is extreme couponing a manifestation of insanity?

In times of great stress I manifest several unsavoury obsessive compulsive traits. I’ve been known to break a polo mint or a refresher into 8 individual segments before eating it for example but I’ve never plumbed what I would consider the depths of extreme couponing. I was reading this article on the BBC Magazines website about the craze. By the use of the word coupon instead of voucher, the astute among you may have guessed that this craze is primarily prevalent over the Atlantic with our American cousins at the moment but what they do today, we do tomorrow. There’s an analogy involving farting and holding your nose in there somewhere but I can’t be bothered to find it.

Reading that some people are spending upwards of 15 hours a week scanning newspapers and magazines (presumably in the library, else their spend on reading material is going to far outstrip their savings) in order to save a chunk off their shopping bill strikes me as a bit mad. I don’t know how it differs in the USA from over here, but if the Americans need classes in how to effectively coupon, I for one am a bit worried.

My one maxim in being shopping promotions is probably “If you don’t need it, it’s not a bargain, no matter how much they’ve knocked off the price”. I think the only thing we tend to stockpile when it’s on special offer is tinned tomatoes. We use them in all sorts of meals and it’s not like we’ll binge on them if there are suddenly more in the house. Things like crisps or chocolate on special offer don’t save you money, they make you fatter. Or at least they do with me- on a buy one get one free, I’ll just eat twice as much, it’s as if I eat to a value, not a quantity.

Our average weekly food bill is in the region of £90-£140, depending on what we need to stock up on (and it that I include the other stuff bought in supermarkets, like nappies and household goods, so it’s not strictly our food bill at all). In order to get our spend down to a level to justify the investment of 15 hours of time, we’d need to be knocking a third to a half off of that. I mean, I’d be better off doing a paper round surely, since I can’t imagine getting enough money off vouchers together to discount my shopping by £30-£70. It’s below minimum wage stuff, really it is. I could understand it a little more if it took about an hour and you were saving maybe a tenner but 15 hours is a pretty intensive time investment.

Perhaps though I have it wrong and where we have BOGOF’s (by one get one free) and multibuy discounts, the Americans just have coupons. Even so, I’d struggle to see on our till receipt more than a £15 multibuy saving going through in any given week, which would represent a £1/h earning rate if I spent 15 hours researching our spending every week.

So then does it just appeal to those who are a bit obsessive? I suppose there are worse things to get obsessed with, lottery scratchcards heading the list, closely followed by anything that isn’t really creative or costs money but I can’t help feeling that people should be channelling their obsessive nature into something a little more productive.

Mind you, reading up on it more, and coming across posts like this one seem to suggest a lot of the point in extreme couponing is gaming the stores really poor till systems. For example, I can’t imagine a UK supermarket letting something like a BOGOF on vitamins AND a manufacturer rebate go through that means the shop is actually paying you $3 a time to buy vitamins.