Extreme Couponing is a money saver for many, but the practice recently landed a confused woman in legal hot water. , The Consumerist reported a Denton, Texas, coupon addict stole 185 newspapers worth $231 in an effort to lay her hands on advertising inserts.
Surveillance cameras caught the woman swiping bags of unsold newspapers from distribution boxes. In her defense, the alleged thief told police she didn't know it was a crime. The less than sympathetic cops charged her with a Class A misdemeanor that could net her a $4,000 fine and up to one year in jail.
Such practices -- including dumpster diving and stealing from recycling bins -- are giving a black eye to the trend first highlighted in TLC's "Extreme Couponers" reality show. Here are six ways to decide if this practice is up your alley, and some suggestions on how to counteract excessive enthusiasm.
1. It Requires Serious Stockpiling
If you've watched the show, you know coupon junkies dedicate huge amounts of square footage to storing their over-the-top purchases. Even kids' bedrooms aren't off limits when space becomes tight. Some claim they donate a portion of their surplus to food banks, but the majority clearly ends up in their homes. Ultimately, you have to question how many tubes of toothpaste you actually need. Sales happen all the time but, for most of us, space is a premium.
2. You Have to Be Selfish
I saw a lady at our local supermarket entirely clean out a shelf of popular cereal. Sure enough, the ubiquitous coupon binder was perched on her shopping-cart handles. This method leaves nothing for casual shoppers who want to take advantage of a sale. Even little kids know the best practice is to share and share alike.
3. It Consumes Your Free Time
You can't just dedicate a few minutes on Sunday to scanning the inserts and expect to save hundreds of dollars. Extreme couponers dedicate many hours each week to finding, clipping and sorting. That isn't frugality; it's a serious commitment. Done properly, you can actually spend roughly one hour per week and still make a dent in your grocery bill. In fact, the Coupon Sherpa app allows you to search by ZIP code for the supermarket in which you're shopping, check for desired coupons, then download them to your store loyalty card. Now there's a time saver.
4. You Must Make Multiple Stops
You really can't just shop at one store. You have to match coupons with the right merchants then run around filling shopping carts. If you stick to your favorite retailers, you'll spend less time under those irritating fluorescent lights.
5. You Become a People User
The shoppers featured on "Extreme Couponers" usually involve family and friends in the process. While they may consider this a fun activity, most people find it stressful and overwhelming. If you do find a soul willing to help you, make sure there's a reward at the end of the process. Buy them lunch or better yet, why not offer them some items from your grocery hunt!
6. It Takes Over Your Life
Do you really want to be known as the nutty coupon lady (or man)? When extreme couponing takes over your life, it's time to sit back and do a reality check.