Our adventures in extreme couponing came to an ignominious end by the San Jose Mercury News that hosted the seminar back in September. My roommate got a phone call from the newspaper’s sales office that they were rescinding the Sunday-only subscriptions for $10 USD each due to being “unable to handle the volume” of delivering five copies of the paper every week. We would get a refund for $40 USD in two weeks and receive one Sunday paper each week. The funny thing is that no one told the delivery person to stop bringing the extra copies.
I suspect the real reason for curtailing multiple subscriptions came from pressure by the coupon manufacturers. With changed coupon policies at most stores and less generous coupons becoming common, extreme couponing is getting more difficult to put into practice. While filling up a shopping cart with $1,000 USD in groceries and handing over a thick bundle of coupons to pay absolutely nothing at the checkout stand makes for good television, it requires more time and effort than the average consumer is willing to put in.
Besides, extreme couponing didn’t quite work out for us.
My roommate insisted that we can’t use the coupons until a special website tells us which coupons to use at which store that have a good promotion for certain items. I guess the stores in Silicon Valley don’t have any great deals over the last few months. The growing pile of coupons—the few that we can use—remain unused. I never understood why I have to wait for a website to tell me when to use the coupons. The last thing I want to do is stampede with the herd to clear out the store shelves.
Without waiting for the herd to stampede, I took a different approach to extreme couponing that might be called reality couponing.
- Going on a low-carb diet to trim my weight and food costs at the same time. Nothing focuses the mind than looking up the nutritional labels to count the carbs.
- Buying the same items from week to week. Unless you have a baseline of your existing food costs, you won’t know how much money you’re actually saving.
- Some of the best deals aren’t announced in the newspaper or on a website. If a store is overstocked on an item and/or the expiration date will soon expire, the price will be reduced to move the item off the shelves.
I’m now in a better position to use the few available coupons to save money than I was when I first attended the extreme couponing seminar.
When my roommate suggested that we could take a European vacation with all the money we would be saving from what we learned at the the Extreme Couponing seminar, I had to groan and laugh at the same time. The Extreme Couponing TV reality show often show someone piling $1,000 USD worth of groceries into a shopping cart, handing over a thick bundle of coupons to the cashier, and paying 10% or less of the total balance. The goal is to pay ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for everything.
After receiving our five copies of the San Jose Mercury News on Sunday morning, we scanned through the coupon inserts. As I suspected, we may have a problem with extreme couponing. Many of the coupons weren’t for items that we typically buy every week.
Here are a few coupons that apply to me.
- A $1 USD off coupon for Brut After Shave. This is something that I buy when I can’t afford to buy a $50 USD bottle of Diesel cologne. (Since the Great Recession started in 2008, I’ve gone without a decent cologne for years.) Do I really want to stock up on five bottles of Brut After Shave to save five bucks? Not really.
- A $10 USD off coupon for the 70-count bottle of Claritin allergy medication. Before my father passed away, he used to buy me generic loratadine when he visited the pharmacy at Kaiser Permantente because it was much cheaper than buying it elsewhere. Even with the coupon, Claritin is still too expensive. Costco has a 365-count bottle of generic lotatidine for $13 USD. That’s a much better deal.
- A $1 USD off coupon for Johnsonville sausages. Although this isn’t something I would normally get, sausages can be divided up and kept frozen for individual servings. Is this a good deal? Only if I can find it on sale somewhere.
Many coupons require purchasing two or more items. Extreme couponing has become so popular in recent years that manufacturers and stores are losing money as store shelves are cleared out when an item goes on sale. If you have to buy twice as many items to use a coupon, this may reduces the savings and the incentive to stock up on that particular item. You may have to work harder to find better deals.
Unless one of us wins the lottery, a European vacation is out of the question. The underlying assumption is that $900+ USD would be saved on $1,000 USD worth of groceries. From the videos I’ve seen, this plays out in two ways: the shopper either banks the unspent money into a savings account or pulls out $100 USD to cover the final bill total. Any money we save from extreme couponing will probably buy something shiny. Maybe a new iPod Nano?
My roommate wanted to sign us up for a 90-minute seminar on Extreme Couponing at the San Jose Mercury News headquarters in North San Jose. Since he couldn’t complete the sign up form on his iPad, he sent me the URL and I signed us up for two tickets under my name on my MacBook. The website stated that the Media News Group, which owns most of the regional newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, was the largest distributor of manufacturer coupons. I told my roommate to expect a hard sell for newspaper subscriptions.
I could never figured out exactly where the newspaper office was located. We spent 20 minutes driving up and down North First Street, and from the airport to Fry’s Electronics on Brokaw Road, but still couldn’t find it. A quick check of the iPad with the GPS enabled indicated that the freeway went over East Brokaw Road. Was that the 680 in East San Jose? We drove past Fry’s Electronics and discovered that the 880 has a Brokaw Road exit. No surprise that I didn’t know about that particular exit. The 880 is king of potholes from Silicon Valley to Oakland. (Now king of construction zones with Caltrans paving over the potholes.) No one takes the 880, if it can be avoided.
We drove around the San Jose Mercury News main building to follow the signs that led to a side entrance for employees. After walking past the security guard in his glass cage and down some long hallways out of the 1960’s, I handed over the printed tickets to a woman at a table. We entered a large room with a stage at one end, long tables folded up against the back wall, and plush office chairs filled with an audience that was mostly women. Not surprising since women have traditionally done all the shopping.
The seminar started with the door prizes, which alternated between a $20 USD gift card for Safeway and a $20 USD coupon book for fast food restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was surprised that my name was called out on the third draw to win a coupon book. I never win door prizes—or anything else. A nice surprise.
We saw several videos from the reality TV show with shoppers filling up their shopping carts with $1,000 USD of groceries, handing over a thick bundle of coupons, and paying $10 or nothing at all for the entire amount. A woman spoke on how extreme couponing works by collecting the coupon inserts from the Sunday newspapers, waiting for products to go sale, and buying five or more items to stock up.
As I suspected, the newspaper had a special deal of five Sunday-only subscriptions for $50 USD. I stopped subscribing to the newspaper years ago because the neighbors kept stealing the paper off my apartment doorstep if I didn’t get to it first. Despite my reluctance, my roommate signed up for the newspaper deal and began our adventures in extreme couponing.