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Extreme Couponing: A Discussion

A couple of weeks ago, on NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me..." one of the panelists was shocked to learn that there was an upcoming show on TLC about "extreme couponing." She thought it sounded rather boring - "how can you make a show out of something like that?" For the moment, on the radio show, it was a source of great humor and laughter.

At the time of this NPR broadcast, I'd been seeing commercials for Extreme Couponing almost every single day and was thinking I might watch the premiere. Being currently unemployed, I unfortunately have a lot of time to watch TV - which has the added benefit of allowing me to hone critical thinking skills in terms of the media (example: I adore the portrayal of a career woman who actually is living a balanced and respectable life in TNT's The Closer). But I digress.

Extreme Couponing follows the lives of a select group of people as they spend most of their free time searching through newspaper ads, websites and even, yes, going door to door in the their neighborhood, looking for coupons. They are all about the deal, the chase, the success story. And in a way, it's stunning to see someone get $1200 worth of products for $51 and change.

But then you realize that the "haul" is 200 boxes of pasta, 186 bottles of Gatorade, and a 175 candy bars.

And you begin to think that there is something very, very wrong with this picture.

The way the show works is that they follow these "extreme couponers" on a shopping trip - everything from the preparation for the trip, which can take up to three days of clipping and calculating, to the shopping itself to the trip home. It's obvious that they are pros at this task - frequently, the pre-trip interviews are posed against a backdrop of their previous hauls. One lady, who is married with one young boy, has shelves built into her garage for all the stuff that she buys...and yet she still goes shopping for more. She has enough pasta, pop, treats, and canned goods to survive the Second Coming and then some.

And yet she still wants more.

The thing that I find most disturbing about the show is not the act of saving money, but the idea of saving money unnecessarily. These people are so good at what they do that they don't even need to do it anymore. I mean, what are you going to do with 200 boxes of different kinds of pasta? What are you going to do with 186 bottles of Gatorade, especially when you yourself say that you don't exercise (sidenote: Gatorade, in large quantities, is dangerous for you if you're not exercising)?

Only one of the five people on the show donate their goods to a local charity/food bank.

And this highlights a disturbing trend in American society: We are way too concerned about STUFF. We are way too concerned about the narrative we can tell others, the feeling of awe that saving 99% on groceries inspires in others. But saving that 99% is worthless in practicality if the food simply expires before you ever have a chance to use it - you're actually throwing money away, money that would be perfectly good and useful in many other areas.

And TLC celebrates it.

My friend Kirby referred to the show as the precursor to Hoarding, another TLC show in which people have literally filled their houses with stuff and need therapy to clean out their lives. But the mood in that show is far different from the mood in Extreme Couponing. They are both about the acquisition of THINGS, but one is celebrated while the other is pitied, but they are different parts of the same disorder.

Let's get a conversation going:

What are your thoughts on the prevalence of shows that, on the one hand, celebrate the acquisition of things while ignoring the possible disorder that underlies them? Do you find these to be bad or good examples? Is there redemption here?

Feel free to wax poetic in the comments - I'll be reading and responding.

1 comment:

  1. I would agree with you that this show portrays America's obsession with "stuff". It is also a reason why I don't have cable TV.
    I will say that I know several people that successfully coupon without having to buy ridiculous amounts of any one thing.

    In fact, my mother is a prime example. When I was younger my parents weren't making much money and there were a few times when we lived off of ramen and PB&J sandwiches because we couldn't afford anything else. That's when she started couponing and setting up a well stocked pantry/freezer. She has enough stored up so that we could live off of what she has for several weeks if money is too tight or disaster should strike. Looking in her pantry/freezer you may think she is a bit of a hoarder, but I would argue that this isn't an example of someone who has a problem, just someone who believes in being well prepared. I have learned a lot about being shopping savvy from her (although, I will be the first to admit that I don't always follow said example).

    Did I mention that she volunteers regularly at the local food pantry? Or that she is also very generous with her pantry and will never turn down someone in need? Ask anyone in my hometown and they will tell you that my parents are some of the most generous people they know.

    So, why can't TLC (or any other network) produce shows about people like my mother? Well, its not entertaining and no one would want to watch a show about a "normal" person. Personally, it makes me sad that so many people are obsessed with "reality TV". Instead of trying to find something entertaining to watch why not go out and do something entertaining, or better yet helpful and unselfish!

    I have watched Hoarders and it made me immediately go through my "stuff" and get rid of a bunch. I would hope that in watching these shows people, who might not realize they have a problem, would see themselves in the folks who are featured, and seek professional help. This is unlikely, but I can still hope right?!

    I will leave you with some food for thought: These people that go out and buy ridiculous amounts of packaged foods, do they recycle? How does all of that packaging add up? And what about health concerns with the Gatorade and other highly processed foods that they buy? Hmmmm?

    Great post Dianna! As always you got me thinking outside the box!


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