Friday, April 15, 2011

Quantificating

Only ten more days until my mood rises with our Lord. Can't wait.

In the meantime, I made the mistake of watching this new TLC show called "Extreme Couponing". Has anyone seen this? After watching for about forty seconds I wanted to climb in a hot bath and open a vein.

Here's my problem. Well, here are my problems, I should say.

Parsimony
Word for the week: parsimony. The quality or state of being stingy. Adj: parsimonious. There will always be people who will do anything to save a dime, and on the flip side there will be people who would rather spend ALL their dimes than sacrifice a pleasure or preference. Of everything in this very opinionated post, this is the most subjective and potentially offensive part, so I'd like to note that this is my personal feeling in response to this particular show - and to assure you that though I disparage the extreme couponers, it doesn't necessarily follow that I can't appreciate the value of thrift and good management.

But.

The cheapskates on this show are unbelievable. The amount of time they'll expend, the sheer number of hours involved in collecting and sorting hundreds of coupons, memorising store policies, dividing their purchases into two or more carts so that everything is grouped to maximise savings, according to double or triple-couponing, the mental energies directed to this whole exercise....and all so that they don't have to PAY FOR THEIR FOOD. It seems so dreary, so miserly, so small-minded. It's all so narrow and pinching - the complete opposite of words like largesse, generosity, good-naturedness, open-handedness.

I don't have any idea what their other expenses are, naturally, but I don't imagine those people are taking public transit, turning off lights, installing solar panels, or disconnecting their cable TV service. I'm willing to bet that most of their money-saving initiatives are directed at their food - the nourishment of their bodies, the fuel that keeps them alive, the single biggest factor in the health of humans. Which brings me to...

Food Value
90% of what I see bought on this show is packaged food. Aside from the odd trip to Meats or Dairy, these people are spending hours cruising up and down the centre aisles of the grocery store - and doesn't everyone know by now, hasn't everyone heard this truism: that the FOOD is found on the outside four walls? Bread, dairy products, meat, fruit and vegetables. You can live your entire life - longer AND better - on just those, never having seen a Frito Lay or bought a can of Campbell's. How many coupons are published to help you save money on fresh produce? Hardly any. Why? Because those are actually worth your money. They can be difficult and costly to grow, maintain and transport, and their nutritional value is both potent and fragile. So far, I haven't seen a single head of broccoli or bunch of carrots on this show. And people, let me tell you something I'm sure you already know: what prepared packages of food have to offer you, you don't need.

Obsessive Behaviour
Well. This one's kind of obvious. Reality TV thrives on obsessive behaviour, but there's something extra depressing about a person who spends weeks clipping bits of paper, spends five hours pushing a cart around choosing what the coupon marketers want them to choose, burns holes in the checkout screen with their eyes in case the coupon doesn't get entered properly, and then crows triumphantly when their bill is reduced by 90%. Great job! You've taken home a bunch of crap and preservatives to cram into your family's mouth for the next several years. Every time you eat some of it you can congratulate yourself that you didn't pay for it. The only thing better than butylated hydroxytoluene is FREE butylated hydroxytoluene.

What draws these people to extreme couponing is not need (I don't imagine TLC is going to be featuring truly poverty-stricken people on this show - from what I've seen the families are more likely to be covered in bling and loading their free groceries into huge shiny SUVs), it's the gloat-factor - the feeling that they've put one over on the Man, got something for nothing, And THAT'S the obsessive part. "Extreme Couponing" is a shiny, tidied version of two other TLC shows - "My Strange Addiction" and "Hoarding-Buried Alive". For the hoarding bit, read on.

Stockpiling

In order to save the most money, you need to be able to buy in quantity. Nobody really needs to have ten boxes of Frosted Flakes at once, so you have to store what you don't use right away. Do I want to have a garage stacked floor to rafters with non-perishable food, which is mostly processed and packaged trash, preservatives, and chemicals? What does it add to my life - the knowledge that if I have the urge for chips and ranch dip, it's right there for me? Or maybe the thought that if World War III breaks out, I won't have to loot the Piggly Wiggly, but will be able to fend off all my neighbours with a shotgun while cramming one of my 250 free packs of Twinkies? I don't need that. Neither, I would argue, does anyone.

*   *   *

Probably some readers will think I'm crazy and sit there telling their laptops in a loud voice how wrong I am. Straighten me out in the comments - go ahead and give me a blast! I'm sure I'm overlooking something important - like perspective. And on that note, I'd like to point out, through clenched teeth, that there is no such word as "cuepon". Of the many abominations perpetrated against the English language, that mispronunciation is among the most irritating.

Okay, and now just let me check......hang on, give me a second.....Yep, I think I've probably offended everybody. I can click 'Post' now.

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By the way, a point of interest - in Canada, we don't have double and triple couponing. Every coupon I've ever seen has, in the fine print, "one coupon per customer per product". So "Extreme Couponing - Canadian Edition" would be an awfully short-lived experiment, wherein we watch Doug Mackenzie save $2.50 on a single package of back bacon and get 50% off select garden hoses when he buys one at regular price. There might be a mail-in rebate, but I wouldn't count on it.

27 comments:

kate said...

Almost peed my pants laughing, especially when you got to the back bacon and garden hoses.

kristieinbc said...

This is the best post I have read in ages. Both funny and true. I loved "the only thing better than butylated hydroxytoluene is free butylated hydroxytoluene" line. I think the people that shop the middle aisles can only read the fine print on coupons. Ingredient lists are too difficult.

I watched one episode of the hoarders show when I was visiting my parents last fall and I have yet to recover.

Jeannette said...

I don't think the couponing game is so much about saving money as it is about "winning". What I find sad is that the prize seems to be worth so little.
It's a reminder that we should choose our battles carefully.
On the other hand: yes, it's obsessive, but it's kind of a harmless obsession, as long as one doesn't actually EAT that stuff, and it does give people something to occupy their time, maybe keeps them out of serious trouble.

geekknitter said...

I don't know Shan... you're going to have to work a lot harder than that to offend me!

I clipped coupons for a while, but then I realized that I wasn't buying things I really wanted or needed. Well, except for those Keebler cookies... everybody needs those every now and then.

Gwen said...

Oooh, Kristie... zing! GREAT comment re: fine print!!!

Fantastic post, Shan! You're in good form! :)

Beth said...

The word "cuepon" is grating. Agreed.

I haven't seen the show, but what you are describing to me sounds like a couple of people I know who think there is some trick to life. If they just figure it out, they will be richer, smarter, and therefore happier than everyone else (and the "than everyone else" part is at least as important as the rest).

They don't get that the reason the rest of us have jobs, families, contentment, is that our "trick" is hard work and reasoned behavior. They also don't get that sometimes we hate our jobs, grow frustrated with our families, and experience discontent. Nope. If we aren't them, if we don't complain, we must just have some trick.

These guys are different ages (~30 & ~85) and don't know each other, different walks of life. In addition to this attitude, they both never ever seem to find happiness or even a moment of peace. It's not a coincidence.

I wonder if these guys see "Extreme Cueponing" and think "wow those guys got it figured out."

That's my long addendum. You may have figured out I agree with you.

Oh, one more thing. Most coupons I see have fine print here in the US. I've never doubled up a coupon. Maybe I'm just not extreme enough.

audabee_k said...

Well said! I agree!

Ames said...

Just make sure you speak with reverence when you speak of The Pig.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Awesome kiddo - you have a gift. Really, a gift. And now I will thank the heavens that your gifts, though they be many and varied, do not include coop awning.

Tamara said...

So glad Dave linked to your blog - loved it.

Many, many years ago I had a friend once upon a time who was a couponer. She was kind of condescending that I didn't use them - asked if I was loyal to a brand or something, and I fell for it and gave it a try.

I very quickly realized that I had a lot of junk in my cabinets that I wasn't going to eat and wasn't going to feed my family. I'm not a total outer wall shopper, but I spend most of my money on real food.

I always did say, though, that in case of a natural disaster or WW3, I knew where to find food - in her basement. lol - most of it's probably expired, though!

Betty said...

Great, I'm glad Dave linked to your post. It is going onto my daily read list. Sorry in advance, I don't always leave a comment, but I will be thinking of you (and Dave too)

Olson Family said...

Brilliant! Perfectly brilliant! Some of the best writing I've read on this subject!

Belinda said...

Ha ha! I gave up this vice years ago, although I once engage! Life is too short! You gave us the gift of laughter and good reading. No coupons involved. Thank you.:)

Jan said...

Dave suggested that his followers check out your blog and I can't agree more with all of your post. Things such as living my life take up too much time to spend hours sorting through coupons and and figuring out where to store a huge quatity of pseudo food. Thanks for your comments ...finally someone who is not awe inspired by people without lives

My Girls R Angels said...

OH my! Too funny! LOVE the butylated hydroxytoluene reference. What is that stuff anyway, besides really bad for you?! :)

Lorraine said...

I agree. I buy in bulk from Sam's club, but only food my family will really eat, cereal, canned tomatoes in various varieties, some cookies and crackers. Coupons are good if you use the stuff anyway.

Recently I've scored with buy one, get one offers.

Anonymous said...

I just love it when the coupon show comes on or is advertised in the Hoarding show. The only difference between the two is how neat they keep their supplies. So far they have only showed the excess stacked in closets, under beds and in the garage.
Thought I was the only one who thought the idea was out to lunch and glad to find others who agree.

carlarey said...

Jeanette and Beth are right, it's not about need, it's about winning, somehow feeling like you beat the big guys.

My brother-in-law is one of these guys, and the thrill he gets out from feeling like he got something for nothing is almost painful to watch. Although it does make for a nice bookend with my second brother-in-law, who loves to gloat over how much he paid for everything.

Amy said...

I came here from Dave Hingsburger's blog, and I'm glad that I did. Somehow you managed to put in words everything I've thought about that show. Not only am I not offended, I'm relieved to know I'm not the only one who felt that way!

lizbon said...

Oh thank god you included that point about mispronunciation. The only thing worse than kew-coupon is nucular. Gak.

Susan said...

You haven't offended me. I totally agree with you...

Dave Hingsburger said...

OK, I've got to mention the word that drives me crazy 'lie-berry' for library. lcasfij;nf;vn;idfd;n is my response.

Shan said...

Oh, agreed: nucular and lie-berry are right up there with "as per usual" and "orientate".

Speaking of the degradation of our language, did you know "LOL" has made it into the Oxford English Dictionary? Take cover, folks.

Annalea said...

Offended? Who? To roughly quote the Ervin Doctrine*:

The opinion of goobers doesn't matter.

And butylated hydroxytoluene "is a lipophilic (fat-soluble) organic compound that is primarily used as an antioxidant food additive (E number E321) as well as an antioxidant additive in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, jet fuels, rubber, petroleum products, electrical transformer oil, and embalming fluid."

Mmmmmm, yeah! I <3 it when food-supply goobers put embalming fluid additives in my breakfast.

Check, please?

*Named after a friend of ours, with a rather shadier vocab than I prefer to use. ;o)

Unca Joe said...

Shannon, mine is jewlery insead of jewellery. Drives be bonkers. Gold echange jokers on TV imploring people to bring in their old "j" word in exchange for cash!

quintessentialknits@yahoo.ca said...

I second Dave's comment - Shan, you do really have a terrific gift!
Further to your points - I can't help but think if they(the couponers) put all that energy and effort into studying something useful, the world could be a better place, oh and also- why, I wonder, if they have all that extra food - don't they do one trip a month for their local food bank? It's all free - it will only cost them their time.
Loved the Post!
Karen

Elizabeth McClung said...

Don't know, don't have a TV. Except that the advantage of stockpiling when you have little to no money is having Toilet paper you haven't stolen from McDonalds or cans of food instead of well, no food. It would be more like 'Canadian Edition: point cards and price comparison'.