I didn’t really intend to watch Extreme Couponing. In large part, I objected to use of the word “coupon” as a verb. Not. A. Verb. “Couponing” therefore is not a real word. The proper way to verbally characterize the act of clipping and using coupons is to say “clipping or using coupons”. There’s no need to mangle the language and make up new verbs instead.
(For the record, I feel just as strongly about the word “incentivize”. It’s on the Merriam-Webster website but I think it’s wrong. There was nothing wrong with saying “create incentives”. “Incentivize” is just dumb corporate-speak gone mainstream.)
Anyway, imaginary vocabulary words aside, the entire premise of Extreme Couponing didn’t look like interesting television. Who really wants to watch people shop for condiments? Not me. But I do like to watch polygamists and Extreme Couponing comes on after Sister Wives so I ended up watching part of it kind of by accident and kind of because I could not look away. There was this lady who spends dozens of hours each week researching sales and coupons so she can spend next to nothing for more mustard than anyone should even consider eating over the course of a lifetime unless they are participants in an experiment to see how quickly one can develop condiment-acquired hypertension. I think she bought about 60 bottles. This broad pulled up to the register with multiple carts and watched as the retail total on her merchandise crept up over $1000 (which is more than I spend on groceries in a month, I might add) and then she handed over her coupons and brought the total down to something ridiculous like $100. Then she took it all home to store in her bunker in the event of the apocalypse.
No, not really. This would all be easier to take if she were a garden-variety doomsday conspiracy theorist who was preparing for life after a fiery end to humanity, or at least the food processing portions thereof. Instead, she’s a woman whose husband lost his job and she didn’t want to change their standard of living, which apparently involved a cut-glass goblet full of mustard as a beverage at each meal. So, she figured out how to buy stuff using coupons and store sales for a fraction of the cost. Which would be admirable if she wasn’t basically just a really cheap hoarder.
Apparently there’s a whole sub-culture of people out there who time their grocery shopping to coincide with sales and they use coupons as well to bring prices way down. They buy enough of any given product to last them until the next time it goes on sale, which I guess is every few months. That sounds like a reasonable goal but the behavior can be taken to disturbing extremes, as evidence by Extreme Couponing. Like the guy with over 1,000 tubes of toothpaste. Or the lady with 4,000 diapers stockpiled in her basement even though she has no children. Oh, and the lady with all the mustard has been accused of coupon fraud so there’s even a coupon underworld where nefarious actors make the rest of the harmless bargain-hunting stockpilers look bad.
Now, tell me this: what is the difference between the man with hundreds of pounds of toothpaste stacked neatly in his garage and those people on Hoarding: Buried Alive who have Christmas ornaments stacked to the ceiling of their downstairs powder room? Because to me, they look like different versions of the same disorder.
When did we become so obsessed with stuff that we have to have it, even if we don’t have the money? Why not use less mustard per sandwich? Switch from paper towels to cloth ones that can be washed to save a little money? Make chicken soup from the bones of a chicken you already ate instead of buying a case of canned soup at cost? Or what about only buying the stuff that we need instead of the stuff that we might need at some undefined point in the future? What comfort does a basement full of bodywash and sports drinks really bring? It won’t make life less uncertain. It won’t stave off misfortune. It’s basically an illusion of security. And the hours spent poring over circulars and websites is time that never comes back. Sure, it’ll save you money but what will you be losing instead?
Maybe someday a day will come when my resources are so restricted that I’ll understand diving into the world of radical coupon usage. But until that day comes, I’ll satisfy my desire to be thrifty by scoping out the sale racks at Target and use the time I save to hang out with my family. Ans I’ll never use “coupon” as a verb.