Extreme OCD

I think I have to stop watching “Extreme Couponing.”

I’ve only watched three or four episodes. It’s amazing what you can do with some clipping and careful planning. But more and more this show frustrates me to the point of potentially elevating my blood pressure. I respect the frugality of these shoppers. God knows, I could take a cue from them. But rather than use their couponing skills in the best possible way, they take it to an annoying extreme that seems more wasteful than laudably thrifty.

Many of these extreme couponers have a stockpile. They are excessively proud of these stockpiles. They have added special shelving in literally every room of their houses to hold all of the products they’ve amassed on their shopping excursions. Often there is a very specific organizational scheme by which the products with the most recent expiration date are displayed on the outside. Sure, this doesn’t sound bad. Until you start hearing the numbers. They’re usually in the neighborhood of 80 bottles of laundry detergent, 70 boxes of cereal, and hundreds of boxes of pasta. Often they will clear the shelves of a particular product at a store–not because they need that much, but because they have that many coupons. Forty bottles of mustard, 50 jars of pasta sauce, 17 cups of yogurt. Actual ability to consume the product in a reasonable amount of time is apparently not a consideration.

Judging solely on my TV-PhD earned from hours upon hours of watching television shows about people with obsessive disorders, I am fairly certain these shoppers have a very specialized form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. They hoard excessive amounts of food. They know the sale cycle of food at grocery stores (three months, apparently). Despite planning for hours, if not days, and knowing, to the penny, what their orders will amount to, as they watch the initial amount rise, they exhibit behavior that resembles a panic attack. When the total plummets, just as expected, they often do a victory dance and talk about the adrenaline rush they get. And none seem to have any desire to stop: “Even if I win the lottery, I am positive I will keep couponing.”

At least three of the women I’ve seen featured on the show began their extreme couponing after a job loss or other financial setback. Yet, they don’t put their talents to the benefits of others and share their newfound wealth. Do you need all 80 bottles of laundry detergent in your garage? Or 250 boxes of pasta? Not really (certainly not for a few years, and I’m sure you can replenish just fine). But you know who does? Food pantries and homeless shelters.

I have to wonder if these women ever consider retaining what they need for their families, with a reasonable stockpile (you know, like a month or so), and donating the rest of their vast quantities to the needy. I really want to believe that many of them do, but what I see on these shows doesn’t indicate that’s a typical case. One woman boasted that she had a year’s worth of groceries in her stockpile. If that wasn’t extreme enough, she spoke, starry-eyed, of passing her stockpile on to her children upon her death. Lord help me, I wanted to strangle this woman.

One man featured has enough deodorant to last an average adult 150 years. What, exactly, is the purpose of this? On the shopping trip featured on the show, he purchased another cart full. Please tell me why. I need to know. He also had a coupon for a free toothbrush. He literally filled a grocery cart with toothbrushes. His garage is piled floor to ceiling with soaps, shave gels, and lotions, among other products. What good is it doing anyone for this man to have the equivalent of a Sam’s Club in his garage? The only thing that kept me from going to Kentucky to bitch slap him was that he donates some of his haul to his church food pantry.

Only one person I’ve seen so far buys only what she actually needs. She doesn’t buy a ton of things just because it’s cheap or she has a good coupon. And if she wants more variety, she writes to the company asking for more coupons. Additionally, she teaches others how to coupon like she does. I like this woman. Her use of couponing is practical and lacks the frightening obsessive quality most of the others featured on this show exhibit.

I just have to wonder if it’s really saving anything when you’re buying more items than you will possibly ever be able to use. Rather than exhibiting the height of frugality, this seems to me to be a self-congratulatory form of conspicuous consumption. What started for many of these couponers as a way to deal with a financial setback has turned into an annoying way to say, “Look at how much crap I can buy and not pay for!”

I salute these shoppers for their ability to pay under $10 for $1,000+ worth of groceries. I would just be more willing to praise their efforts if they had more to show for it than a warehouse of wasted food.

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~ by yellowbrickrodeo on April 19, 2011.

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