Nothing in Life is Free – The Perils of Extreme Couponing

Don’t get me wrong. I love a bargain. Clearance racks of clothes and shoes draw me like a moth to the flame. But when it comes to food? Not so much. clipped-coupons

Some time back, an interesting article ran in Money magazine about the art of “extreme” couponing <view link>. These grocery cart mavens score impressive feats of shopping, regularly scoring $400 worth of groceries and toiletry items for a mere $100. Their pantries and homes overflow with all manner of foodstuffs and enough toothpaste to fill a small swimming pool.

It’s great to be able to save money on everyday items like toilet paper and toothpaste. But let’s take a closer look at the actual FOOD these people get as a result of all this extreme couponing.

In looking at the accompanying photos, a few things stand out.

  1. Most of the food “bought” with coupons tends to be heavily processed (and heavily advertised) packaged food. I see quite a bit of soda, soft drinks, bottled juices, salad dressings, canned foods and boxed cereals.
  2. There is a noticeable lack of FRESH FOOD in form of meats, fruit or fresh vegetables. Think about how often you see coupons for eggs, milk or butter? Not so much.

Do you really need all this stuff?

One of the couponers racked up an impressive 80 jars of spaghetti sauce and 30 containers of baby formula even though there’s no baby in her house. A spare room overflows with stockpiled food.

Barring an unlikely zombie apocalypse, would you really use all that food? And even if you did eat all that food, is it really the type of food that is good for you?

Having a stockpile of 200 rolls of paper towels may come in handy, but also consider the environmental impact. Wouldn’t it be just as easy to use cloth dish towels (or better yet cut up worn out clothing/linens etc. for use as cleaning rags) and WASH them?

The tradeoff of all that processed food

Americans eat more processed food than virtually any other country. Unfortunately, we are reaping the rewards of all that convenience in the form of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease and cancer.

We know that processed foods contain artificially high levels of sodium and sugars derived from high fructose corn syrup that can harm our health. So why would anyone want to collect 80 jars of anything? And think about this: A coupon is essentially AN ADVERTISEMENT to entice you to try a particular food (most often a snack food) that you wouldn’t have needed or normally bought. Essentially, the food manufacturers are hoping you try their product, get hooked on it, and buy more.

The donation of excess coupon-bought items to a food bank is a thoughtful and generous gesture. However, given the prevalence of obesity in America, and especially the correlation of obesity to poverty <link> perhaps it’s not as nice of a gesture as we might intend it to be. While these processed foods may fill the immediate void of hunger, they tend to be of high calorie/low nutritional value type, which leads the most disadvantaged to be overweight but under-nourished.

I was also struck by the amount of time avid couponers spent gathering coupons and shopping at different stores for the best sales. One woman spent about 5 hours a week doing this! Perhaps that time could have been better spent cultivating a garden, or buying fresh food at a farmers market and preparing and storing it instead of buying into the convenience food trap.

There is no free lunch

The cheapest food is not always the best food to buy, even when you can get it for next to nothing with a coupon. It may be free with the coupon, but think of the hidden cost to you and your family in terms of poor nutritional value and potential long term health effects.

A common misconception is that it costs too much to eat healthy. Actually, it costs very little to eat non-processed foods if you know what to buy and when to buy. Here at GOLO, we’ve found that a week’s worth of good-for-you groceries would cost on average $53.00 per adult (and that was shopped at a typical supermarket without any bargain hunting).

Fresh meats, dairy, bulk rice, and a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables are already inexpensive. No coupons required!

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