Sunday, January 16, 2011

Extreme Couponing

Do you use coupons? Or are coupons using you? Coupons, used right, are great ways to save some money. In this economy, people are trying to save money any way they can and that includes couponing. But a new TV show on TLC called "Extreme Couponing" sheds some light on those who take coupons to the extreme.

I watched the first show and was both disgusted and inspired. Let me explain why I was disgusted.

One woman's story was about how she spent approximately 70 hours a week couponing and comparison shopping and, finally, purchasing. The TV show followed her into her home where the entire upstairs had been made into a warehouse for all the food and toiletries that she buys.

She is hoarding food and sundries. She stockpiles by using coupons. The show said that her cache of toilet paper would last an average couple 42 YEARS!! They followed her as she showed how she not only clips coupons but pays for coupon clipping services so she can get hundreds of coupons. Then she goes all over town comparison shopping and spends hours checking sale papers so that she can use her coupons to the best advantage. For instance if Ingles has a sale on ketchup for $1.99 and Ingles doubles their coupons on Thursday and she has a coupon for $1.00 ... then she gets a bottle of catsup for nothing. All of this sounds virtuous until you watch her at work. The TV crew followed her and her husband to the grocery store where they spent 3 hours pulling everything off the shelves and filling shopping carts full of stuff. Dozens of boxes of pasta dinners, cases of candy bars, etc. It took her hours to check out and get bagged as well as commanding the help of at least 6 store staff. By the time she was checking out she was whining about how much time it was taking to check out and her husband was in a slow boil about wasting a whole day at the grocery store. She purchased over $1,000 and actually paid about $57. Then they went home and her husband had to unload all those bags and carry them up the stairs for her and she has to put it all on her shelves.

This woman is seriously out of balance. She is hoarding. The only good thing she can say is that it's not taking all her savings. (On these hoarding shows I always wonder where they get the money to buy all the crap that fills their houses.)

Hoarding: Acquiring and accumulating a supply stored for future use. Stockpiling, storing a cache or stash. Pathological or compulsive hoarding is a specific type of behavior characterized by:
• Acquiring and failing to throw out a large number of items
• Severe cluttering of the person's home so that it is no longer able to function as a viable living space.
• Compulsive hoarding impairs mobility and interferes with basic activities, including cooking, cleaning, showering, and sleeping.
Hoarding of food is a natural behavior in certain species of animals such as larder hoarding which is the collection of large amounts of food in a single place. A hamster does this. And, scatter hoarding, the formation of a large number of small hoards or caches of nuts and other seeds. Squirrels do this. For humans, one type of hoarding is triggered as a response to perceived or predicted shortages of specific goods. Another type of hoarding is saving items, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, unsanitary, considered trash by normal people.

When you read the definition of hoarding you start to get the picture of someone who is obsessed, consumed, out of control, idolatrous, selfish, even greedy. Yes, I said "idolatrous" and "greedy".

Idolatry: The worship of a physical object as a god. Blind or excessive devotion to something. An idol is anything that replaces the one, true God. Serving the idol is idolatrous. Idols are impotent, and their power exists only in the minds of the worshipers. They are looking to material objects for what only God can give them: a sense of worth and value. Idolatry is the sin of giving someone or something a place of preeminence above the Lord God.

Greed: Excessive desire to possess money or goods with the intention to keep it for one's self. Greed - like lust and gluttony - is a sin of excess.

When you spend all your time, energy, effort, skill, talent and thought on something, it has become your god. If this story is true, then this woman is spending all her time, energy, effort, skill, talent and thoughts on couponing and shopping for material goods. What is she worshipping? What is the false god here? Basically she's worshipping herself. Like all idolaters, you are really worshipping yourself. Whatever your lust is for, it's all about fulfilling YOUR desires, needs, lusts. Some people think they are not only the center of the universe but the only thing in the universe. It's all about them and that's how they live.

I'm not describing an attractive person am I? Selfishness, greed and idolatry are not attractive traits. Someone who hoards is selfish, greedy and idolatrous because they put material things into the position of a false god in their life. In those hoarding TV shows I watch those people struggle to let go of a literal piece of trash, it's very sad. How could pieces of trash take the place of the true and living Jehovah God?

But, lest I sound too harsh, all of us do this at some time in our life. It's so easy to slip into selfishness and idolatry. Let's pause to think of some very common forms of idolatry in our society today. For teens there are friends, school, cell phones, texting, boyfriend/girlfriends, clothes, brand names, parties, etc. All these things can become all consuming. For men there are sports, sports teams, careers, sex, vehicles, hobbies, etc. All these can become all consuming. For women there are families, careers, organizations, homes, etc. All these can become all consuming. Remember, if it takes all your time, money, effort, skills, talents, energy, thought - then it's become your idol.

Watching this story on the TV program, "Extreme Couponing", I thought about how greedy she was being. For instance, she didn't just want enough candy bars to give her something sweet every day for a week. She had to buy all the candy bars in the store. It's not exactly like they are discontinuing the making of candy bars. They aren't of any nutritional value. Why did she feel the need to buy all of them? And, what about other people who would like to have a candy bar? Other shoppers deserve to be able to purchase candy bars and they deserve to be served by the staff without her commanding all the attention. Every week, I take my few coupons into my grocery store hoping to buy some of the sale items and, guess what? The shelves are picked clean of the sale and coupon items by the time I get there. I've learned not to depend on coupon and sale items for my week's menus but if you did plan your week's menu around sale and coupon items, this inconveniences you and you wind up having to totally re-do your menu plans. One of two things have happened, either one person has gone in and cleaned them out (like the people in the TV show) or many people are using the sales and coupons and I just happened to be at the end of the line. If you go in and strip the store of the sale and coupon items, that's not fair to the other customers who are also looking to save some money. It shows greed and selfishness. How many candy bars do you need? How much detergent can you use? How many cans of corn is enough for you?

When you plan your shopping or come up on sales, ask yourself, "How much do I really need?" I'm blessed to live within a 1/2 mile of our grocery store. I like to have enough stuff to last me for a week but why should I take up valuable real estate in my home to store things when the store can do it for me. The store is my warehouse, I don't have to warehouse 25 boxes of detergent in my home. There will be future coupons and future sales so I don't have to grab 100 coupons for pasta dinners and use them all today to buy 100 boxes of pasta dinners. That's silly. Use a couple of coupons and get 2 boxes of pasta dinners. You have enough for a couple of dinners over the next 2 weeks and then begin looking for another coupon and sale. I use Tide detergent and just about the time I've worked my way through a box, Tide has another coupon run.

Unless you are the family with 20 children, you don't really need 150 jars of spaghetti sauce. Unless you are Kate with eight, you probably don't need 53 bottles of shampoo. Be real! How much is enough? Where do you stop? Maybe you are one of those survivalists who stockpile food against a disaster. I understand your thoughts but I had to ask myself, "If there is a disaster, could I really feed my family and be able to ignore the needs of others?" How selfish would it be to keep you and yours fed and watch others die? I'd just as soon go out with the first wave of disaster than to struggle with those kind of questions. Maybe you live way out from town and have to keep a little more in your pantry to get you between trips to town. That's understandable. But I know it's not 42 YEARS between trips to the store so you don't need 42 years worth of toilet paper. So, ask yourself, "How much is enough? How much is reasonable? Where is the balance?" God is in the balance. Use commonsense, self control, self discipline, wisdom. Cultivate a generous spirit by letting others have a chance to enjoy bargains.

There were some inspiring stories too. One man used extreme couponing and donated stuff to a food pantry. He sacrificed his time, effort, skill to purchase something that could help others. He could have kept all those bargains but he deliberately chose to sacrifice his purchases which cultivates a generous spirit.

Then there was a single black woman who was a nurse (retired now) and raised her children with the help of couponing. She daily walks 7 miles to check with her neighbors and neighborhood businesses for coupons that they aren't using. This gives her exercise and she's developed relationships. If a single mother with a career can do it, I can wisely use coupons.

Before things got hard with the economy, I didn't use coupons. It was a hassle that I didn't think was worth it. But now, I am looking for ways to be thrifty and frugal and coupons can be helpful. But we must use commonsense and balance.

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