Getting something for nothing is a major component of the American Dream. Which may explain – as well as anything could – why more than 2 million people watched the pilot episode of the TLC television show “Extreme Couponing,” a program in which folks buy $1,200 worth of stuff for $14 or thereabouts by using coupons you probably throw away.
And just 2.9 billion coupons – less than 1 percent – were redeemed. Than means hundreds of billions of dollars were left in the recycling bin.
Is everybody else just throwing away money?
The average face value for all coupons distributed last year was $1.53, with 99 cents as the average face value for food coupons. Retailers routinely stuff mailboxes with coupons worth $10 off a $50 purchase. Bed, Bath and Beyond famously sends out dozens (or so it seems) of 20 percent off coupons each year.
It’s free money, costing you only time.
The extreme couponers featured on TV shows spend 20, 30 or more hours a week collecting, clipping and organizing coupons. But causal coupon clippers can save money with little effort. The august Wall Street Journal crunched the numbers and concluded clipping coupons pays an hourly rate of $86.40 – after taxes.
My wife clips and organizes coupons the way I play solitaire on my iPad – somewhat absent-mindedly while watching television or listening to music. While she doesn’t go from store to store looking for the best deals that match the coupons as extreme clippers do, she routinely saves $10-$15 each shopping trip. And, no, we don’t have a room full of pasta, deodorant and Vienna sausages.
The pitfalls of extreme couponing – 800 jars of tomato sauce in the garage, the weird looks from fellow shoppers – shouldn’t keep you from clipping your own. Especially if the coupons offer discounts on stuff you buy anyway.
Personally, I always have a couple of Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons in the glove box.