After a session of A&E’s Horders (why can I not stop watching that show?), my hubby flipped to TLC where the show Extreme Couponing was on. Have you seen this series? If not, here is the quick overview: TLC follows families who uses hundreds of coupons on each grocery trip to get free stuff. Picture 3-4 carts overflowing with boxed food, toiletries and household goods on every visit to the market. Inevitably, you will get to see two things: first, the “magic” at the cash register when the $600 grocery bill turns into a $10 bill after all the coupons and store discounts have been applied. Second, the crazy amount of space required in the basement or garage to store hundreds of tubes of toothpaste, more deodorant than anyone can use in a lifetime, and canned goods with sophisticated methods of can rotation to combat expiration dates.

At first it sounds good. All I have to do is collect coupons and I too can have $1000 worth of groceries for $50? Yes, until you figure out what exactly you are getting for your new part-time job (some spend up to 30 hours a week on coupon collection and management). The short answer: crap. Okay, maybe I’m being a wee bit harsh. A coupon for toilet paper is great. The one for 10 frozen dinners for $10, not so much. When you start to see what these Extreme Couponers are buying, you realize there is no real food to be seen.

Coupons are catchy and alluring. A recent booklet I received in the mail stated, Over $42 in Coupons. Underneath it said, Vons and Pavillions proudly support 2011 National Frozen Food Month. Let’s look at what’s in this savings booklet:

  • 5 coupons for frozen pizza
  • 10 coupons for frozen meals
  • 5 coupons for frozen breakfasts (waffles, pancakes, hasbrowns, etc.)
  • 8 coupons for ice cream and other frozen desserts
  • 6 coupons for frozen snacks (sweet potato fries, garlic bread)
  • 2 coupons for frozen vegetables (broccoli and cheese,  green bean and almond, mixed vegetables)

While this particular booklet might be a bit different since it is all frozen foods, the Sunday newspaper inserts are no better. It’s sugary cereal, neon colored yogurt and nacho-cheese flavored chips. I would bet that the average food featured in a coupon has 20-30 ingredients including a rainbow of artificial colors, a multitude of sweetenersMSG, and every preservative under the sun. When was the last time you saw a coupon for organic apples? How about spinach or grass-fed beef? The bottom line is coupons give you “savings” on junk food and the cost is your health. Are there exceptions? Absolutely, but the vast majority of coupons are designed to lure you into a deal so you’ll get hooked on yet another highly processed food that you never needed in the first place.

Note: I’ve read about a few websites for coupons on organic food. I’ve never used them before, but if you can’t give up your coupon habit, try Organic Deals has links to all the major coupons sites (organic and non-organic) and also has a list of links to get organic coupons from company websites (think Cascadian Farms, Annie’s Homegrown and Newman’s Own). I still don’t see coupons for organic produce, but if these deals help you make the switch to organic dairy products or organic/fair trade tea and coffee, more power to ya! Caveat: remember, just because it’s organic, doesn’t mean it’s healthy! Ya, I’m talking to you chips, crackers, juice and cereal!

Grocery stockpile photo by via flickr
All other images by Be Food Smart