When deal-hunting goes too far

When deal-hunting goes too far

No one respects a frugal act more than a personal finance journalist like me. But even in tough times like these, I had to laugh when I read an article from Money magazine about a 22-year-old college student who bought 30 cans of baby formula on sale, even though there’s not a baby to be found under her roof.

Sadly, her source of inspiration was TLC’s Extreme Couponing, which features folks who clip so many coupons that their basements bulge like stockrooms with mass quantities of stuff. At first, I assumed it was an intervention show, until I realized that the coupon clippers are actually applauded for their penny-pinching ways. Is it just me who expects to see the same faces on A&E’s  Hoarders next week? Really?

Again, I love saving money, but aren’t we taking it too far? To waste your free time scouring the web, newspapers, and even dumpsters for coupons you actually have no use for is to miss the point. Being frugal means avoiding buying stuff you don’t need, so you have more time and money to devote to what’s important. That’s the real aim of responsible personal finance. Really!

Not only do we spend too much time clipping free coupons we don’t need—we actually buy coupons we’ll never use, a topic I touched on in last month’s Redbook column. So much so that a new market is developing, via websites like DealsGoRound and Lifesta, where people sell all those deals they bought from Groupon, LivingSocial, and others and now never plan to use. (How many spa treatments can one human even endure?)

In the end, all of our extreme couponing has added up to an extreme pain in the butt for retailers like CVS, RiteAid, Target, and Kroger, who are now changing coupon policies to stop customers from being able to walk out of the store with free merchandise, Time magazine points out. I’m sure we’ll find a way around this one, too. Leave it to Americans to turn frugality into an Olympic sport.

What do you think—is coupon madness clever or crazy?

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