I watched approximately three hours of Extreme Couponing on TLC this past Sunday. Three hours. Extreme Couponing. This is where I am in my life. This is who I am right now. I am a person who watches hours and hours of Extreme Couponing. For the sake of restricting the scope of this article, I’m going to skip over how this reflects on me as a human being, but as you read through this, imagine a pale forlorn facial expression gazing out of the darkness into a glowing computer screen, fingers tapping keys with all the enthusiasm of someone writing a suicide note.
Extreme Couponing typically depicts pear-shaped white housewives hoarding coupons for 40-60 hours per week, filing them in meticulously organized binders, and occasionally crawling into dumpsters for discarded newspaper inserts. Then they spend approximately 4 hours filling a half-dozen shopping carts with superfluous snack cakes and toothpaste and shit before finally reaching the register at which point the cashier and the middle aged white woman engage in a battle of wills. While the white lady wants to save as much money as possible, the checker wants to go home and insert the cold comforting muzzle of a glock 26 9mm handgun into his mouth for an hour or so before placing it back in his bedside table drawer followed by quiet weeping in the dark.
These women frequently attribute their coupon clipping prowess to the power of the Almighty Lord our God. When asked where she’d gotten her six foot tall pile of coupon inserts, one woman with a Whoville resident’s nose said, “From God,” meaning members of her church had donated them. Another woman said that she’d been “blessed” with her coupon clipping abilities by God. A pear-shaped white man donated all the items he obtained via coupons to his church that then sent them in care packages to troops overseas. The show highlights a strong connection between “extreme couponing” and Christianity. Perhaps the same predisposition to fanatical religious fervor can be converted into a fanatical coupon clipping fervor. Perhaps their spiritual feeling allowed them to overcome feelings of helplessness resulting from job-loss and credit card debt and channel their determination into coupon clipping. Perhaps the Holy Spirit revealed to them a myriad of unbeatable deals via their newspaper insert and local grocery store’s double/triple coupon specials.
Since so many coupons require the purchase of three or more of the same items to work, these women (and one or two men) have gigantic stockpiles of juice boxes, cereal, and deodorant stored away in garages, guest bedrooms, and—all too often—under their children’s beds. They have gigantic racks of canned food, two or three extra refrigerators, shelves and shelves of boxed food, and what amounts to a miniature grocery store in their homes. One man had a four foot tall pile of 1000 tubes of toothpaste. The question, “How much fucking toothpaste do you use on your teeth?” hung unspoken in the air, and the man never bothered to explain it. Another woman had a closet devoted solely to what appeared to be Mountain Dew (“for my daughter-in-law,” she said). One of a pair of African American twins had stored two years’ worth of diapers, but had no baby. She said she had no baby yet, but she intended to have one eventually, and when she did, she wanted to be prepared. Imagine for a moment the hypothetical boyfriend who’s confronted with this stockpile of diapers. How will she explain, “They’re for the baby I’m planning on having,” without revealing her own deteriorating mental health? Another lady showed off her stockpile of cat food. “We don’t have any cats,” she said, laughing. The mind reels, struggling to discern rationality in the irrational, stewing in its juices, spinning its wheels on an oily slick road of illogic and madness. As a pear-shaped woman says something like, “I love my stockpile almost as much as I love my family,” you may begin bleeding from the eyes.
As the extreme coupon clippers approach the register, the show plays a pumping suspenseful soundtrack as if they’re defusing a bomb or delivering a baby in a burning building slowly filling with nerve gas. Often times, the coupon lady’s brought some hapless sap along, an eighteen-year-old son or a browbeaten husband to help push all these carts. They start piling the items on the conveyor belt, and now we see the light leave the cashier’s eyes. Clearly, he/she wants to take his/her break, wants to quit on the spot, understands that 6.50 per hour can’t possibly cover the imminent trauma, and is thinking of that Glock 26 9mm handgun in the bedside table drawer, is envisioning an eternity of nothingness enfolded around him/her like a soft black bathrobe, but he/she is locked into the situation by a reality TV crew crowded around. The pear-shaped woman watches the register screen closely. Any perceived error is pounced upon. At this point, something usually goes wrong—the computer breaks down or an important coupon won’t scan. “I’m sorry. I’m going to need the manager’s approval to manually enter these coupons,” says the checker, and by the soundtrack, you’d think he’d said, “I’m sorry. Test results indicate it’s spread to your ovaries.” We cut to an interview where the woman, on the verge of tears, says, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to reach my goal if these coupons don’t work.” The show makes it clear that the viewer should be horrified by this. At last, all the coupons are scanned, and the pear-shaped woman has gone from $1200 down to like $10. A crowd of gathered onlookers is amazed—cut to an amazed old lady who says, “I ain’t never seen anyone save that much.”
The pear-shaped woman does a victory dance at the register. The sixty hours per week of compiling excel spreadsheets, tracking deals over the internet, rifling through dumpsters, stealing newspapers, forcing her children to help clip coupons for hours, and fostering familial resentment for years to come has been worth it after all. It’s so much better than a full-time job that pays more and requires less time. She has one life to live and she has decided to devote it to coupon clipping and filling her home with excess groceries. At the end of one episode, a lady declared proudly, “Even if I had all the money in the world, I would still clip coupons.” Ponder the implications of that.
So yeah, I’ve been filling my mind with this shit. Extreme Couponers’s messages, both explicit and implicit, have been absorbed and cannot be expunged. I will now move on with my life.