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FOOD & DRINK

The Coupon Craze:

Coupons
Courtesy Photo
Coupons

Courtesy Photo

Before I go to the grocery story, I make a quick list of the things I need (or love) and then get on with my day. Once in the aisle, I’m on a mission to get what’s on my list, try to save as much as I can without going crazy and move on. I don’t want to spend all day calculating numbers, and I don’t like hunting down the “best” bargain. While I know I may be of the majority of American women, there are a growing group of others who find their adventures along aisles of cereals and coffee filters in grocers across the country. TLC is now cashing in on them, too, with a new show, “Extreme Couponing.”

The program links up with TLC’s other controversial shows depicting different or tragic behaviors and nerve-wracking vocations, as shown in “Toddlers and Tiaras” and “Sister Wives.” “Extreme Couponing” shadows everyday women (and some husbands) who have turned food shopping into an unnecessary extreme sport as they stalk for deals. The first episode I watched featured J’aime Kirlew (now accused of fraudulent coupon usage), the conceited paralegal from Bethesda, Maryland. Not only does Kirlew take five hours to get ready for the grocery store—because her “image is very important”—she carries a box of coupons and a list that maps everything the store sells. When her shopping extravaganza is over, Kirlew reduces her $1,000 grocery bill to barely over a $100.

At home, she adds her stash to an already jam-packed basement—only inches away from being featured on another notorious show, “Hoarders.” Amazingly enough, Kirlew wasn’t the only questionable character. There were scenes of “dumpster diving” and other compulsive behaviors that negate the true purpose of saving.

After a few biting comments I made about the “reality” show, someone challenged me to find a better, more informative source regarding maneuvering through the craze. Unsurprisingly, I found the answer not within an alternate show but a few books. With the help of Jill Cataldo, one of our country’s premier coupon experts, here’s what I found.

A coupon workshop instructor, Caltado is often featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and WGN news, as well as on her own website, www.supercouponing.com, and within her nationally-syndicated newspaper column, “Super-Couponing Tips.” Cataldo garners over 20,000 followers and readers a week because of her ethical and logical couponing strategies. It’s something conversely different than what’s being portrayed on TLC. In fact, Cataldo doesn’t recommend following in the show’s footsteps at all.

“It gives people a false impression,” she remarks. “What’s being depicted on ‘Extreme Couponing’ is not easily duplicated, nor should it be duplicated by a normal shopper.”

With an average grocery bill ranging from $40 to $60 a week, Cataldo feeds her family of five comfortably. “A lot of people are screaming foul, and a lot of shoppers on the program have admitted to using coupons incorrectly,” she says. “It’s misleading to someone who’s never done this before, who wants to learn, and, unfortunately, their first catalyst to couponing is seeing it on the show. Not every trip is going to take $1,000 down to $10. We can get great savings, and I don’t want to discourage anyone form doing that, but doing something that takes advantage of the system often becomes harmful.”

Cataldo suggests Stephanie Nelson’s two books, “The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half: The Strategic Shopping Method Proven to Slash Food and Drugstore Costs” and “Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom” to start successfully couponing. A responsible resource, Nelson’s website, www.Couponmom.com, is one of the oldest and longest running coupon sites online. Her appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Today” and “Good Morning America” have helped show numerous individuals how to save thousands by becoming practical clipping connoisseurs. Most importantly, she does so without surrendering the value of nutrition or compromising what one likes to eat as depicted on “Extreme Couponing.” Remember, Kirlew took 62 bottles of mustard off the shelf (she wanted 77, but there weren’t that many) and bought them with a 50 cent coupon despite the fact that her family outwardly stated they didn’t like it.

“There’s such a compulsion,” Cataldo states. “It’s not about the amount of coupons. It’s about the best prices for your family for what they want. It’s crazy when you see people on the show sweating and tapping their feet at the register. I’ve never felt like that when I’m shopping. If you’re couponing right then you already know what your total should be before you get to the cash register.”

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