Extreme Couponing: Can it be Hazardous to Your Health?

We’ve all done it. We grab the Sunday paper and snip out a few coupons. Saving a dollar here and there can really add up, and who doesn’t want to save money?

Like anything in moderation, clipping coupons can be an excellent way to reduce your grocery bills. But “extreme couponing” is a disturbing trend that actually can be hazardous to your health, to your family, and to the environment.

On the famous “doctor” show that we all watch, two “coupon mavens” demonstrated the tricks and techniques they used to slash their grocery bills, sometimes to the point where the stores pay them money to haul away their goods. On TLC, the trend took off, as “coupon experts” on “Extreme Couponing” demonstrated their strategies so viewers could replicate them.

They proudly showed off their shopping carts, packed to the hilt with boxes, bottles, and cans. What’s wrong with this picture? The majority of the “coupon mavens” were overweight and looked anything but healthy.

Here are seven reasons “extreme couponing” can be hazardous to your health.
1. Few coupons exist for fresh broccoli or kale. The coupons are for boxed foods, many of which are high in unhealthy fats, sugar, salt, and chemicals. One extreme couponer was stockpiling bacon and hot dogs “because they are a great deal, and my kids love them.”
Her overstocked shopping cart didn’t show a single fruit or vegetable. No wonder most of the extreme couponers are overweight or obese, and appear to have health problems. (One couponer proudly displayed a stockpile of diabetes meters!)

2. Couponing leads to hoarding. The “master couponers” proudly show off their stock room, basement or garage, lined with case loads of cleaning products and canned and packaged foods.
Why does anyone need to stockpile twenty-four jars of pickles, thirty-six tubs of mustard, or enough detergent to last for seven years? The likelihood is that when they find a coupon for mustard, they will buy even more, and some of it may go bad before they use it. Where’s the savings?

3. Extreme couponers don’t plan healthy meals. They don’t enter a store with a shopping list of produce and ingredients to prepare nutritious family dinners. Instead, they arrive with a stash of coupons, prepared to hunt for bargains. The goal is buying whatever is on sale that they can match with coupons. Sadly, these are almost always “boxed junk” items – food that’s close to expiring, or cheap food that the manufacturers or stores want to move off the shelf.

4. Extreme couponing takes time. The couponers are shrewd and dedicated. They spend up to thirty-five hours a week preparing for one big shopping expedition, using elaborate filing systems, such as three-ring binders, to organize their coupons.
There’s nothing wrong with that – if they are getting products they would buy normally, and that contribute to their health. But they never mention healthy eating. It’s all about the thrill of the game, the high of beating the system and getting the most for the least, with no regard to their health.

5. Extreme couponing can become an obsession. Some couponers dive into garbage containers in search of old newspapers that still have coupons. Some episodes of “Extreme Couponing” encourage you to “Dumpster dive” for fun, while cautioning you to wear rubber gloves. They also warn you to be careful not to scare anyone who dumps paper on your head because the person may become frightened and attack you.

6. Extreme couponing is bad for children. Couponers often enlist their reluctant kids into helping them clip coupons by bribing them with the spoils of the trip – junk food. They are indoctrinating the next generation of overweight, unhealthy children. Why not take the kids to the park for some fresh air and exercise, instead of teaching them to get fifty cents off a box of cookies?

7. Extreme couponing is bad for the environment. Some couponers drive across the state, just to get the best deals, wasting gas to save a few cents on crackers. They also tend to buy the most toxic cleaning ingredients for their homes, because those are the products that have coupons. Why not just use vinegar and baking soda to save money and the environment?

Extreme couponing is the opposite of Michael Pollans’ famous manifesto for healthy eating: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Extreme couponers do just the opposite. They eat too much processed, packaged food. It is seldom organic, usually contains GMOs (genetically modified organisms), and is often laden with chemicals such as artificial colors and flavors. These foods are generally high in calories, sugar and bad fats, with few vitamins and minerals.

It’s a recipe for a toxic, obese and diseased body.
Extreme couponers may save money in the short run, but there’s a saying, “Pay the farmer now, or the doctor later.” Let’s hope for an episode of “Extreme Couponing” for organic produce!

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