Extreme Couponing isn’t just a show, its a way of life.  Why do I know this?  I grew up with it.  The stories on the reality show may be a tinge more dramatic than what I recall, but all of the elements are the same.
Growing up, each Sunday my family flocked to the newspaper.  What rose to the top?  Comics and coupons.  My father would spend hours clipping coupons.  He’d add the new ones to his brown Velcro pouch and toss the expired ones.  His big victories of the week would be saving $50-100 on our family’s groceries.   I don’t think he’ll deny that his most prized possession is that coupon pouch (aside from his family, but I wouldn’t dare ask him to rank them).
The coupons didn’t stop at the grocery store.  We used them at restaurants.  We used them at stores.  We were using the Entertainment Book (in multiple cities) long before every school began selling it as a fundraiser.  There were many times we’d be going for dinner and the answer to “where are we going” was “somewhere dad has a coupon.”   I never really understood the families who didn’t coupon.  Then again, they probably didn’t understand us.
In the era of technology, couponing took different forms – auctions, discount codes, and group buying.  My family’s specialty is travel – and here, we always, always win big.   For ten years, we’ve being using SkyAuction, a travel website where you can get hotels as cheap as a $1*.   It started for us in 2000 with a $1 for a week-long condo stay in Australia and has been going ever since.  Before today’s online travel industry blossomed, there was a service called Easy Sabre – where you could check out all of the flights and prices without needing a travel agent.   It’s where we found a lot of the best flight prices and how I honed my knowledge of the three letter airport codes.  Then there was the rise of Priceline, Travelocity, Redweek, and Kayak – with more on the way.  All of these activities were done with a deal in mind and in the pursuit of winning.
Winning against what or who would be an interesting question to ask.  The answer is, I don’t know.  Big business would have been my first answer, but honestly, they are the ones printing the coupons.  While we may have saved loads of money in weekly groceries, we also ate some weird stuff.  White-cheese mac & cheese, blue Fruit Roll-ups, and berry-flavored Cheerios.  Food stuffs like this would sit on our shelf for months because they were too weird to eat.  There never seemed to be coupons for the ‘normal’ stuff.
In the backlash to buying and having ‘stuff’, I’ve often fought hard against my couponing upbringing.  “No, I don’t need something just because it’s on-sale or because I have a coupon.”  (Internal monologue, often right before purchasing said thing.)  When I am feeling strong, I cut up t-shirts for rags and make my own yogurt or vinegar cleaning spray.   This activity happens intermittently throughout the year usually right after a big purchase.
But honestly, I love a gimmick and I love a deal.  (Way to go advertisers, I’m your gal!)   So it’s no surprise that if you were to combine my love of gimmicks and of technology that I’d be hooked.  Hello, Groupon & friends!   They’ve seen the gold mine of bringing the game of winning right to the palm of my hands.  No clipping coupons, no searching for deal codes, and no multiple-tabs-open-to-find-the-best-price.   It is right there in front of me with a limited amount of time…and my credit card is already loaded.   WINNING!!!!
Learning from the white-cheddar mac & cheese fiascoes of my childhood, my Groupon & friends habit focuses on things, places, and organizations that I already like.  Because I knew I liked rock-climbing, I was willing to try a new rock-climbing gym, but not willing to try a new boot-camp place.  Since I’m a huge fan of the pub down the road, I bought three certificates at once.  Having just tried out a new spa/hotel, I couldn’t pass up the chance to go back, but with a discounted rate because of Groupon & friends.
It makes me chuckle to see that reality TV has found people like my family and I.  Heck, for years I’ve kept this lifestyle a secret from most people in my life.  It’s also fascinating how many people are coming out of the woodwork and professing to having the same lifestyle.  Just when I think I’m alone in my deal-finding, I stumble along Better Bidding or Retail Me Not — or strike up a conversation with a gal who drove three hours from home just to redeem her Groupon…for cupcakes.
*Read the fine print; there are taxes.
**Thanks for Stephanie and Charlie Sheen for the title.

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