Repulsion may or may not be the show’s ultimate intent, but it stirs up unsettling and complex thoughts, not only about the sins of gluttony and pride, but also about the production and consumption of cheap, processed food. There’s also something to snack on for those of us fretting over an ever-widening wealth gap amid dwindling resources. “Extreme Couponing” — which has become a series after a successful special aired late last year — is a modern Cassandra’s sociological fever dream, a harbinger of how closely we teeter on the edge of economic anarchy.
Or it’s just another weird reality show about the freak next door!
“My 11th commandment is thou shalt not pay retail,” says J’aime Kirlew, a Bethesda paralegal featured in the first of two episodes airing Wednesday, who turned to extreme couponing when her husband was out of work.
“I don’t even eat mustard,” her husband says while Kirlew has him shovel 62 bottles of French’s into one of her four crammed shopping carts, leaving just one bottle on the shelf. By the time she tap-dances in her high-heeled boots to the checkout line, her total comes to $1,902.63 — including 100 cups of yogurt, 35 cans of soup, 40 boxes of cereal and 90 packages of cold cuts.
Out come the coupons — beep, beep, beep, beep — while onlookers gather to get a glimpse of the inane math involved. Kirlew’s new total? $103.72, an astounding savings of 94 percent. Everyone’s impressed, even the store employees.
Though the fine print on most coupons would seem to discourage — if not prohibit — such drastically discounted hauls, it apparently doesn’t. “Extreme Couponing” barely attempts to detail these methods in a way that makes sense. Coupon nuts do their shopping on double- and triple-coupon days and match their coupon archives to the store’s advertised sales; they always make use of frequent-shopper club cards; they also have no problem enduring the hassles of rain checks and mail-in rebates. Their shopping trips can last up to four hours.
Four hours? So much for the principle of opportunity cost. Time is not money to the extreme couponers, and reality is a fluid concept, in which they don’t-spend their not-money eating box after box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. (Which means they’ll never need the several hundred rolls of stockpiled toilet paper.)