Saturday mornings are usually dedicated to sleep for most of Americans. Long hours are worked throughout the week and Saturday is the day to catch up on some much-needed rest throughout the early hours.
Ericka Wheeler’s story is quite different.
Not only is she awake and dressed for the day, she is also flipping through her most beloved book – a binder full of coupons. She pulls coupons out of her binder for items that are written on her weekly shopping list. Her shopping list is complied throughout the week when Wheeler receives emails or notifications from blogs that track items on sale. She then creates a list of items by store and by product before checking her digital coupons. Once the research is done, she gathers her coupons and is ready to hit the stores.
Wheeler began couponing in August of 2010 after her fiancé had seen the show a few times and encouraged her to get involved.
“I kept saying, ‘I don’t have time for that,” said Wheeler.
But after her cousin sent out a mass Facebook message asking others if they’d be interested in learning to coupon, things changed.
From that moment, Wheeler was hooked and couldn’t resist being pulled into the world of couponing. Shortly after paying a visit to her cousin’s home, she left with tons of binders full of coupons and the knowledge of how to begin a stockpile of items and the necessary steps to become a successful couponer.
“Extreme Couponing” is a reality television series that hit the airwaves on TLC in 2010. The show follows the lives of everyday people as they save hundreds of dollars on their grocery bills with the use of coupons. On the show, couponers purchase multiple carts of items which total well over their budgeted amount. With the help of coupons they are able to save money and are sometimes even paid back cash or a credit due to receiving items for free and by using vast amounts of coupons.
Since the first episode, the show has gained a massive amount of followers resulting in a fifth season.
Wheeler is a self-proclaimed extreme couponer. She spends about eight hours each week simply searching for, trading and clipping coupons. In that time, she also shops for her items. Making a loop throughout her Carmel neighborhood, she stops at Meijer, CVS, Target, Wal-Mart and then a final stop at Kroger.
“I’m pretty aggressive and extreme,” said Wheeler. “I don’t just do this every now and then, I do this every weekend!”
The following day, after all the shopping has ceased, Wheeler has three to four newspapers delivered to her home to collect coupons. Her neighbors also share their coupon inserts with her every Wednesday, which results in more savings. Saturday evenings are when Wheeler clips and organizes her coupons by category. This also involves visiting various online sites to gather the week’s deals.
“Krazy Coupon Lady has all of the stores in the region and what their sales are. I mainly use this site for CVS deals,” said Wheeler. “Then I’ll go to Kroger Krazy for their deals, Totally Target for their deals and Meijer Madness for their deals. Every store has their own site of deals.”
Wheeler said that grocery stores are beginning to crack down on the amount of similar items a person can purchase. Since “Extreme Couponing” has aired, many grocery stores stopped doubling coupons. This has impacted couponers’ shopping experience tremendously.
“Now, there are so many restrictions on cleaning out the shelves in a store,” said Wheeler. “If you go into Kroger, you can only buy four like products in one transaction.”
Despite strict policies at most Indianapolis grocery stores, Wheeler still finds a way to save for her pet and family of four. Her biggest savings to date happened at CVS last October. Wheeler purchased 23 items for $3.24, which included a variety of sodas and sweet treats.
Her next big savings happened when Marsh still tripled coupons a few years ago. She walked away with multiple free items and the store owed her money in the end due to the amount of triple coupons she used.
Most couponers have one, if not more, item stockpiles in their home. Lindsey Bailey, a ninth grade math teacher, stores items in her basement and upstairs closets. Her stock includes cleaning supplies; paper items, beauty products and baby care items.
Bailey began couponing a few years ago when she thought of it as a good challenge to take on.
“I am always up for a good challenge,” said Bailey. “I saw the show and thought, I could totally do this!”
On Saturdays, Bailey, her mother and sister usually go shopping and couponing together at Target, Meijer or Kroger. Bailey admits that she has filled two shopping carts before on a trip to stock up on baby items a few months ago when she was pregnant, but she normally sticks to her pre-created list.
Her biggest savings happened at Wal-Mart years ago, when she walked out with all of her products including $21 given back to her by the store. These days Bailey says she doesn’t step foot in Wal-Mart for other reasons.
“There are a lot of couponers in Hendricks County,” she said. “It’s hard to coupon there without being discriminated against. They see your coupon book and are already annoyed with you. I’ve heard horror stories.”
Like many people on the show, Bailey donates some of her items to people in need. If she happens to purchase a large amount of items that have a timely expiration date, she gives them away to friends and family members.
Both Wheeler and Bailey said their shopping experiences do not accurately reflect those displayed on the popular TV show.
“I do not buy an abundance to that magnitude,” said Wheeler who is referencing those on the show who buy thousands of items. “I do not go and buy an order of items I wouldn’t use in a year’s time.”
John Elliott, public affairs manager for Kroger’s central division said the show triggered a dramatic increase in the abuse of coupons.
“It (the show) encourages customers to print as many as 500 of the same electronic coupon, expect to use them and then given cash back. Any reasonable person would know that isn’t the intent of coupons. Kroger and other places have good intentions of saving our customers money.”
Elliot adds that if a customer takes the store’s entire inventory, another customer who may sincerely need that item later won’t have access.
Although couponing takes a considerable amount of time, Wheeler says she is still excited about it.
“I look forward to my Saturdays. It is an adrenaline rush for me,” she said.