I finally got around to checking out an episode, and I’m really not sure if I’m glad that I did.

First, it reminded me that I’m completely out of the loop. I thought this show was a celebration of couponing. Instead, it seemed more like bemused condescension, with occasional moments of admiration.

These people are scary. Really scary.

Like the woman who had two full rooms of her house devoted to her “stash” — and yet was still collecting and began to encroach on her husband’s “man cave.” (They carried separate insurance on the collection, to the tune of $10,000!)

Or the woman who said that she’d probably will her stash to her children. She also explained that, when they moved, she had taken her supply with them — roughly 1,000 pounds of food. (I really hope her husband’s company paid for the move. Still, what a waste!)

I came away with very mixed feelings. On the one hand, it made me want to get back into couponing. I felt annoyed/guilty that I rarely see big savings on our groceries anymore. On the other, I felt kind of sick. All of these people displayed prominent control-freak tendencies — something I’ve been trying to work on myself.

It’s very different from casually using coupons for groceries or for other purchases. Using from time to time is different than hunting down coupons for hours on end.

When the register shuts down on her big expedition, the two-room-and-counting lady nearly breaks down in tears. Nine carts of items have to be separated into smaller lots, which means completely rearranging everything. She clearly feels lost and terrified at the lack of control.

Another woman actually stops random people at the grocery store to lecture them on picking the cheaper brand of the same item, or telling them they better have a coupon for that food.

It brought to mind all of my rigidity — and I definitely remembered a lot of that coming out with coupons. I had to furiously try to match up sales, and if I missed a sale I was beyond frustrated. I felt like I had failed. And with chronic energy and depression problems, that’s not a feasible way to live.

Another issue is how much these things cost. Even beyond the argument of “You wouldn’t buy it if it weren’t on sale,” there’s the fact that the show routinely failed to account for the cost of coupons. Two of the five people sought out extra copies of the circulars from acquaintances or recycling bins. The rest sent off to coupon services.

So that $51 bill that one woman touts doesn’t account for the $70 she paid to coupon clipping services. Sure, $121 is still a good deal, compared to $638. But it doesn’t sound quite as impressive, does it?

These people don’t seem to realize that, no, they aren’t getting these things free. Darned close, sure. But not free. If you pay 10 cents for a coupon (they tend to range from 5 to 15, depending on the dollar amount of the coupon) then you’re not getting the items free. You’re getting them for 10 cents each.

And when you think about the man who got 1100 boxes of Total for “free” (at least he was donating them to charity), then you have to realize that he paid at least $55 for his haul. An amazing deal, to be sure. But I wonder if he would have gotten quite so many if he had done the math that way. And I wonder why the show completely fails to point that out — either to the audience or the actual subjects.

I’m also frustrated that, in the guise of entertainment, the show spend a decent chunk of time making fun of its subjects. While these people may take it overboard, their goals are good. (Though I wish some of them would be less focused on hoarding and more interested in donating to charity — only one subject said anything about that.) And, as many frugal people have complained, the show makes anyone who is devoted to coupons look like a nut.

The two-rooms-and-counting lady estimated that she spends 70 hours a week, between shopping, searching for deals and keeping tabs on forums. Did I mention she has a full-time job, in addition?

Most (sane) couponers spend five hours or less a week — and they still manage amazing savings. It doesn’t suck up their entire lives. They’re just focused on life not sucking up all of their budget. I think that’s a pretty admirable goal.

And yet, the show does its job. Despite the horror and repulsion the people tended to evoke (or maybe because of it) I kind of want to watch more episodes. I don’t think I will — it’s stressful to watch people display those levels of control issues. (Or would it be good therapy to remind me to de-clench?)

Also, it does bring out some guilt that I am not more actively couponing. Every time I think of the show, part of me suggests I subscribe to the newspaper again and see if I can’t find a more sane balance of coupons.

For now, at least, I’m vetoing the idea. I have enough on my plate. Yes, the amount we spend on food right now stresses me out. But I’m already not getting done the things that need doing. Adding another item would cause more stress than it would relieve.

Have you watched the show? What were your thoughts?

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