MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And now for our conversation about personal finance. Especially in these lean times, savvy shoppers have been told never to leave the house without their coupons. Those who take it to another level call themselves extreme couponers. These big savers can load shopping carts with hundreds of dollars of merchandise and pay just a fraction of that for it. That's because they spend hours online writing companies and even dumpster diving to get as many coupons as they can.
Here's a clip from TLC's reality show "Extreme Couponing".
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "EXTREME COUPONING")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: All right. So I'm going to step inside the dumpster and see what I can find. OMG. Ack!
Coupons to me are money and you wouldn't believe how much money people throw away in those dumpsters. So this is...
MARTIN: Today, though, we have a different perspective. We are speaking with a former extreme couponer who says she's tossing her scissors in the trash. Christy Rakoczy gave up her venture in extreme couponing after a three-year run. She wrote about that recently for the website moneycrashers.com. That's a personal finance and lifestyle website. And Christy Rakoczy is with us now.
Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
CHRISTY RAKOCZY: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So let's go back and tell us how you got into extreme couponing to begin with.
RAKOCZY: I actually read about the practice of extreme couponing online, where people were talking about how much money they could save by couponing. And I was a student at the time and hey, you know, saving money, that sounds great. So I sort of read about how to do it and I decided to give it a try for myself based on what I had read of other people doing online.
MARTIN: So when do you think you crossed over from just being coupon savvy to extreme couponing? When did you think you, you know, this has really gone too far?
RAKOCZY: Probably the very first day. I mean I really jumped in with both feet. And from the very first trip, you know, I took out probably $300 worth of stuff for $40.
MARTIN: What were some of the things that you got? What were some of your big scores?
RAKOCZY: Oh, all sorts of useless things. The first trip I think was a lot of Bayer Aspirin, if I remember correctly. When you do the extreme couponing and your goal is to save as much as you can, it's not really so much about getting useful products as it is about getting products that you can get for free.
MARTIN: Well, that leads us to where you decided that it was not worth it. And I think it is important because I think you are answering a question that a lot of people have, which is the first thing you say is that reality shows don't tell you just how time-consuming it is to constantly be on the hunt for coupons and coupon savings. Could you talk a little bit about that?
RAKOCZY: Sure. The thing is not only do you have to spend a lot of time actually clipping the coupons, because you're not going to get these kinds of savings if you just have just one Sunday paper. You have to have six, 10, 12, 20 coupon inserts. You have to clip and organize all of those coupons, which, as you can imagine, is a lot of paper to wade through and deal with. Printing coupons online organizing the coupons, and then, of course, you can't just go to one store, you have to go to five stores to get all the different deals and get all the stuff that is on sale - you know, one store might be sold out, one store might not have what you're looking for. So it's basically a job that you have to do if you really want to save a lot of money. It's not just go into the supermarket and spend 10 minutes a week cutting some coupons.
MARTIN: You also wrote in your piece that you found yourself buying products that you really didn't need or particularly want just because you were getting bargains.
RAKOCZY: That is absolutely true. That's pretty much what you see. Any time someone's really saving a fortune, they're not saving a fortune necessarily on things that they can use. It's, you know, 200 Tic Tacs, 100 jars of tomato sauce that you're probably not going to use. A lot of diabetes monitors. Those are free almost all the time, because they want to get you hooked on using their brand. But, really, what are you going to do with them? It's just stuff that kind of clutters up your house.
MARTIN: Wait a minute. So you were getting diabetes monitors. Do you have diabetes?
RAKOCZY: No, I don't. But any couponer...
MARTIN: So you bought a diabetes monitor but you didn't have diabetes. OK. Well, that's kind of an example, I think, isn't it, Of what you're talking about - buying stuff that you don't need.
RAKOCZY: I bought about 60 diabetes monitors and I don't have diabetes. So I still have a few, actually.
MARTIN: And that leads to another point that you made in your piece, which is that it kind of leads to stockpiling and hoarding, especially of things that you don't particularly need. One example that you give is pasta sauce. You said that you got to constantly rotate it because it'll spoil. Did you find yourself throwing a lot of stuff out?
RAKOCZY: Absolutely. I tried to give away as much as I could but a lot of the stuff, you know, I think at one point I had probably 100 jars of Robitussin cough syrup, and nobody wants the stuff and I certainly wasn't using that much so unfortunately, a lot of stuff that I couldn't give away did end up getting thrown away.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It's our Money Coach conversation. We're talking with former extreme couponer Christy Rakoczy. She wrote about why she gave up the hobby in an article for moneycrashers.com.
So Christy, was there like a eureka moment when you just said to yourself, I mean you describe it in your piece very well, which is and I think a lot of people will say yeah, that just sounds about right to me. But was there particular moment for you when you said to yourself, what am I doing?
RAKOCZY: When I spent about eight hours after a Black Friday after Thanksgiving shopping for free toothpaste and toothbrushes and things that I already had an entire room full of stuff, I said, you know, I'm not going to do this anymore. This is just a waste of time. I could have, you know, spent this time at Walmart getting a DVD player if I was going to be shopping like this.
MARTIN: Did you notice that there were other things you're giving up because you were spending so much time couponing and shopping and organizing your pasta sauce?
RAKOCZY: Well, I was a student so I probably could've been studying, but that's OK. I graduated anyway. Thank goodness. But, yes, it definitely does take more time. I didn't have a lot of free time because I was going to stores whenever I had spare time on my hands to try to get, you know, the next deal. A lot of the stuff, the coupons would expire, so you feel like you have to go before they are going to expire. And if the stuff sold out, well, you got to go back again the next day and see if you can find it.
MARTIN: Can I just ask you this though, and forgive me, I don't mean to be mean. Do you think is it the couponing or is it you? I mean do you think you might have kind of an extreme personality, that if you ever get interested in something you're going to go all in, whether it's that or maybe video games or something? I don't know. What do you think?
RAKOCZY: I mean personality is a part of it but a lot of this extreme couponing is designed to get you to keep going back for more and more. Like I said, once you get started with like CVS or stores like that, you build up this log of they're called extra bucks and they expire within a week, so if you don't do the next deal you're essentially losing. You know, you have hundreds of dollars of these extra bucks on your card, you have to keep doing it or else you'll just lose the money that you've earned and built up. So I think to some extent it's personality but I do think that the culture of extreme couponing does sort of suck you in and once you get started it can be hard to stop.
MARTIN: And finally, how did you wean yourself from the habit? I mean did you have like a group that you checked in with or what did you do to get yourself off of it?
RAKOCZY: Couponers Anonymous.
MARTIN: Couponers Anonymous. Yeah.
RAKOCZY: No, I just stopped. That was it. That was the end. I didn't go any more. I was done and now I really don't use coupons at all unless it's once in a great while, if I happen to come across something that I would've purchased anyway. But I don't even get the Sunday paper anymore and I'm glad for it.
MARTIN: OK. Christy Rakoczy is an Internet marketing and writing professional and a reformed extreme couponer. And she joined us from her home in Clearwater, Florida.
Christy, thank you.
RAKOCZY: Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.