Extreme Couponing: One 20-Something’s Experience

In the #61 Winter “Food” issue of Bitch Magazine, Adrienne Rose Johnson, in her article “Clip Artists — Women, work, and extreme couponing,” dissects the psychology behind the (mostly) women who choose to make coupon-clipping a full-time job.

Johnson’s article is a much more sympathetic and nuanced portrayal than TLC’s spat of reality shows — like the descriptively named, “Extreme Couponing” — or media coverage of the phenomenon, like HowStuffWorks’ article, “10 Extreme Coupon Tips for Normal People.”

extreme-couponing-e-cardRather than focusing on the obsessive nature of Extreme Couponers’ behavior, Johnson discusses the way in which stay-at-home moms contribute to their household’s economy in tangible ways through the “money saved” when coupons are redeemed.

Because most of a stay-at-home mom/wife’s work is unpaid, and therefore intangible, the ability to point to a practical savings — $10 off the weekly grocery bill — is powerfully empowering.

Since I was already a pretty empowered woman, and since I had a pretty short attention span that prevented me from committing to large-scale projects with small pay-offs, I never thought that the logic of Extreme Couponing would infiltrate my behavior.

But, when I lost my job in June, it didn’t take me long to tap into the Internet sub-world of online money-making.  Soon, I was a member of InboxDollars, SurveySpot, Focus Pointe, SwagBucks . . . you name it.  If you could make $0.50 an hour, I’d be there.

Now, it’s not as if I was spending all my time on these sites.  But, e-mailing resumes and honing my submission techniques on freelance sites like ODesk and ELance felt so futile after having sent out the first dozen or so.  And, I figured, what with my more than ample free time, the least I could do in order to remain a functioning, contributing member of society would be to pull in an income — however negligible it may be.

I didn’t absolutely need the money — I take the health of my savings account very seriously.

But, as a result of an initially casual engagement with these sites, I soon became an “extreme” member in the sense that Adrienne Rose Johnson spoke of.

Swag_Bucks_home-pagePerhaps it was my OCD — linked with my anxiety levels, ergo more anxiety = more fixated, repetitive behavior.  Or it was the inherent, addictive nature of the work itself.

After all, sites like these — especially Swagbucks, where the user can literally “refresh” her points total to account for the $0.02 cent difference after a video has been watched — don’t make you wait for a check in the mail to prove that you’ve spent your day working.

Side-note: yes, when gainfully employed, I still receive my paychecks via snail mail.  I don’t trust direct deposit, and come the robot revolution, you’ll be all for joining my technological-Luddite revolution!

My mom entreated me not to take the sites seriously, but rather to consider them a source of “pin money.”

“Pin money,” a phrase that now has taken on a general meaning, signifying a small amount of money used for non-essentials, originated in the 17th Century, at a time when hatpins were expensive enough to necessitate the creation of a special “allowance” given to women by their husbands for their purchase.

My boyfriend was shocked that I was putting so much time into something with such a small payout:

(Me, while I make us wait in the car before going to a movie):
“Hang on.  I just have to finish this survey. 
God, how long can this be? I just want my forty cents!”
 (The Boyfriend): “Wait, you’re doing this for forty cents?!”

Nevertheless, after awhile, the money did start to pile up.  In July, I made $25 worth of Amazon gift cards.  By the end of August, I should have the ability to request checks (now, they’ll probably take a while to come through to me) that total about $65.  Not terrible, when the alternative is a whopping $0.

I always strip down to my underwear and caress myself with my hard-earned money.

I always strip down to my underwear and caress myself with my hard-earned money. Doesn’t everyone?

And, most of the time, I was able to ‘run on auto’ through the tasks set by these sites.

There were videos to watch for Swagbucks that I left muted, playing in the background while I wrote or ate dinner.

There were apps to download, claim points for doing so, and then promptly delete.

If a survey lasted a bit too long to be worth my time, I had no moral compunction with whipping through the last pages by checking random answers.

The problem, rather, wasn’t the waste of time (could I be curing cancer or writing the Great American Novel with these idle hours?) but the mental möbius strip that tethered me to the thought process in which I felt prohibited from spending money I hadn’t garnered through these surveys.  Given the inadequate amount I was earning, that aim wasn’t sustainable.

So, I had to commit to a massive, and unpaid, task . . . one of self-education and faith-building.

I had to believe that the money I spent today would eventually be earned back.  I had to reveal the worth within which would allow me to spend money on myself, and not just on others — those on whom I lavished generosity without apprehension.  I had to learn how to fully appreciate the blessings of small, everyday life — $0.50 cents at a time.

Most importantly, I had to teach myself to trust in God(s), fate, and the universe that my life would hold many more blessings to come — including a steady income that breaks a $100 a month.

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