Through the years, most of us have collected coupons at one time or another; some people even make a regular hobby out of coupon collecting, and have websites through which they pass on their coupon collecting wisdom to the masses.
Others take coupon collecting to an extreme — they’re called extreme couponers and there’s a plethora of websites that cater to that crowd.
In a TV show featuring extreme couponing that debuted in 2011 on TLC, normal people exhibited strange behavior — jumping into dumpsters, stealing parts of newspapers off of neighbors’ porches, and stashing their collections into storage units.
One former extreme couponer concluded collecting coupons was a waste of time and confessed she was addicted to the practice, and described how she acted during the height of her “extreme” behavior:
“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.”
But there are also success stores, and none is more inspiring than the amazing story of David Phillips, a civil engineer who teaches at the University of California, Davis.
The story, as told by writer Karl Smallwood, reveals how David Phillips managed to convert about 12,150 cups of Healthy Choice chocolate pudding into over a million Air Miles, enabling David and his entire family to travel all around the world for next to nothing.
How Did David Pull This Off?
Smallwood begins by explaining that David Phillips is the kind of guy who reads every inch of the small print on everything. Back in 1999, Healthy Choice had a promotion on their frozen entrées section, offering 500 Air Miles for every 10 bar codes of their product a person sent in.
Additionally, the company had an early bird stipulation that allowed people who redeemed the offer within the first month of the competition to receive double the amount– 1000 Air Miles for buying just 10 of their entrées.
David eventually discovered a discount grocery chain that was selling individual chocolate pudding cups for 25 cents each which translated into an out of pocket cost of $2.50 for 1000 Air Miles.
To minimize suspicion about why he was hitting several stores to purchase all the Healthy Choice pudding they had in stock, David told people he was doing it because he was stockpiling for Y2K — only a few months away.
David ended up spending over $3000 on pudding, but the miles he was set to receive was worth in excess of $150,000. However, David still had to actually send in and redeem all of the bar codes.
Since his wife developed blisters from peeling off hundreds of stickers, and his kids and co-workers could no longer endure eating another spoonful of pudding without getting physically sick, David worried they would not be able to peel off all the barcodes in time to qualify for the early bird part of the promotion.
After a little brainstorming, David approached the local Salvation Army with an offer — they agreed to give him volunteers to peel off all the bar codes on his pudding if he donated the pudding. And with this maneuver, David was also able to count the pudding as a charitable donation, which allowed him to claim over $800 back in tax deductions at the end of they year.
Over 4 Million Frequent Flyer Miles
After adding in the bar codes from some soup he bought earlier at 90 cents a can, David now officially had over a million miles in his frequent flyer accounts, which automatically gave him lifelong access to the “American Airlines AAdvantage Gold club” giving him and his family flying related perks for the rest of their lives.
And Smallwood claims David will probably never run out of Air Miles because he’s still earning miles 5 times faster than he’s spending them, thanks to various frequent flyer incentive programs he monitors and exploits just like the pudding scheme.
Today, he has over 4 million miles in his various accounts and has flown to over 20 countries and taken numerous vacation.
So after his initial one-time investment of a little over $3000 (around $2200 if you subtract the tax deduction), and a few other similar deals, David never has to pay for a flight in his life again.