Extreme Couponing: Is It Too Extreme?

With apologies for an ultra-long post, but I’ve got a lot to share. Oh, where to start , where to start…

First of all, today’s topic is about the “reality” tv series, Extreme Couponing , which airs on the TLC network. My observations, comments, opinions are based on the shoppers on the few episodes I’ve seen and are NOT directed at all people who use coupons. I’d need a mirror for that, since I use coupons every chance I get and adore getting stuff for free.

If you haven’t seen the show, the link above will take you to a series of trailers provided by the network. Each week they profile shoppers who use coupons stacked on top of store sales to buy thousands of dollars worth of groceries, paper and cleaning products, and health and beauty products for next to nothing, and sometimes even make money on the deal. It sounds good, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t love to save that much money?

Well, on the surface it is good, and many families (and single, unemployed blogger types) are able to stretch their grocery budgets by combining sales, coupons, and/or rebates. The situations depicted on TLC, however, usually feature people who take this beyond the norm. Way beyond the norm. After watching a few episodes, I began to feel uneasy and somewhat…well, repulsed, to be honest. For the most part, the behaviors I saw were neither admirable nor desirable, certainly not a lifestyle I aspire to imitate, so I quit watching.

In a nutshell, these are the problems I have with on Extreme Couponing (hereafter known as EC):

Most of the food they’re shown buying is garbageunhealthy – Y’all know I’m no food purist. I try to eat mostly whole foods, but I do buy some processed foods for the convenience and the cost. Plus, I like a little decadence now and then. Exhibits A and B, my pantry and fridge, follow:

Cammy's pantry shelves

Not shown: top shelf has a bin of Cheerios. Spices occupy one shelf of a cabinet in the kitchen proper.

Cammy's fridge

Photo taken after a grocery run, but before a produce shop

The folks on EC are shown buying processed foods–sugary cereals, frozen meals, cookies, sodas, candy, potato chips, etc.—almost exclusively and in very large quantities. 150 Butterfinger candy bars? Chips for 800 people? A dozen jars of flavored mayonnaise? Ninety packages of lunchmeat? They’re never shown buying fresh meat, fresh produce, or the like. Part of that may be the production company, because as we know, coupons aren’t often available on those products and if those purchases were included, the final tally would be much higher and not nearly as “impressive”. But there’s more to it than that, which leads to my next point…

The shoppers on EC have massive amounts of food and other products stockpiled in their homes. We’re not talking about an overcrowded shelf (ref: above photo). They have entire basements filled floor to ceiling with products. Their homes look like grocery stores and they’re proud of that! One woman said her stockpile was almost as beautiful as her family. Another proudly showed how she had converted the FAMILY ROOM into her couponing area. ( I have no idea where her family congregates now.) Most extreme couponers seem to have highly organized storage areas, but one home featured in the season opener had bags and bags of groceries piled up IN EVERY ROOM IN THE HOUSE! The husband had declared his “man cave”, a tiny extra bedroom, as off-limits, but the final scene showed the wife stashing more bags of groceries in his space.

I understand having extras on hand. I’m single, so that means two or three of any given item, on average. (I often take advantage of a sale/coupon and have had as many as eight cans of tuna stacked up. I didn’t buy more until there were only two cans left.) For households with more people, I can see that the quantities might be higher. For large families or people who live in remote areas, I get that an extra freezer or storage area could come in handy. I don’t understand the benefit of having 1000 (not a typo) tubes of toothpaste or 35 bottles of Maalox standing by. (Meow moment: If you’d clean up your diets, you might not need so danged much Maalox!)

And that’s my point, I guess, is that many of the featured shoppers are buying a whole lot of products they don’t need and probably won’t use before the expiration dates. I’ve read and heard comments by other extreme shoppers that excuse this by saying they’ll donate it to a food pantry if it’s about to expire. How noble. You had food someone needed and would appreciate stockpiled for two years and now that it’s losing its freshness, you’ll pass it along. Pardon me while I throw something heavy.

Seriously, some of these behaviors border on hoarding. Not for all of the couponers, but in a few cases, I wonder. As you may or may not know, TLC also airs a show called Hoarders: Buried Alive. At least on that show, the people are offered the help of a psychologist. Not so on EC.

The final “astonishingly” low grocery bill isn’t always honest — Scant mention is given to how much money some of these shoppers are spending to save money.

  • Many buy multiple copies of newspapers (up to 12) on the days when the coupons are included. In my area, that’s Sunday and the Sunday paper is $2.00. That would be $24 for me, almost equal to my average weekly grocery bill, and the circular would likely have 3 or 4 coupons I’d actually use.
  • Clipping coupons from online sources is great. I do it myself for products I know I’ll buy. I don’t print coupons for “maybe” products, because printer ink and paper cost a lot. Imagine if I was printing hundreds of coupons, as the EC shoppers do.
  • Having multiple computers to get around limits on the number of coupons that can be printed from one computer had to be pricey, and one woman profiled had five laptop computers.
  • Another woman was said to have spent $70 buying a batch of coupons from a clipping service for her “biggest shop ever”, yet that wasn’t netted against her final tally. (At least, not that I recall.)
  • Storage racks and systems cost money. One shopper had a custom storage rack built that will automatically rotate her stored products so that the oldest purchases are stored at the front of the shelf. Admirable, but not necessary for the average household.
  • And you can tack on a whole lot of time spent clipping, collecting, researching, shopping, and storing.

Finally, (you thought there’d never be a ‘finally’, didn’t you?) the coupon experiences depicted on EC are not realistic for most American shoppers— Most stores have stricter limits on the number of items that can be purchased by coupon. Few stores actually double or triple coupons, although several will allow you to use a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon together. None of the stores in this area (that I’m aware of) will redeem a coupon for more than the cost of the product. Something interesting I read the other day (and naturally, can’t find now) is that some stores being shopped on EC are breaking their own couponing policies for the show. Those of us without a film crew would be out of luck. If true, and I don’t know that it is, I don’t like that.

Like I said, I don’t watch Extreme Couponing anymore. While I admire savvy shoppers who have figured out ways to take advantage of “the system” to stretch their shopping dollars, too many of the shoppers I saw seemed to have some serious issues that need to be dealt with.

As you can see, I have a strong opinion about this show, and I apologize if I’ve offended anyone. That wasn’t my intention. To be fair, some of the tips and tricks shown on EC are good: the benefits of store loyalty cards, matching coupons to sales, taking advantage of free birthday meals at restaurants, and so on. And a few of the shoppers profiled may be “extreme” compared to most shoppers, but they’ve also placed parameters on what they’ll buy and how much of it they’ll store. If the series featured more people like that , I’d still be watching.

Have you seen this series? Your thoughts? Am I missing something important?

Disclosure: In my grocery shopping trip today, I used three coupons, one that qualified for doubling. I saved $2.10 in coupons and $18.23 in store loyalty card savings for a total savings of 30%. Color me thrilled! My “stockpile” items were two wheels of Laughing Cow Cheese ($1.99 each!), bringing my total fridge count to three of that item, and an extra jar of dill pickles. My decadent item was one package of Jello Temptations lemon “dessert” (don’t tell me what’s in it!), which I purchased with a sale/coupon combo for $1.24. I also purchased a jar of mustard even though I have 1/3 of a bottle on hand. (I’m preparing for the summer sandwich season.)

Non-couponing disclosure: I also purchased two slices of coconut cake from the bakery. I’m trying a new flavor of cake joys: coconut cake with dark chocolate coating and didn’t want to make the whole cake. It’s not for me; it’s for the neighborhood dessert social tomorrow night. I will, of course, have a taste. :)

17 thoughts on “Extreme Couponing: Is It Too Extreme?

  1. Fascinating post and your posts are NEVER too long! I haven’t seen this show, but my response is this: I’ve got better things to do with my time!! I stopped taking the paper a while back, so don’t even get the Sunday coupons any longer. Kroger sends me coupons through the mail plus I can get them online and they pertain to things I buy on a regular basis. Bottom line is, the LESS time I spend in grocery stores, the better off I am.

  2. I have watched that show once and it creeped me out. For all the same reasons you list exactly. I admire those people who do the bulk shopping with the goal of making care packages or taking a load to the food bank. Good for them. Of course, the food bank people get all that processed junk. Who needs 100 Lipton noodles and sauce packets? Really? And those people who say they never purchase without a coupon? Guess they never eat an apple.

    There is no double couponing in my area, so that stuff wouldn’t work for me. I am happy when a coupon for stonyfield yogurt comes my way or for $1 off my almond milk, but we save a max of 3 or 4 dollars a week because we buy real food for the most part.

  3. After years of being harassed by my partner for collecting coupons, faithfully putting them in a coupon book then never using them… I quit. Now I’m just grateful that my favorite market has best deals on Wednesday and the closest grocery store has a reward card.
    Maybe if coupons could be magically scanned from my iPad or phone… Nah.

  4. I’ve never seen this show, but I have a friend who was TOTALLY inspired by it… but it didn’t last because as most people find out, you can’t buy much healthy food with coupons and it just doesn’t work. I get a few online coupons for things I know I’ll buy, but it’s rarely more than $2 or $3 per week.

  5. I’m surprised there’s enough interest to even entertain the idea of having such a show.

    Early in our marriage, I used to try to do the coupon thing, but I found coupons were for mostly name-brands, and the discount was still more expensive than the generic item I used. I couldn’t justify the time spent pouring over ads that didn’t produce much savings.

    I agree with your list, especially the last one about time.

  6. I have not seen the show but I saw a show where they talked about it & showed some of what these people do. I think, like you, some go way too far…. I like that some of this goes to charity but I don’t get the massive amount thing. People can take things too far.

    I use coupons for the things I need & want to buy & don’t use coupons for things I don’t want… I need & want to save money but not to the detriment of my mental well being! 😉

  7. I totally agree with your thoughts on the show, I watched a couple minutes of one episode and couldn’t stomach anymore. I would just like to add that I also think that some of the tactics “extreme couponers” use are dishonest, such as printing coupons from numerous computers. There is a reason that companies set a limit on how many coupons can be printed from one computer. I would much rather pay an honest amount for healthy food that really feeds my family well!

  8. When I watch this show, all i can think is, “I wish these people worked for a homeless shelter.” They could do SO much good there….

  9. I like coupons… when they’re for products I normally use. But to buy a whole bunch of stuff because it’s cheap or free… to live on Hamburger Helper and breakfast cereal and mayo… that’s just nuts. I’d be 400 lbs again if I did that. And some of these extreme couponers border on (or cross the line into) hoarding. There’s no way some of these families can eat that much hamburger helper before it reaches its expiration date.

    I won’t watch the show. I’ve been disappointed by news spots on couponing that show ridiculous savings on junk food. Look, I save about 1/3 of my grocery bill by shopping sales and couponing, and yes, I’ve even gotten some stuff free (most recently a whole lot of yogurt and a pound of reduced fat sausage) but there is no way I could turn my 680 sq ft apartment (where the THREE of us live) into a shelving cannon of boxed seasoned pasta and condiments, even if I DID eat all of that crap.

  10. I don’t get the newspaper any more either, but I do shop the ads that come out every Wednesday, and since three major grocery chains are within a half mile of each other, I make a big circle! On the rare occasion that I have a coupon, I feel like I hit the lottery when I can get the item on sale as well!!

    When, oh WHEN, will they have store coupons on produce??

  11. I have never seen nor heard of that show! I don’t watch much TV and I’m out of the reality show loop apparently. But wow, sounds awful. Boo hiss.

    LMAO at your disclosure! 😉

  12. I can’t relate to this in the slightest. Couponing is not big in South Africa! Yes, you can get them in adverts and on wrappers – savings on future purchases of a certain products, usually toiletries.

  13. I couldn’t have said it any better myself! I posted the link to my facebook page :)

  14. Wait, your weekly grocery bill is $24?? Now that’s something you should blog about!!!

    And darnit, did you have to write about an easier way to make cake joys? I love that idea of using a piece of storebought cake.

  15. Pingback: Savvy Grocery Secrets (and a Few Sins)

  16. I have not seen the show but the stories I have seen and read were much like what you describe. I have not seen coupon doubling here in CA since the 80’s! I use coupons and shop sales for the items we actually need and use. Those people who do otherwise are deluding themselves. I like having a well stocked pantry and freezer – much more than that indicates a mental health issue.

Comments are closed.