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Is Extreme Couponing Hurting the Average Coupon User?

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TLC’s new Extreme Couponing show first premiered as a special in January 2011. It caught my eye late one night as I was flipping around for something to watch. I was fascinated by what I saw – people purchasing hundreds of dollars’ worth of groceries for next to nothing. How did they do it? Coupons!

As the show became a regular series (Wednesday nights at 9 pm) a pattern appeared in the people who were able to get these terrific deals. They lived in places where stores offer double coupons; they bought huge quantities of the items and had massive stockpiles of food, toiletries, and household goods. They got many items for free, and even made money “overage” as they call it when coupons added up to more than the purchase price.

If you watch the show more than once, you will begin to pick up on a few things. These people have large number of duplicate coupons for the items they are buying. How do they get so many? It would be very expensive to purchase enough copies of the Sunday paper to get 20 copies of the inserts. Some get the extra inserts from friends and neighbors, some go dumpster diving at the local newspaper office, and some use a coupon clipping service to order the coupons they want.

The other thing I noticed was the amount of time spent by these couponers to plan their shopping trips. Many are stay-at-home moms who are spending 30 or more hours a week in planning, clipping and scouring the internet for deals. This is a full-time job for them, and for many it’s an obsession.

As I began learning more about this method of couponing I found numerous websites dedicated to matching store sales and current coupons. Some are paid sites like The Grocery Game but there are also free sites such as The Krazy Coupon Lady and CouponMom.com. I’ve used all three that I mention here at different times and it does help to lower my grocery bills. However, I live in California and there are no stores in this state offering double coupons. The best I have been able to do is about a 50% savings. That’s not bad, but it’s nowhere near the 95%+ the people on the show are getting.

Overall I think the show has had a negative impact on coupon users. The show gives the impression that anybody can get these huge savings if they try. In the message boards of various couponing sites people are irritated with the show. Many say it’s nothing more than “organized hoarding”. I’d have to agree based on some of the people featured in the show. They have more food than a family could eat before it expires. Yes, some of these people donate a large amount of food to local food banks, but by clearing the store shelves of great deals they are hurting struggling families who just want to get a couple of items at a great price.

Stores are getting wise to this extreme couponing phenomenon. When a customer redeems a manufacturer coupon the store is reimbursed from the manufacturer. But stores that allow double coupons are footing the bill for the amount that is doubled. In April, Kroger chains in the Houston, Texas are stopped doubling and tripling coupons. Other stores have begun to limit the number of doublers used, or the number of like coupons used per transaction. Wal-Mart has also revised its coupon policy to be more specific about what the store will and will not accept. They now require manager approval for more than 40 coupons in one transaction or over $50 in coupons in one transaction. It seems that rising food prices and extreme couponing may mean fewer deals to be had by regular folks.

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About Kerry D

  • Things

    I’ve always searched for deals and used coupons sporadically through my life.

    After following some websites, and putting together “plans of attack” I began to dabble in what I consider “Practical Couponing.”

    I, too live in California, and reduce my overall budget by shopping at Target and the drugstores and using their “reward dollars” and store coupons stacked with mfr coupons. Mostly for household and personal care items.

    Then I try to get the lowest price I can for meat/produce (usually at Sprouts Farmers Market)

    This week Albertsons had a fantastic deal on gift cards. Buy $100 in Gift Cards (I chose Gas Cards) and get a $20 coupon for your next grocery purchase.

    Using that, along with the mfr coupons, and Albertson’s “mix and match” sales, I was able to get meat (Oscar Mayer), vegetables, dairy and juice for a 94% savings.

    Its more difficult in California, we just have to think harder!

  • Kevin

    I just learned about this show today.

    Years ago, to learn how domaining worked, I purchased a website that simply has useful coupon ads on it. It never saw any traffic. All of a sudden in early April, the traffic exploded and I was making $400 a month in people clicking on coupon ads. I have been scratching my head for weeks trying to figure out what changed. A friend today told me about this show. I can tell you that people’s behavior changed dramatically since the show debuted.

    It is scary to see how much time and energy people are spending on this. I spend about $500 a month on groceries for a family of three. At 30 hours a week, this is 120 hours of work a month, which amounts to less than $4.16 an hour. Getting a job would be more profitable. In fact, given that minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, if you are spending more than 68 hours a month couponing for $500 in groceries, you are losing money. Moderation seems wisest to me.

    An analogy would be the guy who drives his car around my neighborhood picking up recyclables. At $4.00+ a gallon… it certainly isn’t wise for him to let the car idle with the AC on (as he is prone to do).

  • http://lesserhomesandgardens.com Kerry D

    @Kevin: I totally agree that moderation is best. I have two small kids so shopping more than once a week is too much stress! I have cut my grocery bill down to about half, and I’m pleased with that.

  • Richard Gustafson

    These extreme couponers have ruined the double and triple couponing for regular shoppers that do not work the system. The show will last only one more season, about the time all the stores have implemented new restricted coupon policies.

  • Tara

    Great thoughts. I believe that the show on TLC portrays a very fictional account of couponing and set viewers up for disappointment because they can’t replicate those shopping trips. There is also a point where it isn’t fun anymore and it’s a hobby, not a job so it should be fun! I think 50-60% savings average is great and if I do better sometimes I’m psyched but I don’t expect to save 90% on every shopping trip. That is unrealistic. Another free site you may want to check out is Hot Coupon World where I am a mod. There is a great article over there about this “Extreme Couponing” hoopla also.

  • tommiebarker

    Take yogurt for example: you can find so many yogurt coupons, and when combined with sale prices, it can make something a great value. Since I enjoy all yogurt equally (for the most part), I pick my yogurt based on the sales/coupons that I have.

  • Terri

    Tried to use $5 off coupon if you purchase 12 at Publix and was told no that they do not go over 10 on any of their sale items.
    We have used this coupon before with no problems the month before. It comes from SmartOnes website. Was told that they have a very liberal coupon policy and if they let everyone use this coupon they would have no product.

  • Bill

    I think most people can’t do what those people do, but some stores have changed policies. I go to Acme/Albertsons. I rarely use coupons. I think most guys are that way. I recently did use a coupon and was surprised to see I got double the coupon. I had no idea they did that. I may use coupons more now….. I have seen the show and think it is ridiculous for people to hoard food like that. Especially in this economy. I like the shows where people actually go on shopping sprees for food banks. If you know how to get discounts like that. You should do at least one shopping spree for food banks or like one person did. Make gift bags for our troops. The rest for the most part are greedy people who care about themselves. They obviously don’t care about the register they take up for an hour or more.

  • Roseanne Pickering

    Most people who watch the TLC show “Extreme Couponing” think to themselves, “Hey–I could do that!” But there are a couple of points the show is missing. First of all, where are these grocery stores that are giving “double coupons” on items? You have to know the grocery store’s policy on coupons before you invest the time and effort into couponing. Most of the grocery stores in my area have rules about the use of store coupons with manufacturer’s coupons; i.e., you can’t use both or if the item is on special or sale, you can’t use a coupon. You have to read the fine print in their ads as well as store policy. They set limits per household and per coupon. Then you need to look at the crap people are buying with coupons and think to yourself, “What is the sell by date and expiration date on the stuff I’m buying?” I don’t buy pop, juices (I have a juice machine and make them myself) I don’t buy junk food or snacks, candy or anything else that isn’t meat, dairy, fresh produce or the ingredients to make my own baked goods. As far as soaps, toothpastes, and other personal hygiene products go, while they may not spoil, the can and will become unusable. After a while, solid antiperspirants/deodorants will disintegrate. Shampoos and toothpaste will solidify so stock piling that stuff doesn’t really do you any good. Canned goods will go bad after a year or two and can explode and most frozen foods are too freezer burned after a few months to be any good. I see people on this show buying 20 cases of diet pop or 100 tubes of toothpaste etc. Believe me, this stuff will be gross by the time you get around to using it all. You save more money by not buying convenience foods, junk foods and drinks. You can also save a good amount by reading the sale ads and going to a couple of different stores instead of trying to buy everything at one place. These people may save hundreds of dollars when they shop but they’re buying crap. Shop the ads, cook from scratch and cut junk food from your grocery list to save money. Don’t get $800.00 worth of free junk food! You’re not really saving anything.