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.