The Insane World of “Extreme Couponing”

Alden Wicker
Posted

Oh, reality TV. We love you because after a crazy day at work, you make our our own problems seem manageable … at least compared to Real Housewives drama-fests.

But when it comes to the new TLC show Extreme Couponing, we watch the participants with a mixture of interest and—dare we say it—envy.

The new show features coupon clipping professionals who pull off feats like bringing $1,900 of merchandise to the grocery store checkout and paying only $103. That’s a 95% discount!

And they do this normally-frumpy coupon clipping with panache. There’s the sassy and adorable “Double Saving Diva,” twins, who do their grocery store shopping with matching pink and purple sweaters. There’s the “super mom,” who feeds her brood of seven on $160 a month while sporting heels and a pair of size two jeans. And there’s the 24-year-old who paid off her $10,000 credit card bill with the savings.

This isn’t just for grandmas anymore.

But, could this work for a normal person? Ask yourself whether you have:

A Lot of Time

Six hours clipping and sorting, five hours at the checkout counter, and midnight trips to the store … say goodbye to free time.

Instead: Make it a party. Six hours is a bit much, but we loved that the 24-year-old threw a party for 20 of her friends on $26. If there is one time when a few hours of preparation might be worth it, this is it. (It also helps to budget for your party.)

A Lot of Storage

During commercial breaks, TLC runs ads for Hoarders—and the parallels are striking. Hoarders cram their living room, the space under their children’s beds, the garage, and anywhere else they find a spare inch, with stuff. Ditto for Extreme Couponers, except that all their space is devoted to neatly organized, discounted goods.

Instead: Be discerning. These extreme coupon clippers will pick up anything that is on sale. We say, get what you would have bought anyway, just do it for cheaper. Stack the manufacturer and grocery store coupon, send in the mail-in rebate, and top it with a member card discount. And forget about the 26 bottles of Maalox.

Little Concern for Health

Coupons frequently apply to packaged, processed foods rather than fresh produce, and in the long run, that will cost you. One woman did throw a whole armful of yogurt in the cart, but then another bought 150 Butterfingers. Really?

Instead: Seek out the healthy food. Stores like Whole Foods and organic brands like Stonyfield put out coupons every month. Also, if you’re going to stock up, note that January is the best time to look for health food deals, when manufacturers take advantage of Americans’ collective resolution to lose weight.

An Indifference to Waste

One discount chaser has a wall-to-ceiling shelf of 4,000 diapers—and no kids. And the “Coupon King” owns 1,000 tubes of toothpaste. If you have any interest in living sustainably, this just isn’t for you.

Instead: Donate it. The “Coupon King” would have even more if he wasn’t a huge supporter of the troops abroad. If you get really good at the coupon game, we know a few women’s shelters who could actually use a thousand tubes of toothpaste.

OCD

To keep track of the thousands of coupons you’d amass, you’d need an organization system that rivals an accounting firm’s. You will test the limits of friendship and marriage as you carefully count out 150 cans of tomatoes. You must enjoy leaning over the cashier’s shoulder as she scans the each and every item from the four shopping carts you brought to the register. And when you get home, you will need the energy to neatly stack a pickup truck’s worth of food.

Instead: Organize. You don’t need to be obsessive, just mildly organized. One coupon clipper kept the deals on her smart phone. Another used a binder with clear sleeves. Whatever the system, make sure you have everything in order before you hit the store, or else you might have a mess on your hands at the cash register.

(While you’re at it, get your house organized with our spring finds for under $10.)

  • webbygrrl

    Every food bank and soup kitchen should have a volunteer team of “extreme couponers”!

  • webbygrrl

    Every food bank and soup kitchen should have a volunteer team of “extreme couponers”!

  • webbygrrl

    Every food bank and soup kitchen should have a volunteer team of “extreme couponers”!

  • webbygrrl

    Every food bank and soup kitchen should have a volunteer team of “extreme couponers”!

  • Kouponkween

    Hi, I’m a couponer but I agree that the show Extreme Couponing is just as bad as hoarding! I buy what I need and I only stock up on those things. I also get any freebies I can so I can donate them to friends, family, and North Country Outreach’s Neighbor to Neighbor program. With all the flooding, severe storms, and tornadoes(i don’t know if I spelled that right) there are many people in need. I have a family of 4 and can no longer work. My husband is doing all he can to support us. We receive no financial assistance of any kind and I am still fighting for my disability with Social Security. Time I got, Money-not so much. Right now we are squeaking by but there are many people not so fortunate. I wish more people would donate some of their stockpiles to area charities!

  • Kouponkween

    Hi, I’m a couponer but I agree that the show Extreme Couponing is just as bad as hoarding! I buy what I need and I only stock up on those things. I also get any freebies I can so I can donate them to friends, family, and North Country Outreach’s Neighbor to Neighbor program. With all the flooding, severe storms, and tornadoes(i don’t know if I spelled that right) there are many people in need. I have a family of 4 and can no longer work. My husband is doing all he can to support us. We receive no financial assistance of any kind and I am still fighting for my disability with Social Security. Time I got, Money-not so much. Right now we are squeaking by but there are many people not so fortunate. I wish more people would donate some of their stockpiles to area charities!

  • Kouponkween

    Hi, I’m a couponer but I agree that the show Extreme Couponing is just as bad as hoarding! I buy what I need and I only stock up on those things. I also get any freebies I can so I can donate them to friends, family, and North Country Outreach’s Neighbor to Neighbor program. With all the flooding, severe storms, and tornadoes(i don’t know if I spelled that right) there are many people in need. I have a family of 4 and can no longer work. My husband is doing all he can to support us. We receive no financial assistance of any kind and I am still fighting for my disability with Social Security. Time I got, Money-not so much. Right now we are squeaking by but there are many people not so fortunate. I wish more people would donate some of their stockpiles to area charities!

  • Kouponkween

    Hi, I’m a couponer but I agree that the show Extreme Couponing is just as bad as hoarding! I buy what I need and I only stock up on those things. I also get any freebies I can so I can donate them to friends, family, and North Country Outreach’s Neighbor to Neighbor program. With all the flooding, severe storms, and tornadoes(i don’t know if I spelled that right) there are many people in need. I have a family of 4 and can no longer work. My husband is doing all he can to support us. We receive no financial assistance of any kind and I am still fighting for my disability with Social Security. Time I got, Money-not so much. Right now we are squeaking by but there are many people not so fortunate. I wish more people would donate some of their stockpiles to area charities!

  • Kouponkween

    Hi, I’m a couponer but I agree that the show Extreme Couponing is just as bad as hoarding! I buy what I need and I only stock up on those things. I also get any freebies I can so I can donate them to friends, family, and North Country Outreach’s Neighbor to Neighbor program. With all the flooding, severe storms, and tornadoes(i don’t know if I spelled that right) there are many people in need. I have a family of 4 and can no longer work. My husband is doing all he can to support us. We receive no financial assistance of any kind and I am still fighting for my disability with Social Security. Time I got, Money-not so much. Right now we are squeaking by but there are many people not so fortunate. I wish more people would donate some of their stockpiles to area charities!

  • Viki

    For both health/fitness reasons AND financial reasons, I do the “shop the perimeters” way of shopping.  We don’t eat much processed food, and I don’t often find coupons on produce we use, whole wheat bread, milk, eggs, rice, etc.  So the extreme couponing doesn’t work for us . . .there just aren’t many coupons for what we eat.

    • Tricia Hein

      check out organicgrocerydeals.com. It focuses on coupons and sales on healthy products.

  • Viki

    For both health/fitness reasons AND financial reasons, I do the “shop the perimeters” way of shopping.  We don’t eat much processed food, and I don’t often find coupons on produce we use, whole wheat bread, milk, eggs, rice, etc.  So the extreme couponing doesn’t work for us . . .there just aren’t many coupons for what we eat.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001425672066 Squiggy Flop

    lol that 1000 things of toothpaste got donated right after the show.. actually a bunch of the people had really inflated stockpiles because the show told them a big stockpile would help ratings.. many of them put off donating until the day after the show to inflate the look of their stockpiles.. i do semi-extreme couponing.. i dont have a neat stockpile, mainly because we use up stuff just as fast as i can get it. its also important to note that some religions require people to keep a year or more worth of supplies in the house. as for health, i have a lot of dietary restrictions. i cant have most types of produce but i *can* have many kinds of processed foods, so whats healthy for other people makes me very ill. oh and i totally find coupons for produce,, i just cant eat it so i dont buy it.. sometimes i do buy and stock up on things i dont need, like cat treats (for the shelter) and glucose monitors (for donating) when they come out to free.. i also want to note that many of the people on that show had a very big family. 26 bottles of maalox doesnt last long in a large family because when someone gets sick, everyone gets sick.. anyway, those stockpiles are often inflated with donation items because TLC wants to shock people. and as for the diapers, they dont go bad, and clearly she *wants* children soon. also they make excellent gifts for baby showers.. she is at the age when baby showers are constantly popping up.