Extreme Couponing? 5 Reasons Why I’ll Pass.

by Paul Michael on 16 May 2011 127 comments
Photo: zorani

It’s the latest, greatest (although that’s debatable) topic around the water cooler. A show called "Extreme Couponing" highlights people who buy hundreds of dollars worth of produce from the grocery store and pay for 95% of it with free coupons. (See also: 50 Best Deals and Coupon Sites)

I hear this all the time:

“It was amazing! The bill came to $894, and they paid like $12 after coupons!”

“Really? No way!!!”

“Yeah, I’m so doing this now!”

Now, is that true? Yes, it is. I have seen people walk to the counter with shopping carts full of stuff, and they only have $50 in their purse. They come out with change.

But here’s another truth. Your average shopper is not going to walk into a store with a bag full of coupons and walk out with their week's worth of groceries for a fraction of the price. Extreme couponing, like anything else that seems too good to be true, has a few catches involved. And they’re not small catches either.

1. It’s a Full-Time Commitment

You can’t clip a few coupons on Sunday and expect your next shopping bill to be 90% less. If that were the case, everyone would do it and most manufacturers would go out of business very quickly.

This takes a lot of time, patience, organization, research, and dedication. You have to stockpile hundreds of copies of the weekly coupon circulars. You need to know when things are going on sale and when the stores are doubling coupons. You need to know more about the products in the grocery stores than the managers of those stores. And even then, when you are that buttoned up, it’s not what you’d expect.

2. You Have to Stockpile a LOT of Stuff

All of these extreme couponing people, without exception, have filled their homes with mountains of products.

I saw a lady buying 77 bottles of mustard because she had 77 coupons for them. My family uses maybe two bottles a year. Yours may use four per year. They may use one every month. It will still takes years to get through them all. But every time they are featured in a coupon, the bottles come home. Does anyone need hundreds of bottles of mustard? I know I don’t.

One woman has a grocery store in her basement, stocked with hundreds of bottles of laundry detergent, ketchup, mouthwash, toothbrushes, and all sorts of other stuff. The rest of her family comes to shop in the basement for free. Great for them. But are you prepared to devote all of your storage space to products you never have a hope of using, just to save money?

3. You Become a Slave to Coupons

Imagine waking in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. You realize, to your horror, that you didn’t use a coupon. It’s double coupon day too! That means the store is actually paying you to take a bottle of Aspirin. So you drive to the store in your PJs and pick it up. Yes! A free bottle of Aspirin and 12 cents in change.

I, for one, am not prepared to give up my life to coupons. But this is what happens. It’s sad to say that extreme couponers are addicts. You just have to look at what they put into it and what they get out of it, plus the stress they go through if they don’t get a coupon or spend it.

Like any other addiction, that, to me, is not healthy. People who spend most of their time at the gym may look healthy, but they’re addicted to the rush of the workout. And that’s unhealthy, too. So just because they’re saving money, it doesn’t mean it’s a good addiction to have. The rush they feel when they see the register start chalking up the discounts is the same rush you see on the faces of people at slot machines. They’re hooked on savings, regardless of what it is they’re actually saving money on.

4. You Spend Hours at the Grocery Store

Hours and hours. Way more than an average shopper. And when the time comes to check out, you’re about to become very unpopular, because everything has to be checked out in the right order to get the maximum discounts. You may even have to split your order into separate loads to make it work. Life is short. Don’t spend it all in the grocery buying 58 bottles of shampoo.

5. You Are Taking Much More Than You Need

Here’s something that really got to me. On a recent episode, a woman discovered that she was basically being paid to take product out of the store. The double coupon meant that she’d get credit back to spend on other things. That part is smart.

But here’s the selfish part. She cleared the store of ibuprofen. Boxes and boxes of it went into her cart. Thanks to her, no one else was getting it that day, or that week depending on when the shelves are restocked. And that happens a lot with these extreme couponers. They clear out the shelves to take advantage of coupons.

What happens to all the stuff they take? Does it get used? Does it expire and get thrown away? Does it get given away? It’s just consumerism gone awry. By all means, get the stuff you need for cheap or free. But 77 bottles of mustard? 100 bottles of medicine? All the canned dog food in the aisle? It’s greed. Pure greed.

Yes, I know I will get naysayers on this one, but this is sickening in so many ways. Watching these people devote their lives to coupons, buying more than they need, and losing sleep over a few bucks, it’s madness.

I’m all for saving money and using coupons, but you can take things too far. This is just depressing.

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Guest's picture
Maureen

I tried the extreme couponing for about 2 weeks. I found it financially unfeasible, addicting, and time counsuming. Aside from clipping, you have to get on the internet and download coupons from different sites. Firstly, my computer crashed, because I got mal-ware from one or several of these sites; don't know which. Also, you have to get on ebay and bid on the coupons that come in bundles. For example, I got 20 Vitamin water coupons, but paid $10 for the 20. I also paid $10 for 20 yogurt coupons. So if the coupon is hot that week, it jacks the price up. That's 20 bucks in one week that could have went in my gas tank! Also, it gets very addicting. According to my paypal, I made 4 withdrawls in one week. I found myself coming out of stores with a load of stuff, except what I truly needed. Since I am a minimalist by nature, this was very overwhelming for me. Now I just clip them at my leisure, and have other tactics that I use to save. It just wasn't worth my time, expense and the hassle.

Guest's picture

Trying to replicate what you see on TV is silly and pointless. It is not necessary to buy 100 of something when you will only use 6 of them before the sale/coupon cycle brings it back again. Use the experience of other couponers who have been through a year or more of sales cycles and can tell you when to stock up. There are a lot of web sites that do that for you.

For $20 you should have been able to get 100 coupons on eBay - you can't pay so much that the cost of the coupons eliminates the savings, that makes no sense! Also, unlike what you see on TV, the key to buying in bulk (stockpiling) is buying products you will actually use. Buying a lot of items you don't need is the opposite of what you should be doing! You buy just enough to get you to the next time it's available on sale with a coupon at a rock bottom price. For example, we just went through the holiday season and a lot of items came on sale that are popular during this time - canned veggies, baking supplies, etc. Since these come up only once or twice a year, you may consider getting enough to last 6 months to a year or as many as you can afford without taking away from your budget for needed items. I stocked up on flour, sugar, oil, shortening, cranberry sauce, canned corn and green beans (which we eat a lot of.) I got the Green Giant canned veggies for 34¢ each (reg. $1.24 or 59¢ if I had bought generic), even after purchasing the 20 coupons on eBay.

Also, clipping is unnecessary - just save the whole insert with the date on it in a file carrier and go to a web site or blog that reports what is on sale that week at your store. They will tell you in which insert to find the coupon you need.

Extreme couponing is not for most people. But you can take a LOT of the methods, scale them down to real life and save a lot of money But you have to shop SMART and don't fall into the trap of trying to copy what you see on TV - that usually isn't even smart shopping - it's just extreme. And extreme is rarely practical in ANY situation.

Guest's picture
lolli

im with you, on top of getting an addiction on couponing this people are shopaholics they tend to think is ok , because they are not going in to debt. one women even put boxes and boxes of cereal under her bed, on her closet. Im not against using coupons you have to do what you have to do to maximaze the money you work so hard for, i use coupon but i dont keep a stock at all, i buy what i know ill need for a month. 2 bottles of each product i use. i buy nothing i wont need. Most people think they save a lot of money but believe me they dont. People who are couponing heavely are not going to the store with no money they spend money on things they already have at home. One lady said that when she runs out of space she gives the stuff away to go back to the store to buy the stuffs she just gave away ummmm that doesnt make sense to me. You use coupons to save, but if she gives them away because she doesnt have space so she can buy them again how is that saving money. You have to use coupon but extreme couponing will make you spend money you really dont have to spend. i dont care if they said it cost them pennies. they are still spending on top add all the gas they spend on trips. do they get it for free

Guest's picture
Amy

1. Full time commitment. - I'm a full-time college student and my husband is permanently disabled so we are living off of his fixed income. Couponing IS my job - it saves us so much that we are able to live comfortably and not be in debt. If I didn't do what I do (I get 1-4 newspapers each week and spend maybe half an hour every day looking at matchups and whatnot), we would not be able to afford basic necessities and we would be in crazy undergraduate debt.
2. You have to stockpile a lot of stuff. - Um, no. You definitely don't need that much stuff. Because I get a maximum of 4 like coupons, I get a maximum of 4 like items and most of the time I don't even get that many! I do like to stock up a little when things are dirt cheap (I got $50 worth of Pantene products for $2.08 and most of that was tax). I kept enough to get my household through 3 months and gave the rest away. But things like toilet paper... who wants to risk running out of that?! I agree, however, that having entire rooms full of stuff is kind of ridiculous.
3. You have to be a slave to coupons. - It can easily become an addiction or obsession. I don't think anybody would argue that. However, for most people it's merely a hobby or a stay-at-home occupation. It's only when it reaches the point of being uncontrollable that it can be properly labeled as an "addiction."
4. You spend hours at the grocery store. - Usually not. Coupon users who know what they're doing make a very specific list and usually know exactly where in the store an item is. There are times when I will go to the store and spend an hour or two just looking and price matching, but it's how I relax. What's the difference between retail therapy and spending hours and hundreds of dollars at the mall and "free-tail therapy" and spending hours and a couple dollars at a drugstore or grocery store? Hmm... Double standard or jealousy...?
5. You are taking much more than you need. - Yeah, this happens a lot. But only a small percentage of the people doing it keep EVERYTHING they get. Most people give a lot of stuff away to needy families, local charities, or just among family and friends. Also, I do not condone shelf-clearing but people need to be smart and realize that just because a shelf is empty doesn't mean ONE person is the reason. Stores don't always restock their shelves throughout the day - a lot of times it's done at night.

Unless it's a necessity and there's no way around it, I won't buy anything unless I can get it at least 50% off of the retail price.

Also, whatever "extra" I have on my mini-stockpile (which easily fits in my closet WITH my clothes) goes into nice gift baskets for birthdays/Christmas.

Don't judge all of us because of a "reality" show. It shows how ignorant people really are. That's like saying everyone who lives in New Jersey acts like the people on Jersey Shore or that all housewives live like the characters on Desperate Housewives... Really? How naive are people these days?

Lazy Man and Money's picture

Read The Lazy Couponer by Jamie Chase. All of these don't necessary apply to all couponers.

Guest's picture
Crissy

As Jay points out, coupons are almost entirely for processed food. And lots of the excess food couponers buy get donated to food shelters. Donating is great, but when you are donating crappy food, it's kind of not so great. Poor people deserve better than the highly refined, high fat, high sodium junk couponers cast off when they have made their score and are done with it.

Guest's picture
Ann

When I was a stay at home mom, I tended to think of my time as "free" (not realizing how precious those times really were!) taking care of my children, baking, cooking, cleaning, washing and caring for clothes, driving them places, shopping, sewing. All of those things were free for my family's taking :) In addition I was taking my husband to the airport and picking him up, and receiving and sending packages for him when he was on the road. (Even one time running out to FEDEX in a dangerous snowstorm to get a package out by a deadline.) Many of those things are things that people actually get paid for. What a concept!

After a couple of years working, I was making $9.60 an hour; it hit me when I was spending my time doing something or someone was demanding my time, is this worth $10 to me?

Now that I am going to school full time, working (for minimum wage now), doing homework and still trying to be a good mom, I constantly have to remind myself to make good (NO! the best!) use of my time because it is short. Soon all the kids will be grown and I want them to remember these times in a positive way.

Sorry that was a little off topic....all that to say...if I have a coupon for something I need, I use it. If I don't, I don't go out of my way using gas and time that I don't have.

Guest's picture
Mabel

You know what I think this is? It's a variant of hoarding. Many hoarders are addicted to shopping. So are these people. It's the only explanation for them spending this much time on it. And they always have way more stuff in their house than they will ever use in one lifetime. Yeah, sure, some people shop for donations, but just try to get them to get rid of their stash. I bet you a dollar they'd react the same way the hoarders do.

Guest's picture
Kelly

Most of those people who stockpile are buying for a food bank or donating to charity. As an unemployed stay at home grandma (not by my choice) coupons help our family alot. Don't be discouraged by coupon naysayers. I'm sure the writer of this article has a hefty salary and doesn't need to worry so much about their budget as "todays average household" does!!!

Guest's picture
Guest

I'll become an extreme couponer when they have coupons for high-quality foods like leafy greens, bulk foods and other basics. Until then, I pity the people who have a pantry full of granola bars and soup cans. Besides batteries, the last SIX weeks of papers have not even featured any items I purchase. No thanks!

Guest's picture
Cameron

Extreme Couponing is just people going nuts over whatever they can get their hands on, but couponing done the right way will save you a ton of money and doesn't take much time to do. My wife save us about $600 a month and doesn't spend more than a few hours a week by couponing. Coupontosave.com is one of the sites she uses, the site goes over step by step of how to coupon correctly without clearing the shelves. It also posts deals on fresh produce which I don't think Iv'e seen any other site do, but anyway check out the site.

Guest's picture
Mary Armstrong

Greed is very addictive thing. I totally agree with the comment that these "extreme couponers" are addicted to shopping. While getting a few items for cheap/no cost makes sense, it is wasteful to purchase items that you can never use just because you can.

Guest's picture
Morris

Some of their husband were unemployed, so they had to do it.

Guest's picture
Guest

The greediness and complete disregard of the shelf-sweepers is insane. I saw one with mustard, the woman swept every single bottle off the shelf. Her husband tried to interject, asking if maybe they didn't need so many, that maybe she could leave some for someone else? She cackled and said "if they wanted mustard they should have gotten here before I did"

Really makes me want to punch couponers like that in the face, and I am not an angry person :P

Guest's picture
mallm

The comments and reactions to this show is quite interesting. I think most of us can agree that reality TV is not, in fact, reality, but a weird distortion. Just like movies...and sit-coms...and cartoons. Yes, some people have a thousand rolls of toilet paper and a trillion packages of dental floss. And I agree that the type of behavior exhibited is unhealthy. And, yes, shelf clearers are being rude. But I think that many have looked at the extreme and called the whole thing crazy.

Personally, coupons are how my husband and I survive. He is a teacher/my sugar daddy that holds an MA. I also have a Masters, but have not been able to find work yet. Sure, I freelance from time to time, but it isn't stable.

So I have turned to coupons, repurposing items, and hoping that my black thumb turns green.

Yes, I stockpile, as our space and needs dictate. (Yes, to 100 cans of free wet cat food...but only because we have 3 cats and that would last for 3 months. Yes, we have a small office supply store; my husband teaches and I am an academic. It's a given.) But I wouldn't clear a shelf unless there was one item left, and I always let the manager know.

I clip the inserts that comes to my mailbox and grab a few more from the discarded pile in the mail room.

Other coupons I order from a reputable site. Woman-owned small business. :)

I read 2-3 sites for match-ups and to ensure I am within budget.

Organized coupons in hand, I am in and out in about 15-20 minutes per store (1 grocery, 2 drug stores, 2 office supply stores, and a Wal-Mart).

As for healthy foods - we participate in a CSA (community supported agriculture). Not only is it tastier and fresher, but we can chat with our farmer. Oh, and it's cheaper than the grocery store...esp. when you factor in the monetary and environmental costs of non-local foods.

Also, to those that point out that junkiness of couponers foods choices...please don't judge. They may have lived in food deserts all their lives and have never been fully introduced to healthy eating. It's hard to like a green bean if the only one you ever encountered is from a can. While picking up my veggies from my farmer, the person in front of me noted that she had never eaten a fresh green bean. She was so excited by her first taste...and couldn't wait to share with her grandkids. BTW, we live in a fairly rural area - not all food deserts are urban.

And for those that coupon for donations. We do that too, not just because we can't donate, but because non-profits have been hard hit as well. Office supplies, for them, can mean one less lay-off, or even just more time to work with their clients. It's hard to print off grant paperwork without paper, ink, or a running printer.

I think that fully giving up on coupons is like throwing the baby out with bath water. Sure, it can be time consuming at first. But all new skills are time consuming when you are just learning. It took me about 6 months to get my rhythm. Now, I spend about 3 hours a week with many distractions. I think it's worth it - then I can spend less time worrying about bills and loan debt. I am ensuring that we live within our means and build a nest egg.

Personally, it's about balance, priorities, and common sense. The examples on TV, edits and all, depict a lack of these qualities. However, I bristle when the person at the grocery behind me sighs (loudly) when they see my stack of papers. I, too, am frustrated and rather embarrassed when my coupon usage needs manager assistance. If I could shop at midnight, when there is no one else around, I would, but that also seems a little crazy.

I think that a lot of the comments really touched on broader issues, like addiction, food insecurity, social norms, and food/lack of food in the Western world. I just don't think that "extreme" couponers are to blame; they may just be effect.

Guest's picture
Guest

Talking about extreme couponing is like discussing hoarders.... I believe there are very few true extreme couponers. Those that exist don't care what you blog about them because its a compulsive behavior. I am mostly sad about the glances I get from stocking up on things I will use. Why do I need to explain my purchase to anyone. Thanks-Aly

Guest's picture
cyn

I agree with your article. I can't stand greedy, selfish people. And with these coupons it seems like it's only crappy stuff that I would never really eat anyway. I try and eat healthy like fresh fruits and veggies and plenty of organic products. Yes it cost more but I get to spend more time with my fam because I'm not spending 4 hours in a grocery store and god knows how many hours clipping and researching. Good thing I wasn't around when that selfish lady took all the meds I would have gone off. I completly agree get what you need not what you might need 20 years from now and save some for the rest of us.

Guest's picture
Little Tex

I spend 30 minutes a week couponing and the "extreme couponing" show has definitely made couponing look like a mental illness. Unlike the extreme couponers, I only clip coupons for staples that I already go through large amounts of such as dry pasta, oatmeal, yogurt, and coffee. Clearing a shelf and buying 77 bottles of mustard is selfish, wasteful, and inconsiderate. Not to mention that the time and dedication people use towards couponing could be better used generating an income.

Guest's picture
Guest

You know, my son, 17, was jsut saying the same thing. We were both in shock at what people were stock piling, like mouthwash bottles and bottles of mouthwash, what of the expiration date? We were saying the same thing - this is pure waste and greed. Maybe the extreme couponers can open a small store to sell in their neighbourhood, then it won't seem so wasteful.

Guest's picture
rachel

I have no problem with extreme couponing, but when it goes OCD extreme like on that TLC show, that is the problem. Who need 77 bottles of anything? pop (soda for the rest of the world, pop for michigan people :) ) or mustard? That is insane! I am a couponer, a traditional one. I spend maybe 1-2 hours per week, and I have saved money and yes I have a stockpile, but on things that I use within six months. Once I am getting low, then it is time for the sales and then I stock up again. I do this to save money each month, each week. And it works. You don't have to spend hours to coupon. Thanks to the internet :)

Guest's picture
Emily

I have not read ALL the comments on this yet. Too many so I am just going blindly post my thoughts. Sorry if I am repeating.......But here is something to think of. They SAY they saved $30,000 in couponing so now they can fix the house or go on vacation or something along that line. REALLY?!?! Who spends $30,000 in groceries to begin with?? It is not really money saved because without coupons, they would not have spent that much....on 77 bottles of Mustard or 100 bottle of medicine.

Guest's picture
Kristin

People keep commenting that "coupons are only for processed junk food and I eat healthy."

I coupon a LOT, but I also eat healthy food. Don't people who eat healthy food also need toilet paper, paper napkins, pet supplies (if you have pets, of course,) shampoo, bath soap, dish soap, laundry soap & dryer sheets, garbage & storage bags, household cleaners, feminine products, hair products, make up, OTC medicines, baby supplies, bandages, vitamins, toothpaste, deodorant, shaving supplies, peanut butter, preserves, mayo, ketchup, pickles, olives, soy sauce, tortillas, seasonings, dry pasta, granola, tuna, cereal, milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, juice, meats (turkey sausage & turkey bacon), salad dressing, butter, flour, sugar, olive oil and maybe coffee/tea & creamer? Because THOSE are what I mostly use coupons on.

I very RARELY buy those processed, frozen, canned or boxed meals everyone associates with couponing!

Guest's picture
Angry Bastard

The thing in all this is if communities organized themselves they could take advantage of this coupon madness and help out many people in need! Instead of one person having a "mini mart in their basement" change it into a comminity food distribution centre and help people in need throughout your community by giving them access to the products they need for eveyday living. Don't just can the system due to "extreme individuals" but use it to help people who are hurting! All it takes is someone to us their brains for a change instead of complaining!

ps,
if you think I am an angry bastard, your right first time!

Guest's picture
Guest

@ Angry Bastard.

I agree. Why not help out others.

I dont do it enough to help out a food bank BUT...I will buy 20 of an item. I have 4 grown children, retired parents and my own household. We can use 20 of an item within 2 or 3 months.

One thing I did do....when my parents retired and while they were still getting their money straight from SS....I got about 600 cans of dog food for them. when the dogs dies, they still used it for the feral cats. They will eat anything. Then I ALSO donated about 600 cans to the humane society.

Two Christmas's ago, I helped out a church run daycare center in the projects. These kids had NOTHING .....so I gave what I could.

Guest's picture
GuestChris R.

I agree with a lot of valid points that this article brought up; mainly because I saw a recent episode of Extreme Couponing and to be honest I was disgusted. I can sympathize a bit if you're like the Duggars (19 & Counting) but this type of behavior is extremely unfair to others. Businesses suffer by losing profit on name brand items, and as others have pointed out other consumers can't get one product on sale because a couponer has to clear the shelves of it. It's greed, pure and simple. More importantly, I think it's in poor taste to put these people on T.V. as if their pointless hoarding is a positive thing that should be rewarded. Kudos! You have no children, yet have 42 cases of formula in your basement! My wife regularly looks for the deals as well, but I tell her the same; that just because something is on sale, that doesn't mean we need to buy it.

Guest's picture
Terry

I totally agree with you on the greed part. I am a practicing extreme couponer, or a wanna be one. However, I am not going to lose sleep or panic if I miss one. My goal is to stock the food pantry at my church. I will never have a stock pile. I will keep what I need, maybe a few months worth, and the rest will go to those who are less fortunate. For me this is my rush or addiction. God bless you.

Guest's picture
Drea

I coupon out of necessity, as we are on a very tight budget . I try and coupon in phases so it's not taking up too much time. I also cloth diaper in phases . I don't consider myself an extreme stockpiling mom . I do like my savings to fall into the 50-100% savings mark. I don't clip a bunch of coupons every week. To save time and my last remaining shreds of sanity .. I buy 4 papers every week and immediately file those (whole) inserts in my hanging file tote. I don't have a HUGE house or garage,basement , or big utility room ..so there's no way I could let my stockpile get too big . I just like to buy enough to get through sales cycles ( or a lil longer) at rock bottom stock up price. I try not to get an insane amount of processed food. I like it for things like COFFEE, pantry staples , dental, vitamins, hair care, deodorant , detergent , tp , pt , and more COFFEE (yes, it's worth mentioning twice ;) ) . We live in south Florida so I'm in True BOGO land , BUT SADLY NO DOUBLE COUPONS . fL is the roll out state for walmarts BOGO ad match (at their price) as well . I hate to admit it but I get stuff there now after boycotting for over a decade . I will match some items like BOGO produce ,BOGO meats and misc. here and there . Publix is my preferred store. Now I have been known to buy an excess of an item before ( no shelf clearing ..uh unless there's only 2 ) if it works out for me mathematically . I'll give excess away to fam and friends .. Plus I buy groceries for my mum since she's perpetually broke. I hope I can maintain my couponing when I return to work this year . There are ways to shave time off it..ya just have to utilize the many online resources out there. I will also add that I actually spend way less time in the store now ..as I go in with my list and coupons ..knowing exactly what I'm getting and spending.