My Thoughts on Extreme Couponing

Tonight is “the big night”  It is the premiere of “Extreme Couponing” on TLC.  If nothing else, it certainly has generated lots of discussion about coupon use on message boards and blogs across the country.

When the first episode aired, I was out of town with my family.  I got several messages and texts about the show, asking if I was watching.  I didn’t get a chance to watch it until a week or so later when I was back in town.

Based on the first episode that I viewed, here are some of my thoughts:

1.  It’s not realistic – I’ve been using coupons “heavily” for about four years now and in that time have been connected to fellow “couponers” on message boards across the country.  Most people, even “heavy” couponers (at least none that I know) spend hours preparing for a grocery trip, a few more hours at the actual grocery store, and then another hour or so at check-out. That’s a full day’s work!  I don’t know any grocery stores in my area that would allow someone to have carts and carts full of items that they were going to be checking out all in one transaction…and the employees certainly wouldn’t be helping push carts full of toothbrushes and pasta around with smiles on their faces.  I once tried to buy six bags of rice that would have been “free after coupon” at a local Kroger store and I was told I could only buy 3 in one transaction.  They actually made me go to the customer service desk and ring up my six bags of rice in two separate transactions.  I’m concerned that shows like this will discourage new couponers, making them think that they are not doing “enough” or that they will paint an unrealistic picture – that you can accumulate a huge stockpile overnight.  I wonder, too, how big these people’s vehicles are to accommodate all that “stuff.”  I know my van wouldn’t accommodate three carts full of items!  I don’t know many of us that have the space for that amount of stuff in our homes, either.

2.  They don’t show “the big picture” – First, to me, my time is as valuable as saving money.  Sometimes I have to put things in perspective and really ask myself if it’s worth it to spend hours dragging my kids around to various stores just to get free pasta or free deodorant or free toothbrushes.  To be honest, for me, free isn’t always free if it means that I have to sacrifice quality time with my family to get it.  There’s always a ‘cost’ even if it’s not monetary.  So, sometimes I have to say to myself that it’s OK to skip out on a deal and that another one will come along and even if it doesn’t, it’s OK.   The things that they show as being “free” aren’t always really “free” either.  When you’re using hundreds of coupons, they have to come from somewhere.  I don’t know many people that have that many generous friends, so I’m guessing that they either purchased those coupons from a coupon clipping service or they bought a whole lot of papers.  Either way, there’s an “expense” there that isn’t shared.

3.  It gives couponers a bad name – If you’ve been couponing for long, you’ve probably had some of these experiences:  the big huge siiiiiiiiiiggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh accompanied by a very sarcastic “great” from the customer behind you in line as you pull out your coupons or the eye roll from the cashier and the “We’re not going to give these to you for free” comments.  I like to practice “the Golden Rule” of couponing, which means that I don’t believe in being a shelf clearer.  I’m not going to lie and say that I’ve never bought 20, 30, or even 40 boxes of pasta (or other items) when there was a really good sale.  But, I will say that I didn’t buy all of those items in one transaction or at one store.  I have gone to separate stores or on separate days so that I don’t clear the shelves and so I can stay in the good graces of my stores.  I think it will also have long term negative effects because I think that stores will start changing policies to try to prevent this type of “extreme couponing” and that it will effect all of us couponers in the long run.  I know the store says otherwise, but I can’t help but think that Kroger’s recent decision to end double/triple coupons in the Houston market after an episode of Extreme Couponing was filmed there is not related.  Just my opinion, of course!

If you’ve stuck around for all of my “opinions” and you’re really interested in how you can get started using coupons, here are a few tips:

1.  Start collecting coupons! Coupons are not just in the Sunday papers anymore.  There are lots of great resources for finding coupons.  Check out my post here on “Where to Find Coupons” for more information.

2.  Start small – It’s very easy to get overwhelmed when you are first starting to use coupons because there is so much information out there.  My advice is to start small and pick one store to focus on and learn the ropes.  I typically recommend starting with a drug store because you can see the impact on your budget and start building your stockpile of health and beauty items relatively quickly.

Check out my store guide for CVS here for ideas on getting started with shopping at CVS

Check out my store guide for Walgreens here for ideas on getting started with shopping at Walgreens

I also have a post here that compares shopping at CVS vs. shopping at Walgreens

I also post weekly match-ups and scenarios, including “newbie” scenarios where you spend less than $5 to get started.

3.  Let someone else do the work for you! There are plenty of great blogs out there that do match-ups for you.  Find a great blog (I’m of course partial to mine…just sayin’!) that does match-ups for your area.  They will usually also outline which items are at a “stock up” price.  In the beginning, it’s hard to know what a “stock up price” is.  I have a post here about “What I’m Willing to Pay for Things” (keep in mind that this is based on being able to double and triple coupons).  I often have people ask me if it’s “worth it” to pay for services such as “The Grocery Game.”  To be fair, I’ve never actually tried out this service.  But, I have a hard time spending money on something that I know that I can get for free.

4.  Learn the lingo – When you first start couponing, and especially if you’re reading message boards, the “lingo” can quickly become confusing and overwhelming.  Check out my post here on “Coupon Lingo” to help you out!

5.  Find an organization system that “works” for you – One of the things that becomes most discouraging for new couponers is how to organize all of those coupons.  I know that when I was first starting out (and a few more times through the years), I’ve suddenly ended up with piles and piles of coupons which my husband was less than thrilled about.  Through the years I’ve experimented with a number of different systems.  Here are a few:

-Binder method:  Use file folders and baseball card holders and organize your coupons by category

-Filing system: Keep your inserts intact (just write the date of the insert on the outside, for example – 4-3 SS).  This makes it easy to locate your coupons if you’re matching them up with deals.  When I used this system, I kept them in hanging file folders by month

-Coupon organizer:  Keep your coupons in a filing boxes or divided coupon holder (I have the sections in mine organized by store, but some people organize them by category)

Here are a few other posts that might be helpful:

31 Ways to Save in 2011 (tips for saving on all kinds of things from household items to groceries and even electricity)

Coupon Basics

If you’ve got questions as you get started, don’t be afraid to e-mail me and ask me!

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please refer to my disclosure policy for more information


  1. Jennifer says:

    Excellent article. I enjoyed reading it, and I can’t agree more with everything you said. Even though I’m against the cartload people who clear the shelves, and think ringing up $1200 in one trip is ridiculous, I will still watch the show tonight. Mostly out of pure curiosity. I do not believe that it is realistic either, and people like this who “abuse” the system may wind up hurting all of us real couponers in the end. I will buy, and I will stockpile. But you won’t walk in my home and see 30 bottles of Listerine lined up on the fireplace mantel, and toothbrushes stuffed in all the kitchen drawers. How about just a year supply of everything? Well…. you can never have enough toilet paper I guess…

    • Jennifer – so funny you mentioned the toilet paper….that and laundry detergent are my two things I get a little obsessed about stockpiling (mainly because I know that we’ll use them and because there aren’t deals on those things as often as some of the other stuff, so I always worry that I won’t be able to find another good deal before I run out!)

  2. brittany says:

    I haven’t even seen the first show and won’t be able to see these new ones considering they don’t put them online- but I hate them. I got so many texts/emails after the first show. They thought it was crazy and immediately assumed my normal coupling was that crazy.

    No wonder stores hate couponers. This will not bring good things- but I know no couponers love it, which is ironic.

  3. Michele says:

    I agree that it is not real. I know that my stores would never allow such transactions. Also, I think that there is a fine line between hoarding and stockpiling. Maybe they are drumming up new people for thier show “Hoarders”. I understand having what you will need for up to a year, after that I think it is hoarding and greedy. (the woman who got 70 mustards, leaving only one on the shelf) There was one man who made it a point to donate to local foodbank but the others did not metion giving away items to the needy.
    I will watch the show and see what happens.

  4. joann silvia says:

    i agree michele good idea to donate these items to the needy especially our troops and families with children who are less fortunate even some of their own families that are in hardship state ,but just to have them use these cpns hoarding them to keep on their own shelfs bcoming the stores shelfs are greedy and inconsiderate of others .So therefore it will be useless and pointless if thats the case .These stores who are limiting good and if the customer has more passing the limit, the store should accept it and bag it as a donation to the food banks or our troops that way everyone benifits from these cpns.