Frugal Living 

Extreme Couponing: Classic Time vs. Money Dilemma

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Coupon AccordianReality television shows are getting more and more “extreme.” Whether it’s families with enough kids to field a football team or people who tip the scales at several hundred pounds, it seems like the television watching public is obsessed with any extreme. The “first” reality show was basically extreme living on a remote island – remember the first season of Survivor? (surprisingly, I’ve never watched a full episode of Survivor, not sure how I avoided it)

Well, the latest “craze” seems to be a show called Extreme Couponing. If you haven’t seen the show, it basically follows people who buy a ton of stuff without paying a lot of money. There’s a lot of fake drama, as they talk about how they only budgeting $300 for groceries this month but the tally, before coupons, is up in the several hundreds of dollars. There’s some fake “worry” as the cashier starts scanning coupons and then shots of the manager and other people standing around watching.

Extreme is not the right name for this show, it should be called Excessive Couponing. Deadliest Catch is appropriately named – people die up there. It’s not extreme, it’s excessive.

As for the savings, I’m all for saving money and couponing is a fantastic way to do it but let’s not forget that couponing takes time. It can take a lot of time if you aren’t efficient at it and aren’t as organized as some of the people on the show. It takes time to organize the trip, make the purchase, and then take your haul back home to stack in your pantry/extra storage space. I don’t know how long that takes but as satisfying as getting a billion cans of frozen juice may be, how much time is spent organizing and storing the product?

I was also bothered by the faux drama. Anyone who does couponing like this knows exactly how much it’ll cost them out of pocket. You don’t put 80 bags of croutons into your cart and not know that each one will be free after you scan the coupon. There are entire websites and subscription services devoted to telling you where to get the coupons you need, what stores to go to for maximum savings, and you’d never pack your cart without knowing the end result.

Many things in life are this trade-off between time and money. When it comes to changing the oil in your car, you can either spend an hour+ to do it yourself (including buying the oil/filter, changing it, disposing of both, and cleaning up) or you can roll into a quick oil change shop, wait fifteen to twenty minutes, and be out the door after paying a $50+ bill. (if you have even more time, less than $20 and a few hours waiting at Wal-Mart will do the trick too)

As for the people on the show, kudos to you. You have serious organizational skills and you deserve to benefit from it.

Have you seen Extreme Couponing? What do you think of the show?

(Photo: bargainbriana)

{ 39 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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39 Responses to “Extreme Couponing: Classic Time vs. Money Dilemma”

  1. freeby50 says:

    I watched 2-3 episodes of the Extreme Couponing show myself. They did play up the drama too much. I wish instead that they’d go into more details of how these people save so much or then explain what in the world someone does with 66 bottles of mustard.

  2. Big Spender says:

    I saw one episode and got so disgusted I won’t watch it again. There was a woman on there who touted how she used her MBA to manage her couponing.

    Seriously? How about you get a @#$%ing job? I seriously doubt that she pulls in $100k + benefits couponing, which should be entry-level for an MBA.

    • uclalien says:

      My wife and I find Extreme Couponing interesting because my wife is a bit of a couponer (although, not nearly as obsessive as the people highlighted on the show). We do enjoy the fact that many of these people coupon with the intention of giving away a good chunk of these goods to the needy, soldiers, etc.

      We both laughed at the woman who said she was using her MBA to coupon. Couponing takes little more than basic math and organizational skills. We also laugh every time a person says they saved something like $40k in groceries the previous year. In all seriousness, who spends $40k per year on groceries?

      As Jim alludes to, every person, couponer or not, should understanding the concept of opportunity cost. With that said, it is possible to save a lot of money couponing without spending hours upon hours preparing.

      For instance, using coupons, my wife saved hundreds of dollars on diapers alone in the first few months after our daughter was born. It took almost no research and she would group her trips to the store together with other errands so that she wasn’t going out of her way.

      As both Jim and freeby50 note, the producers’ attempt to add drama is a bit annoying, but that’s “reality” TV for you.

      • govenar says:

        I’ve never watched the show, but saving $40K per year on groceries could make sense if they buy more than they need and then sell the rest (at a higher price then they paid); or if they mean getting more money back than they spent via rebates or coupons.

        • uclalien says:

          The show deals almost exclusively with coupons (as the show’s title implies), not rebates. In any case, the people highlighted on the show do not appear to re-sell anything. They either hoard (which they refer to as their stockpile) or give items away.

          Most grocery stores have changed their policy at this point so that a coupon cannot exceed the value of the good being purchased. But even if they haven’t changed their policy, few (if any) give cash back at the register, even if there is a negative balance at the end of the transaction.

          What these people are doing is looking at the retail price of the goods they purchased, comparing it with the actual cost, and calling the difference “savings.”

          • saladdin says:

            Wal-Mart will pay the difference. I buy (yes, buy) coupons for $8 off a specific item that retails for $5.98. So I “make” $2 for each coupon I use and that applys to my “real” groceries such as meat etc.. I have many times received cash back from Wal-Mart, twice in the last week.

            I then take this item and donate it.


        • uclalien says:

          I should add that I’m not saying that large savings can be achieved using rebates. But those are more often than not best used at non-grocery stores, like drug stores.

  3. Kathy says:

    I watched a few minutes of it twice. What I saw was baskets full of processed chemical laden junk. I never once saw anything fresh or healthy. I want to save money, but I am not storing 66 bottles of mustard even if it does only cost me one cent!

    Their houses were overflowing with such incredible excess that the people were servants to their “stuff”.


    • billsnider says:

      I agree with you.

      Most coupons tend to be trial or way out stuff that one would not normally use.

      Bill Snider

      • Martha says:

        Exactly my thoughts! You never see them purchasing fresh fruit or vegetables with their coupons!

      • uclalien says:

        Your statement is incorrect. Most coupons are not trial items. They are regular products.

        My family has saved tons on everyday items like diapers (children’s not adult), soap, salad dressings and other condiments, razors and shaving cream, toothpaste and toothbrushes, deodorant, household cleaners, snacks, cereals, cheese, bacon (turkey or pork), etc.

        As Martha alludes to below, the main (valid) criticism is that you don’t typically find coupons for items like meat, produce, milk, or bread. This is true in most cases, but that shouldn’t stop a person from saving on other items that they would purchase even without coupons.

        When shopping at grocery stores, there are lots of coupons for junk food. So the savings isn’t as plentiful if you would rather avoid those types of products. In my family’s case, we achieve a huge chunk of our savings using coupons at drug stores.

        We also save a ton (especially around the holidays) using coupons to buy gifts at places like Boarders, Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s, JC Penny, etc.

    • Strebkr says:

      I have to admit I haven’t watched an episode yet, but I did set one to record in my DVR. Should be interesting. I think I will hate the drama, but it should be interesting to learn some of their tricks. We already use coupons, BUT only for things we were already going to buy. This does not include 50 bottles of mustard.

    • dawnab says:

      In response to Kathy: I totally agree with your statement. This excessiveness of JUNK is being feed to the children. With the increase of childhood obesity this excessiveness only adds to the problem.

  4. Bey says:

    Along with the issue of shelf space, I’d worry about shelf life – some of the items I’ve seen purchased on these shows are perishable. Can they all be used before they spoil? Also, after you’ve purchased hundreds of dollars of merchandise for next to nothing, what if you’re the victim of a natural disaster or fire? Doubtful your insurance company could be convinced to cough up any money for your cache.

    Most of us don’t have the time to take coupons to the extreme, but I use them wherever they fit into my spending synergy. I’ll use coupons when my grocery puts the respective items on sale, and pay for the groceries with the debit card for my rewards checking account to earn extra interest. I collect discount points that the grocery provides for buying gas at their pumps, then pay for that with a credit card that provides bonus cash back for gas purchases. Then I collect cash back from the credit card, and use that to buy groceries, etc. – hopefully with a coupon.

    Don’t forget about rebates, either – that kind of discount’s just another form of coupon. From tires to electronics to appliances, I always look for those deals. You just have to be disciplined and get those UPC codes in the mail ASAP. Most rebate offers will now even let you track the status of your entry online.

    A last thought: I contribute cash to my local food bank, but it would be great to see folks on this reality show using their talents to help feed the less fortunate in their own community.

  5. Dave says:

    I watched 2 partial episodes, and won’t watch another. In one, the woman spent 35-40 hours per week on clipping, sorting, tracking, etc. All I could think was: Get a Job! I’m not sure what minimum wage is these days but I’m sure that working 40 hours a week at minimum wage would bring home enough money weekly to feed a family of 4. Oh, and you wouldn’t have to spend all week couponing… In the other, the woman got something like 50 toothbrushes for free… who needs 50 toothbrushes, and who has space to store the 50 toothbrushes until they are needed? My dentist gives me a free toothbrush, so I can’t imagine what someone would do with 50… 🙂

  6. otipoby says:

    My only thoughts on the 66 mustards or 50 toothbrushes is charity. Soup kitchens / women’s shelters can certainly use mustard and toothbrushes. I assume the product was free or $0.01 after coupons. If so, then a charitable donation would benefit the charities and the couponer since that is a nice tax deduction. The couponer could theoretically MAKE money on couponing (NEGATIVE spend on groceries).
    I saw an episode where a guy gave away pallets (entire pallets!) of Total cereal to a food bank. I suspect he asked for a receipt.

    • uclalien says:

      The charitable attitude of a number of the highlighted couponers is probably my favorite part of the show. I love seeing people dedicate their time and money helping others.

      But I believe it would be illegal for these people to claim a tax deduction for any more than they actually spent on the items they donate. Saving the receipt will be of little help during an IRS audit when that pallet of cereal only shows up as costing, say $0.05 on the receipt. In other words, that pallet of cereal would only come with a tax savings of somewhere in the ballpark of $0.01.

      • Lj says:

        If you bought a Picasso painting for 5.00 at a yard sale and it was appraised at 500.000 and you donated the painting to a Museum do you deduct 5.00 or the Fair market Value? Duh

  7. freeby50 says:

    I would assume / hope that the people are donating some items to charity especially the perishable items. However, at least in the episodes I saw they never said anything about giving to charity. They could also be sharing or even swapping perishables with family or friends.
    And when they show these peoples homes they have shelf after shelf after shelf in their homes crammed full of all sorts of groceries so it seems they mostly stockpile the stuff.

  8. slpk says:

    Pallets of cereal! That’s just crazy. I watched an episode and the “couponer” stated he had contacted the store earlier and asked them if they had enough of the product he was “couponing” (he wasn’t purchasing it – he was getting it free) and they brought it out to him on a pallet. That’s just way over the top and not in a good way either.
    I use coupons, but I don’t purchase them from others who sell them to make money (illegal) and I don’t dumpster dive for Sunday inserts (not that desperate). I do have mine organized and keep them in the car so I don’t forget to take them when I get groceries.
    Our local food bank asks for monetary donations instead of individual items. They can then purchase in large quantities to make it easier to sort and give equally to the needy. This way they don’t have too much of one thing and not enough of another. Makes sense to me.

    • uclalien says:

      I’m not sure how donating a pallet of cereal to a local shelter is “over the top and not in a good way.” If I were a shelter, I’d rather have the option of having too much of some food product, rather than the alternative, too many people going hungry. The shelter always has the option of contacting other shelters and passing on the charity that they were so blessed to receive.

      We have never used a coupon clipping site, but if I’m not mistaken, most sites explicitly state that the purchaser is paying for someone to clip the coupons, not paying for the coupons themselves. This is how the “legality” issue is avoided. But I have always wondered, is it really illegal? I’d love to see the government code that states that purchasing coupons is, in fact, illegal. It may be against the guidelines stated on the coupons, but illegal? I doubt it.

    • Sun says:

      > Pallets of cereal! That’s just crazy.

      I know right?! That’s just crazy smart. I know there was an episode with a youth ministry pastor that was giving all the couponed items away.

      Many people overestimate their opportunity cost as they think productive hours are only 8 hours a day. Realistically, it is much more than that. When you divide your net income across 16 hours versus 8 hours, your hourly wage is a lot lower than you may think.

      Couponing for 40 hours, then is not as big of an opportunity cost as one may think.

  9. zapeta says:

    I’ve watched the show, and it is really a bunch of unneeded drama and would be a lot more useful if they actually talked about the deals the people are doing rather than focusing on created drama or the size of their stockpile.

    That said, I do use a lot of coupons, primarily at drug stores on personal hygiene items. No need to pay full price for soap if I can get it for free. I have a small stockpile of items under the bathroom sink. My apartment is small, so the rule at my house is anything that doesn’t fit we have to give away. We do occasionally use a few coupons at the grocery store but its rare that the coupon actually lines up with items we buy. However, I have been able to work coupon deals on several occasions for specific food items that local food pantries were looking for. Honestly, for me, its very little work to save quite a bit of money and help out those who need it.

  10. The Man Upstairs says:

    I’ve seen the show several times and figure if they want to make a life of clipping then thats their deal. What irritates me is that often when they go to the store they clean out the shelves of many items. What about the people who actually need the stuff? Why should you have 100 items and 99 people get nothing due to your greed?

  11. Time verses money is one of the age old questions. However, I certainly think the dynamics in the USA are changing. I do not think working 40 hours for man, retiring at age 65, and being comfortable for the rest of your life is going to work for most folks anymore. Costs are going up, pensions are dying, 401Ks are underfunded, and you are either going to drop your standard of living or combat it other ways. These ways may be couponing, a second job, changing your own oil, or all of the above.

  12. Shirley says:

    If I run across coupons for items that I normally buy, I clip (or print) them and use them on regular shopping trips. A coupon for something new to me that I have wanted to try can also get my attention. I gladly use coupons as a practical shopping help but I sure don’t put a lot of time into acquiring them, nor do I spend time or gas to use specific site coupons where I don’t normally shop.

    I think extreme or excessive couponing shows a lack of something else going on in a life.

  13. Meredith says:

    I’ve watched the show a few times and haven’t quite made my full assessment yet. There’s just something strange about the people on the show, aside from the obvious. I feel like these women, and sometimes men, need an intervention. Sure they coupon to save money, but it seems like there’s sometime deeper going on there…I mean, why do they buy things they would NEVER normally buy that weren’t on sale? (ie. the lady who has years worth of diapers, and no kids) A sale doesn’t create rationality in my eyes.

    Meredith @

  14. Sage says:

    I can sort of see why the negative comments would come out about this show, but I can definitely see the benefits of what they’re doing on the show (sans all the unnecessary drama). Yes I do agree that they should be so excessive that they clear the shelves before others even get to shop or that their home should overflow with decades worth of items, but I remember when having a small stockpile was the norm growing up. My grandfather had one in our home for years and it truly helped us out when he took ill. When I move to a bigger house, I do intend to have a small area devoted to a small stockpile of non perishables and other necessary supplies. I would also love to try some of the couponing ideas of the old and new school, but I would have different ideas as far as excess. I have no intention of being this extreme, but I think people in a society where the value of a dollar is so fragile could truly learn something. And I don’t know about other people but if I had the choice between going to a job I hate everyday and saving the money I would’ve made by being frugal and getting to spend more time with my husband and son, I’d pick frugal living any day….and I will!

  15. Bonnie says:

    The show is just ruining it for normal couponers just trying to save a few dollars and keep within our grocery budget! Thanks to this show, stores are changing their coupon policies left and right and confusing the cashiers at the same time, to the point that they often have to call their managers over just to figure out which coupons are okay and which aren’t. Not to mention that self-righteous “J’aime” (who spells their name like that?), pronounced “Jamie”, who cheated and used coupons for other items not covered by the specific coupon she had just because she knew the coupon would scan (e.g. if she has a coupon for $1 off a 6pk of paper towels, but she know it’ll still scan for a single roll, due to a glitch in the computer system, she’ll go and use it on the much-less-expensive single packs even though the coupon specifies “6-roll pack”). She even told the store ahead of time that she does so and they still let her do it for the show! Then she comes out with a statement saying that she doesn’t feel she’s doing anything wrong or illegal. Thanks to her, the manufacturers are redesigning the whole coupon-scanning system (which is great because it means she’ll have to play by the rules, but who’s going to pay for this overhaul? We the consumers!)

  16. saladdin says:

    You guys are missing the most important part I call the overage method.

    What I picked up on quick was not the 100 bottles of antacid but that if you buy an item for $1 and the coupon is $2 I can get $1 worth of “real” food free. So I found a coupon for $8 off any size of product A and the retail cost for the smallest size is $5.98. So I apply the $2 difference to the meat, veggies etc.. I buy.

    In the past couple months I have not paid anything out of pocket for “real” food by using the overage method. Twice in the past month I have received cash back because I did not spend all the overage in the shopping trip.

    It’s personally dissapointing that sites like this with frugal minds miss these small tricks because they aren’t thinking beyond criticizing someone for 50 bottles of mustard.

    2 months of free groceries with 1 hour a week planning, at most, just because I picked up on one line someone spoke on that awful TV show.


    • saladdin says:

      Wanted to add that I did this with only 1 products coupon not a filing system of 100’s. One specific coupon, for one specific product.


  17. Bryan says:

    Personally I think these folks are spending waay too much time on their couponing. Based on their “stockpiles” most of these people are closer to hoarders than savvy shoppers. While I do like the idea of donating the extra products to charity, its only a matter of time before coupons for more than the value of a product disappear.

    Another thing I found when looking into the show a bit more is that some of the featured shoppers may have crossed the line from extreme couponer to outright coupon fraud. See link for details:

  18. Bailey says:

    I watched the show twice and it seemed like a variation on another reality show called Hoarders. Don’t even tell me how great it is to get 1,000 tubes of toothpaste for $0.99. It’s ridiculous. Try Aldi’s, Price Right, or the many ethnic stores that may be available to you. Not only are the prices good but foreign food manufacturers often use healthier ingredients since HFCS and the like are banned in many other countries. It’s a win-win.

  19. kim says:

    getting food for free and donating to food banks is wonderful and since watching the show I have done this. The problem I have with the show is that the didn’t show more detail on how we could start, like telling us the coupon sites they use or which coupon clipping services are best. None of this was given on show to help te public save some time searching the web endlessly blindly. The other problem I have is where in the world do you find a store that doubles coupons upto $1.00???? I watched a show where 1 man went in a kroger and they doubled his .75 cent coupon. Krogers corporate policy states to only double to .50 cents. Alot of stores don’t double at all anymore. I was wondering if these stores gave these people special deals for this show.

  20. dawnab says:

    I have only seen highlights of the show. Couponing is a great opportunity if you or someone else (charities) can use the items. Most items which I saw purchased on the show were items I would never purchase! Ever! I don’t care how much money I save if the item is not something which meets my standards of health, environmental, and financial.

    Another issue I have, I live in a rural community. I don’t go to the store daily or weekly. I go once a month. That’s it. A lot of the stores in my area won’t accept coupons from an online source. I find better savings purchasing items in bulk from my small grocery store. This saves my time, I get what I need and it supports my local small business owners.

  21. Susieinpa says:

    Just watched the show for the first time. I’m not quite sure why the quantity is so important to the bottom line. I can understand buying one item and getting one free…I usually pick up three or four so I have a few extra, but what is the advantage of buying 50 or 60 or pallettes of goods (unless you have a very large family)? Who uses all that? I average $60 off my weekly grocery bill, on the groceries I actually use. I consider myself an average couponer and spend less than 15 minutes a week doing it…no stockpiling, no hoarding, no shelves of mustard and powerade…just the stuff I use on a daily basis.

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