If you haven’t seen extreme couponing shows, you are probably at least familiar with them. The idea of reducing your grocery bill to almost nothing – and sometimes even getting paid for the privilege of taking carts full of items home – does sound appealing, right? However, how much do couponers really save, and is it worth it in terms of the time it takes to clip, find, and organize everything? Let’s look more closely at how to do it if you’re interested in joining the coupon club. Also, keep reading for some pros and cons of this crazy couponing lifestyle. You can learn about the history of couponing in general, and the truth about the extreme couponing show.
25. So, You Want to Become an Extreme Couponer?
So many manufacturers offer discounts to incentivize you to purchase their products. Studies show that coupons sometimes lead to spending more money in the store, but you will be careful and learn all the ropes first. These coupons present an easy way to cut back on coupon expenses without having to sacrifice the quality of living or drastically changing your lifestyle. This extra wiggle room in the budget can free up space for other costs or even fun experiences!
If you are interested in couponing, the first and possibly most important thing you should know is all the different types of coupons you can find. Sunday paper inserts are likely the most common coupons, but many online printable coupons, e-coupons, register coupons (even on the back of your receipt), or cash-back websites and apps. Throughout the article, we’ll go over where to get your hands on these coupons, how to spend your time most effectively, what sales cycles are and how to utilize them to your advantage, food planning, stockpiling blueprints, and how to get the best deals. We’ll also go over the benefits and disadvantages of couponing. Perhaps there are points you haven’t considered!
Don’t be like this lady. If you need a coupon fix, there are plenty of sites out there that will sign you up for daily and weekly coupons. Specific store chains will also email you coupons and their weekly ads, and some stores will also email you a weekly free item just to get you to come into the store. The critical thing to remember with printable coupons is that some sites limit you to two printed copies per IP address.
Coupon inserts are in the Sunday newspaper each week, so you’ll need multiple Sunday papers if you want to make an impact on the grocery budget. Mobile coupons are also helpful, but make sure not to forget them at the checkout line. You’ll also need to register for store accounts and online coupon accounts. Some sneaky sites even recommended signing your spouse up for accounts, but maybe don’t do that unless you have their permission! Another site suggested having multiple accounts with the same stores since many coupons tend to be one-use only.
Clipping one coupon here and there may save you a few cents, but that’s not the drastic savings you are looking for. Depending on the level of savings you’re looking for, you will have to do a lot more legwork. Saving money takes a time commitment, so you will need to invest a few hours into collecting, clipping, and organizing your coupons. It is important to note that there is a significant difference between extreme couponing and realistic couponing, and you’ll have to set a clear boundary of what you are willing to do and where you draw the line to save money. You’ll also want to look into cash-back apps, rebate apps, and coupon sites, but we’ll have more on that later.
One extreme couponer suggested to romper that you may even have to check for expired coupons and match coupons to future and current sales. You also need to know when things are going on sale and when you can use multiple coupons; this also means knowing store policies. Many couponers tend to carry a binder of organized coupons with them based on aisles, food categories, expiration dates, or any other sorting system they may have decided on.
Companies don’t just throw sales at the wall and see what sticks; they are very strategic about what goes on sale and when. Products normally go on sale right before they are in season for use. When an item is at its lowest price, and you have a coupon to bring the price even lower, that’s the best time to purchase. Combining your coupons with sales is what can impact your budget. Even if sales vary, the deals are recycled overall throughout the year. Couponing doesn’t change in theory, even if the sales or specific coupons do.
You’ll start to notice that pattern mentioned earlier: items in demand for the season will be on sale to promote higher purchase rates, so take advantage of that and throw in coupons! For example, November is when you should stock up on cough and cold medicines, soups, Jell-O, Oats, and tissues. December is the time to load up on baking ingredients, wet wipes, and evaporated milk. January is exactly like November, oddly enough! In the summer months leading up to July, you’ll find deals on BBQ sauce, marinades, condiments, lemonade, and charcoal, whereas July and August will be all about back-to-school sales, boxed juices, and school lunches.
21. Extreme Couponing Means Extreme Shopping — and Extreme Checkout Lanes
You won’t just spend time searching for and organizing your coupons; you will also need to spend a lot of time shopping for your scored items! Some couponers fill up multiple baskets in one trip – but not one transaction. Certain stores limit the number of coupons you can redeem per transaction, so you might need to spread your purchases across multiple transactions. In fact, some coupons even limit the number of items you can redeem per coupon – think of how many transactions that will take! That definitely won’t make you a fan favorite to the cashier or the people in line behind you.
The first couponer on this page spends 70 hours a week couponing and takes a day off from her job to shop. She also needs nine carts, six hours in the store, and two cars to move her entire haul home. This may not be quite what you have in mind when you consider taking up couponing, of course, but there are extreme cases out there! As that site mentioned, make sure the value of your time is equal to your savings, or else it is not worth the effort!
Just because something is on sale or has a coupon offered does not mean it is a good deal. Many of the items purchased by the extreme couponers you might be familiar with tend to be processed foods, sodas, cereals, toiletries, or other non-perishables or household items. Not very many of their purchased goods are fruits, vegetables, or meats. Part of a healthy lifestyle is a balanced diet, and you cannot eat a balanced lifestyle if you wait for a coupon for each of the vital food groups; the human body (and your pets) need sustainable nutrition.
Couponing is excellent as a side hustle to lower the grocery bill, but do not make your shopping list according to what coupons or sales are offered to you for the day or week; that is just asking for health problems down the line! If you are strategic enough to buy perishables and cannot consume all of them quickly, make sure to anticipate your consumption patterns and freeze the rest. This handy site tells us a bit about which items to freeze, like cheese, bread, crackers, eggs, and even milk.
Don’t consider becoming a hardcore couponer unless you’ve thought about where to put the stockpile of extra items you’ll be acquiring. Do you have a spare bedroom or free garage space? Maybe an empty basement or climate-controlled attic? Once you get the hang of couponing, you’ll have many extras for which you will need space. It may be exhilarating to watch the total on the cash register go down when you’re scanning those coupons but think strategically about what you are purchasing.
If you don’t really need that item (or multiples of it), then you might be getting a bit greedy. Suppose you don’t use that item often, leave it for those who might want it instead of clearing the aisle of it. Deals are only deals if they apply to your needs; otherwise, they’re just a waste of time, energy, and space. Ask yourself if you are shopping out of a need for these items or shopping because they’re cheap and available before actually putting them in your cart.
18. Have a Backup Plan for the Items You Don’t Need
Some couponers are just deal fiends and cannot stop the coupon madness. That’s okay! They can still shop to their heart’s content if they aren’t damaging their finances or relationships. “But where do they put all this stuff?” you may be asking. “Their storage spaces are probably filled to the brim!” Well, some couponers donate the items they know they’ll have no use for or have too many extras of.
For example, it is excellent if you were able to score 73 bars of soap for $0.15 apiece, but there is no need to hold on to them for the next five years (unless you take an abnormal number of showers every day). Why not donate them to a local shelter and give your shopping an extra purpose? You could even make care packages for your friends and family every so often. Everyone loves gifts, especially useful ones. Teachers would love additional items for their classrooms too! There is no reason for stockpiles to go bad over time when other people are in need every day.
17. The Best Idea Is to Turn Perishables into Non-Perishables
Let’s say you were the lucky duck that was able to get all the fruits and vegetables that your heart could desire with your crazy couponing. Go you! You did it! Now what? You have mountains of carrots, strawberries, and green beans, for example. You can’t eat it all before it goes bad, so what will you do? Of course, you can’t throw it out; that goes against the couponing creed. The obvious solution is to convert the fresh veggies and fruits into canned ones. Canned carrots may sound unappealing, but they can do the trick in a baked meal. You can also freeze them, though that may take a different set of skills for the prep work.
If you have a ton of strawberries, make a preserve or jam. Fresh fruit spreads are always delicious and last a very long time. For beans, you can dry them and have dried beans for whenever you are ready to eat them. Yes, this all takes additional work. However, you were warned up top that this was going to mean a commitment of time on your part. Cheap doesn’t come easy! If you buy fresh fruits that have seeds, try to save the seeds and grow your own garden – that can be its own cost-effective way to save you money!
Extreme couponing may mean that you have to travel to multiple stores for the best deals. You may or may not be interested in taking that on, but keep in mind that as store policies regarding coupons vary, you may get a greater bang for your buck at different stores versus getting everything at one store. That doesn’t mean you need to hit up every store in town in one day, of course. Plan your shopping and see if you can combine trips.
Several sites will allow you to print your own coupons and offer daily deals, so you can pick and choose where and when to score your sales. Look for the best deal at whichever store, then add a coupon to match. It may take you more time, but it could be worth it if you’re feeding a more prominent family. Look for patterns, too. If one store has great deals on meat, but their canned goods are more expensive across the board, then do your fresh meat shopping there and look for better canned foods shopping elsewhere, for example.
Couponing has obvious benefits, whether you’re shopping for one or trying to feed a family of five. It has become a trendy way to save money, with many shoppers searching for the best deal. Whether you are couponing to save money, try new products, get freebies, bulk up your rainy day stockpile, or give products to a good cause, there’s never a wrong reason to use coupons. The first and most obvious reason to coupon is to save money. It could start as saving a few dollars here and there, which never hurts, but if you get proficient at it, you could end up slashing your grocery budget drastically. It’s rare to get money back for a grocery bill, but that’s the holy grail of couponing when you do.
In this economy, saving money is something almost everyone is looking to do, so this is something attainable and easy to learn. It does take a significant amount of time, but it will give back whatever time you invest into it. In that sense, it’s very much up to the individual. You have to decide how much time to spend on it. Besides that, a benefit of couponing is having everything you need, ready to go! It seems enticing to have whatever you need stored away, whether it is deodorant, shampoo, pasta, or marshmallows. Going “shopping” in your own garage seems convenient, especially when you get to think about how it cost you next to nothing.
Trying new products or even new brands or products that you use is possible when you have a coupon. It would most likely be for things like cleaning products instead of packaged food since you don’t want to risk it going to waste. Sometimes you can even score some free stuff! Some stores will send you coupons for free items weekly if you sign up for their email list. This is a great way to try something out before deciding if you want to actually purchase it.
With couponing, you can also give back! Many extreme couponers give away a large portion of their hauls to schools, charities, or shelters instead of creating stockpiles. A student couponer from Missouri donated 30 cans of infant formula – something notoriously expensive. The student made money in the process since her coupons were worth more than the actual transaction. In addition to the common coupons for food, personal care, and miscellaneous home items, you could receive coupons for clothing, restaurants, and other local services. Take advantage of local offers – you can shop at local and small businesses while saving money!
Couponing isn’t fast or easy, as you may have figured out by now. There are many issues with this hobby. You may be thinking, “how is saving money possibly going to be a bad thing?” However, you may not be thinking of things like the massive drain on your time and energy, stockpiling stuff you don’t need for a long time, and possibly creating a hoarding addiction you didn’t previously have!
You must be sick of hearing it – couponing takes time. Looking for the best deals, comparing and price matching at different locations, and even just clipping coupons can be a considerable time commitment on your end. If you are looking to reduce your grocery bill drastically, you are looking at a part-time or even full-time job just couponing, shopping, and storing the items you will be buying. At that point, you have to ask yourself, how much is my time worth? Time is the one thing you cannot buy more of in the world, so it’s a pretty rare commodity. Are you sacrificing time with loved ones or impacting your health to do this? Do you have the time to take this on in addition to all your other responsibilities?
Yes, having a stockpile of the things you need may sound great, but as you’ve heard before, you need a space to store it all. If the idea of clutter stresses you out, think of what having a mini-mart in your home will do to you. Aside from sacrificing square footage to it, you’ll need to keep it organized and most likely climate-controlled! Either way, you are indirectly spending more money on it after all.
Aside from that, you may get stuck buying multiples of items you don’t need at the moment. No one needs to buy 20 sticks of deodorant or seven bottles of shampoo in one go. Yes, that may give you a better deal, but buying in bulk frequently is rarely necessary unless you’re supplying for a large family or a business. Are you really going to eat 28 boxes of cereal before they expire? Probably not.
The extreme couponers you see on TV are most likely addicted to the rush of watching that cash register count backward when they start scanning the coupons. Unfortunately, they lose sight of the time they’re spending and the items they’re buying that they may not even need! This addiction may be harmless in the short run, but it truly can be a devastating addiction where the couponer is always on the hunt for a bigger score and a better discount.
Some couponers have even been known to ask their neighbors for coupons. Sure, that’s not such a big deal… but some may even search in dumpsters for discarded coupons! This is certainly extreme and not a recommended option – especially when you can find coupons online or through store ads without the stink of a dumpster.
DO:download cash-back apps! Cash-back apps really are quite straightforward. Your shopping trip does not need to be impacted; all you have to do is upload a picture of your receipt (or forward your email receipt) and earn points! Once you reach a certain number of points, redeem it for cash or gift cards! It is literally free money. The catch here is that these apps are most likely selling your shopping habits to marketing and data research companies, but your credit card companies are probably doing that anyway, so you might as well get some money out of the deal.
Also, do know where to find coupons. Make sure that in your search for coupons, you’re not signing up for shady sites. Spam is not welcome! Plan your weekly meals around sale products when you are starting. That way, you can take advantage of existing sales without needing to coupon right away – you can build your coupon stash in the meantime. Make sure you build up your digital coupon collection too. Coupon apps are also great repositories if you can’t imagine cutting up paper coupons, though those are a great source of savings.
DO: sign up for store rewards! These are usually free programs associated with your email or phone number and provide instant savings at the cash register. The sales will be in the weekly ad, so you can plan and combine those prices with coupons for better deals. Also, do learn different store policies. Does your favorite grocery store accept double coupons? Do they price match their competitors? If so, does it have to be online or in a printed ad, and is there a time limit? Do they accept competitor coupons? Maybe they give rainchecks! All that information should be readily available either online or at their customer service desk. Many stores have particular rules about each of these categories, so it would benefit you to know these policies when planning your coupon coup.
DO:make a shopping list. Going off-script can wreak havoc on your well-thought-out plans! You’ve spent all this time clipping and searching and organizing; don’t ruin it by falling victim to the store’s marketing tactics. Get in and get out with exactly what you need and what you have on your list, with your coupons intact. Shop during less busy hours like during the week or at night to avoid crowds; this will reduce the amount of time you’ll have to spend inside the store. Make sure you also do learn your local sales cycles! As you learn the pricing patterns of the different stores in your area, you can be more selective and strategic about where you spend your hard-earned money.
DON’T: buy something just because it is on sale! Sale prices can be tempting and can even create a sense of urgency. Don’t waste your money by buying everything that looks like a great deal; that can significantly hurt your wallet and defeat the whole purpose of couponing. Also, Don’t use each coupon you see! Not every coupon means you’re getting a deal. $0.50 off two boxes of brand-name cereal is just $0.25 off each box. You’re probably better off waiting for them to go on sale, whether or not you’d be able to use that coupon with it. Or if you can tolerate generic brands, that’s more likely a better deal with or without a coupon. Couponing isn’t about getting a discount on specific items necessarily; it’s about saving money overall.
DON’T: skimp on coupon sources. Multiple newspapers mean multiple coupons. Yes, you remember newspapers, right? Not everything is through the internet these days! Local businesses might give you (or sell you) leftover Sunday newspapers, or maybe you can get them from friends who don’t need them. However, let’s not so easily forget that online resources are great too. Feel free to follow different coupon people, or sites with great offers.
7. Hey Couponers, Follow These Coupon Don’ts To Avoid Problems
DON’T: waste time on coupons you won’t use. Know thyself. If you won’t use a coupon or don’t need it, don’t print or clip it. Save your time; time is money! There is no need to waste your energy on a coupon for items you don’t need. Don’t be like the mustard couponer who bought dozens of mustard bottles even though her husband doesn’t even eat mustard. How are you going to go through all that? Yes, donating is an option, but make sure you buy the essentials you need before buying items to donate or stockpile.
Also, DON’T: focus on brands. The brand name may be a big deal in some areas of life, but when it comes to grocery shopping, you’ll need to forget brand loyalty. Deals are king in couponing. If you can’t stand anything but a specific kind of toilet paper, for example, keep a lookout for coupons and buy in bulk when it goes on sale! The items that go on sale or have coupons may not always be the ones you prefer, but if saving money is your goal, you have to adapt and be flexible.
TLC then started a TV show entitled Extreme Couponing about shoppers who make very extensive use of coupons. Despite mixed reception from critics, the show was renewed for a second, third, fourth, and fifth season. For many, it could be viewed as a guilty pleasure like many reality TV shows. Mostly the show has received regular criticism from consumer and coupon blogs about coupon misuse, such as using coupons for incorrect items, the use of counterfeit coupons, and encouraging compulsive hoarding.
Numerous shows have been rumored to have gone along with whatever deals the show needed them to be featured. Many examples where the profiled “extreme couponers” received massive discounts showed that, in reality, their haul would not have been as fruitful. The store doubled every shopper’s coupon in one particularly badly-scripted shopping haul, but their normal policy was very far from that. The outcry was so significant that they had to post a statement to their Facebook in an attempt to mollify their outrage. In reality, most grocery stores will not double coupons or restrict how many coupons can be combined; sometimes, sales items cannot be used with a coupon. Almost all stores will have some type of policy about their coupons, sales, and the number of coupons that can be used. It is a fact that tends to be forgotten on these extreme couponing shows.
The original special came out to much controversy and pushed the boundaries of acceptable and even legal coupon usage. The first four participants of the pilot didn’t know what they were getting into. It was initially pitched to them as a “What Not to Wear” for coupons – essentially an educational how-to guide on saving money after being severely hit by a recession. Instead, it turned into a spectacle of ‘who can push this the furthest,” much to the disappointment of the participants. Later, participants understood the assignment and played into the “kooky spendthrift” stereotype. However, many of them went on record, later on, to say it was essentially a persona and that they were not true to their actual shopping habits on the show.
4. Extreme Couponing Doesn’t Tell You How Long it Takes to Become a Pro
The show usually features people who have become experts at couponing, but it doesn’t tell you how long they had to work to become proficient. For example, extreme couponer Stacy Fout said that she only had recently reduced her prep time to four to six hours after working at it for six whole years! She added that if you aren’t strategic, you could spend more gas money than you save.
Besides, the show was often unrealistic in its shopping portrayals. The shopping on the show is pretty near impossible to do in reality. Stores can close down for filming or reduce the number of other shoppers, reserve a special aisle for checkout, and sometimes even allow the TV couponer to buy pre-order what they would need to have it available in advance. The real world doesn’t work like that!
One show even stated that they made a “poor decision by participating,” and many stores felt like they struggled after featuring in the show. Unfortunately, the show made it seem like stores have no couponing policies, which can be quite unrealistic and lead to serious confusion for inexperienced couponers. Then, there were reports of coupon theft after the show! And, this crime really grew.
The show touted that you could only save money if you had enough coupons, which undoubtedly led misguided (and criminal) couponers to steal newspapers! Some reactions were so intense that newspapers even noticed a rise in coupon theft, specifically from newspapers that held the highest coupon value. Even though there were only five seasons of the show, you can still catch reruns on the air today, and as you know now, there were intensely split reactions as a result of the show.
One former participant explained that their entire show was entirely scripted and not just removing inappropriate phrases, for example. “The entire show is scripted,” they said. “The producer handed us coupons to give to the store and told us what to say,” they went on. Disappointing, but not unheard of considering the world of reality TV. Joanie Demer, a participant on the show and the co-founder of The Krazy Coupon Lady website, was featured on several media appearances, which is how Extreme Couponing producers found her.
In her episode, she bought four carts worth of groceries, stating, “it was completely insane!” She explained that it took months of planning, even writing to manufacturers to request coupons for discounts and free products. She even added a disclaimer: “It’s fun to flex your muscles and get to say, ‘look what I can do.’ That’s cool, and it made for great TV, but that was in no way a realistic portrayal of the amount of money that you can save on any given week couponing.”
Some changes, like more restrictive coupon policies, were direct results of the show, while others were due to the available technologies. Digital coupons and cash-back or rebate apps are just a few examples of new technologies that have revolutionized the couponing world. A decade ago, a show about spending over forty hours a week clipping and organizing coupons to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars was a see-it-to-believe-it phenomenon. As the series progressed, the shopping trips became more and more outrageous as each of the participants in the episode needed to outdo the previous shoppers.
Yes, couponing has changed in many ways due to the show. However, some of the biggest changes aren’t related to the show at all. You may not be able to use 20 coupons and get 73 free mustard bottles today, but you can still stack coupons and save a good amount of money, then use a cash-back app for additional rebates after the fact. Today, there is a newer generation of couponers that may have never even seen Extreme Couponers. Couponing today is more about strategically spending a little bit of extra time on saving money. However, there will always be a subset of die-hard couponers that will walk around with their clipped coupons in organizers!