April 13, 2011

Extreme Couponing – Reality check, remember it is reality television

Extreme CouponingThere has been a lot of BUZZ about the TLC show Extreme Couponing. Basically you either LOVE it or you HATE it. I shared my thoughts on the show back when it originally aired in December 2010 and I still pretty much agree with my initial reactions. The season premiere aired last week and there is a lot of controversy and commentary surrounding it (more on this later) and the second episode airs tonight.

I was talking with my sister this morning (she’s not much of a couponer) and she said to me, “I was watching Extreme Couponing last night (a rerun) and I really wish I could save like that!” She was inspired to want to start couponing more, like a lot of you who might be new to my site this week looking for couponing advice.

My first response to my sister was: That’s not reality. Most real-life (and have-a-life) couponers don’t shop like that. It’s made for TV. The show is all about the most extremes of extremes (hence the name “Extreme Couponing”). The producers encourage the show participants to do their best shopping trip ever. That’s it. It’s that simple. It’s intent is NOT a “how to” show, but rather a “how cool” show.

I’ve also had e-mails from readers this week asking me what I think about the show. I’m not interested in placing judgment on the show participants (the couponers and their families), the show itself, or anything related to it. But I DO want to EDUCATE new couponers or people who watch the show.

So here are my basic thoughts on it:

It’s not reality. . .it’s reality TV. It’s edited to look as extreme as possible. Most of the coupon shoppers on the show spent HOURS (maybe days) planning their shopping trip, placed special orders with the store ahead of time (to ensure the stock was on hand), ordered coupons ahead of time (which costs money!), and worked with the store manager to arrange their shopping trips. 

Saving thousands on one shopping trip is not how the average couponer shops. I personally save 80-90% on most shopping trips, but my total (before coupons and store promotions) is $100-$150. So I’m spending $20-$40 and I’m buying real food – THINK MEALS, NOT JUST DEALS.

It doesn’t happen overnight. So you saw the show and you want to start saving big. Sorry to rain on your rainchecks, but you won’t be saving big overnight. There is a learning curve, you’ve got to start collecting your coupons and you gotta get in the couponing groove. Be patient. You’ll get there. I tell people it takes a few weeks (maybe a couple months) to see real results and to build a stockpile.

Stockpiles – Size isn’t everything. The show really focused last week on these huge mini-mart-style stockpiles in people’s homes. Stockpiles are the KEY to saving money, with the idea of NOT having to run to the store and pay full-price for something when you need it. Buy staples when they are at rock-bottom price (about every 12 weeks) and buy enough to last your family long enough until it goes on sale again. If you have seven kids – yes, a big stockpile is an important part of making your budget stretch. If you have a family of two, maybe not so much. AND – the size of your stockpile does not matter if you can’t make any meals from it. THINK MEALS, NOT JUST DEALS.

Learn the right way to coupon by taking a coupon class!

In full disclosure there is some controversy regarding last week’s Extreme Couponing show and the use of coupons by one of the couponers on the show. There are some serious allegations of fraud floating around. What do I think of this? The evidence is pretty convincing BUT I won’t personally place judgment (I wasn’t there, I don’t know Jamie, etc.).There are people in the business of investigating coupon fraud and I’ll leave that to them.

I WILL say this – if you shop with coupons, it’s your responsibility to follow the rules and be ethical. Make sure you are informed about the right way to use coupons and follow those guidelines. Pleading ignorance is not an excuse. We owe it to fellow couponers, the stores (who graciously accept our coupons) and the manufacturers (who generously offer us discounts) to coupon the right way, everyday. I plan to write about this more in the coming week. The Coupon Information Corporation is a good resource and they have a fraudulent coupon database.

If you missed last week’s Extreme Couponing episode 1 you can download it for FREE right now on iTunes. (Thanks, Bargain Briana!)

I’ll be tuning in tonight (Wednesdays 9/8 c) to see what the next episode has in store for us!

Want to get a crash course in couponing and learn the right way to save money? Take one of my coupon classes!

UPDATE: I recently talked with KIRO 97.3 Radio (Seattle) about the Extreme Couponing show and couponing in general. Listen to the KIRO 97.3 Radio :: Extreme Couponing interview here!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Please chime in!



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  1. I totally agree with your thoughts! It was hard to watch some of these episodes and see the mini-grocery stores people had in their homes, it was very excessive and not realistic at all. It’s frustrating when stores are out of items on sale so it bothers me that someone really feels the need to buy 70+ bottles of mustart just because she has a coupon to only leave 1 mustard on the shelf for other shoppers. I think this show (in a way) gives couponers a bad wrap! I wish they would focus more on the “how-to” and not the “how cool”.

  2. So tonights episode was so much better! The twins had a much more realistic shopping trip and it was nice to see them show them celebrating their birthday freebies! Also the guy whose focus was to make care packages for our troops was great. My church community group has decided to donate $10 worth of food per family to a local food bank each month, so it has been fun to see how far I can stretch that $10! It creates a new mindset to couponing and reminds me that it can be a blessing to my family and to others,

    • Meghan – I also enjoyed tonight’s episode more. I wish they would have spent more time focused on the giving side of things, but at least they talked about it. And GO NATHAN!

    • What an AWESOME challenge! I’ll have to remember that.. $10 how far can you make it go for charity??

  3. OK I just have to weigh in – first off THANK YOU for addressing it and pointing out a lot of things that go un noticed.

    I think the show has good points – it definitely gets people excited – but I like many fear that it leads people down the wrong path of stocking up with 50 boxes of cereal and also being crushed when they can’t save 95% on their normal bill. Most of us realize there are products we get for free or VERY cheap – but most of the time that’s NOT all the items we need for meals. I try and explain it – we buy those items when they are free or cheap so we save the money – but we still have to buy the things that may not be THAT much off – I still have a long way to go – but when I save 60% that’s still good!

    After every show I get a new convert or a new group of converts who want to know how to do it – and I sit and explain to them the ups and downs of the show.

    Additionally – any of you couponers (Especially with binders) get tired of getting stopped in the store? (or my really un favorite thing – glared at when I pick up 3-5 of the same item (you have no idea what I have at home – do not assume I have 20 bottles!))

    Ok – I’m done 🙂 I weighed in – THANK YOU again for being frank and being real 🙂

  4. You hit the nail on the head! It IS reality tv… it is actually a bad way to promote couponing because 99% of us DON’T need 3 carts and 400 coupons per trip…. honestly – if all you are buying is Hamburger Helper by the gross, and a bunch of processed foods in boxes… its just shelf filler! I occasionally visit the krazy coupon lady site as well… and I felt the same way about the dumpster diving… when I saw that – I said “crazy with a capital C… not a ‘k'”!!

  5. Jill Cataldo points out on her blog about Super Couponing:

    “..[I]t might interest you to know that the TLC coupon show was originally supposed to be “America’s Coupon Masters,” an instructional show intended to teach people the correct ways to use coupons.”

    ‘Nuff said lol.
    I shop for my husband, myself and our toddler. We started couponing mid-January and have our total household budget (food+non-food) down to $50/week!
    At first, I was going to 4-5 stores, 4 trips a week. I was looking for the “best deal” and it was exhausting. My 2-yr-old hated it. And, once I was honest with myself, so did I. Now, I shop at my local Pathmark — 4 minutes down the road and having a 50% chicken and beef sale that will stock the deep freezer I bought (used) with my first coupon savings 🙂
    Once a week, I will stop at ShopRite and Rite Aid <–LOVE LOVE LOVE that place — on my way to visit my parents in the 'burbs and drop off goodies.
    My husband once put it to me like this (vaguely paraphrasing Thoreau): The best deal is the one you can afford to let alone.

    • I meant *DEALS* lol!!
      I used to follow the Krazy Coupon Lady until I saw pictures of her dumpster-diving. With her kid. Not wearing gloves. Seriously? Advocating people to buy 100 packages of dishwasher tablets? And then bragging about having 60 coupons LEFT? Um, no.
      If that’s what it takes to be *krazy* about coupons, I think I’ll just stay on this side of the fence.

  7. What store is going to let you do 18 transactions at once? None that I know of. It’s definetly not realistic.

  8. I completely agree with your mantra! Think meals not deals. The folks on the show did extraodinary things with thier ability to coupon, but I don’t think thier extremeness is for everyone.
    I found it hard to digest when one of them “purchased” a whole cart full of candy bars. Even if they were free after a coupon, do you really need all of those candy bars? Or the whole cart full of deodorant? But I did really like the idea, that if you can make a great purchase, such as the man with the pallats of cereal, that you give to the food bank. What an awesome thing to do with your couponing talents.
    For me, I just want to be able to save as much as I can on my grocery budget every week. And be healthy doing it. Keeping in mind “meals not deals” is a great way to bring you back to reality when the rush of couponing takes over.
    I am hoping to get more informed about how to coupon for organic and health food items…that would make my head spin!


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