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'Extreme Couponing' misses the point

I'm not saying these folks don't exist. I'm saying that we're not all like that.

By Donna_Freedman Apr 25, 2011 7:34AM

A lot of people have strong feelings about the TLC reality series "Extreme Couponing." My own impression of the show is secondhand, since I don't own a television.

Technically I could see a couple of episodes because the TLC publicist kindly gave me online access. Ultimately I decided not to watch. Based on what I've read and also on what my daughter told me and wrote about the show, I would just wind up depressed. Post continues after video.

My daughter thought it was to have been "a celebration of couponing." Instead, she says, the stories are presented with "bemused condescension, with occasional moments of admiration."

A woman featured on the program also shows up in one of my MSN Money columns, "Shopping pays off big for couponers." I met Tiffany Ivanovsky last year at a conference. Tiffany, who blogs at, spends just under $500 a month on food, toiletries and household products for her nine-person family. That's why I called her for the coupon column; at the time, I didn't know she was going to be on the show.

Strategic editing?

She's a super-shopper, so it's no wonder that TLC wanted her. But as a mutual acquaintance pointed out, the program didn't mention that Tiffany regularly donates food and toiletries to charity.

Her most recent project was over spring break, when she and a few of her friends went through their stockpiles to fill 350 one-gallon Ziploc bags with personal-care products. These "hygiene kits" went off to quake/tsunami survivors in Japan.

Apparently that wouldn't have made good television.

Yes, I know you can't include everything you film. But the fact that she doesn't hoard is a vital part of the story: Here's how my strategic shopping not only helps me stay on budget, but lets me help others.

With seven kids it'd be hard to hoard very much anyway. The little stinkers want to be fed every day.

That's entertainment -- not reality

"Extreme" is an adjective that can inspire either admiration or derision. Extreme sports figures, for example, are edgy daredevils whose fearlessness is just plain fascinating.

Even when they crash it's exciting. Especially when they crash it's exciting. Who knew a bike could go so high? Who knew a dude could bounce so high?

Heck, there's even TV coverage of "extreme eating," aka competitive eating. The notion makes me profoundly sad. In a world where so many people are hungry, why do we have an organized league of gluttons? Yet the contests inspire laughter and cheers from audiences (audiences!), to say nothing of corporate sponsorships.

The phrase "extreme couponer," on the other hand, may well become shorthand for "you people need help."

Obviously TLC is in the entertainment business. The network wants viewers, and what better way to get some butts in the seats than to show a guy buying 1,100 boxes of cereal at a time?

I'm not saying such people don't exist. I'm just wishing that (a) networks didn't exploit their tics and anxieties for ratings, and (b) we everyday frugalists won't have to hear "What are you, one of those extreme couponers?" the next time we try to use some Qs.

I fully expect to hear that, and to hear it spoken with a tone of impatience or, yes, derision. Saving money doesn't have the same cachet as, say, BASE jumping or eating 39 slices of pizza in 10 minutes. And that quake/tsunami thing is so last week.

MSN Money columnist Donna Freedman blogs at Smart Spending and Surviving and Thriving.

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Jun 29, 2011 2:43PM

I think the reason stores are beginning to limit the practices used by 'extreme couponers'  is because the shopping habits of these people create a shortage of items for purchase by other customers. They are actually trying to help the 'average' customer, by limiting what the 'extreme couponer' can do.

Let's say there's a 'buy one get one free' offered by the store, plus there's a coupon from the manufacturer of half off. So you combine the two, get them for 25% of the original cost.

Someone comes in and buys up every item the store has in stock.

Then another customer comes in who just wants a few, but there's none available. So they lost out on the savings completely, because the extreme couponer grabbed it all.

If it happens often enough, the customers get mad at the store, and go somewhere else to shop.

As for 'buy 3 get $1 off' on a product selling for 3.49 -- I'd take it. Saved me 33 cents each, that's more than 10%. If I could save 10% off my entire food budget, I would have enough to pay the phone AND gas bill.

Jun 29, 2011 2:41PM
Extreme Couponing = organized hoarding. Over 1/2 of the people featured on this show are overweight, go figure, those "free" ramen noodles have 3 days worth of sodium in 1 package, not to mention the "free" soda they're consuming. Shelving, space, time, it's not feasible for most consumers. Entertaining show, but not realistic in most markets.
Jun 29, 2011 4:21PM
Originally I thought the show would be a celebration of smart shopping but I can no longer really stand to watch it other than for the "train wreck" attraction - I can't believe people are being foolish and allowing their antics to be filmed by a TV crew and broadcast for others to see. (Kind of like craning your neck to see a car accident).

I am thrilled to pieces when I can score a deal playing "the drugstore game". Just this morning I was able to bring home 4 bottles of laundry soap and body wash for 66 cents out of pocket *using store scrip ExtraBucks from prior purchases.

Yesterday I stocked up on sale for coffee without coupons but-I didn't clear the shelves!

It's a matter of being courteous. The folks on this show don't appear to be courteous, and appear to be buying far more than they can reasonably use in a lifetime (in some cases).

How can a family of 3 or 5 or 10 for that matter really be able to purchase 63 bottle of mustard and claim they will use them all in the next year or 2? And the cost -Even at 23 cents this is no bargain!

When I am now asked (as I am invariably asked) if I am an "extreme couponer:" I answer "No, I am a moderate couponer".

This show is embarrassing!

Jun 29, 2011 2:53PM

Dislike the show.

Why in the world would anybody need 50-60 chocolate candy bars or over 100 bars of soap or anything in that nature?

I use coupons on items I already buy to save money and sometimes I use a coupon to try a new item or a splurge, but the extremes of these people is ridiculous...

Now making it more dificult for the regular customer is absurd, most people are not going to use coupons in this way, especially if you live in the Northeast, where they believe everybody is a millionaire, or close to it at least, so policies are more strict.

Please take that trash from TV and bring some other more constructive and creative show!!!!

Jun 29, 2011 1:49PM

I have watched this show a few times because I wanted to see exactly how they were doing it. They all saved tons of money by using the coupons and many have donated to charities, which I find commendable.  What I don't understand are those who are hoarding the food and building extra rooms in their homes to store the items.  What I really find deplorable is the response by some store chains in changing their policies regarding their coupons.  It seems to me that they don't want the average person to save any money in their stores and making it difficult for them to do so.  I mean I have seen coupons advertising "by three of these and get a dollar off" The product costs $3.49 apiece!! Is that really saving?

Mar 12, 2012 9:28PM
The show does a disservice on multiple levels. For one, it discredits the "couponer" and creates a stigma on those who coupon (without hoarding) and do so to live comfortably within their means. For another, it does NOT paint a realistic picture of what happens for the average couponers. There have been stores shopped on the show that lifted their coupon limit policy just because of the show (many stores cap the number of coupons you can use to purchase the same type of product, so you can't use 25 coupons for 25 boxes of cereal in the same trip). And it set an unrealistic precedent for people who have never couponed before - they expect to get pennies on the dollar all the time and are disappointed when they save 50-60% on their groceries.
Dec 22, 2011 1:38PM
the folks who need these tricks the most do not have access if they do not have a computer, have transportation to larger cities for a variety of retailers, or their community newspapers do  not carry coupons......
Apr 14, 2012 10:44AM

The bottom line is that these are specific examples of extreme circumstances... Anyway, you know that it is just for television... how do I know this? Ever see the episode(s) where the store tells the couponer that they cannot use all of their coupons in one order... and then they hold up the checkout line while these people call up everyone they know and WAIT a half-hour for them to get to the store to use the coupons for them... If I was in line and a store did that in front of me I would NEVER shop there again...


I worked as a checker while in high school... SO many people trying to use expired coupons... or for the wrong item... or for the wrong brand... or for the wrong amount... and then taking it out on me simply because I knew how to READ the coupons and they didn't...


The purpose of coupons is supposed to be to get you to try a product and then if you like it, you will purchase it again in the future, not to clear out the entire store inventory of an item. In theory, coupons work fine. In practice, however, I am sure that most people use coupons to purchase items that they normally would not, but do so only because they are "on sale". Why not just eliminate coupons and lower the prices across the board?


And BTW, why does a 17 y.o. MALE need 47 packages of TAMPONS (Season one)???

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