What I learned from Extreme Couponers

I finally got around to checking out an episode, and I’m really not sure if I’m glad that I did.

First, it reminded me that I’m completely out of the loop. I thought this show was a celebration of couponing. Instead, it seemed more like bemused condescension, with occasional moments of admiration.

These people are scary. Really scary.

Like the woman who had two full rooms of her house devoted to her “stash” — and yet was still collecting and began to encroach on her husband’s “man cave.” (They carried separate insurance on the collection, to the tune of $10,000!)

Or the woman who said that she’d probably will her stash to her children. She also explained that, when they moved, she had taken her supply with them — roughly 1,000 pounds of food. (I really hope her husband’s company paid for the move. Still, what a waste!)

I came away with very mixed feelings. On the one hand, it made me want to get back into couponing. I felt annoyed/guilty that I rarely see big savings on our groceries anymore. On the other, I felt kind of sick. All of these people displayed prominent control-freak tendencies — something I’ve been trying to work on myself.

It’s very different from casually using coupons for groceries or for other purchases. Using from time to time is different than hunting down coupons for hours on end.

When the register shuts down on her big expedition, the two-room-and-counting lady nearly breaks down in tears. Nine carts of items have to be separated into smaller lots, which means completely rearranging everything. She clearly feels lost and terrified at the lack of control.

Another woman actually stops random people at the grocery store to lecture them on picking the cheaper brand of the same item, or telling them they better have a coupon for that food.

It brought to mind all of my rigidity — and I definitely remembered a lot of that coming out with coupons. I had to furiously try to match up sales, and if I missed a sale I was beyond frustrated. I felt like I had failed. And with chronic energy and depression problems, that’s not a feasible way to live.

Another issue is how much these things cost. Even beyond the argument of “You wouldn’t buy it if it weren’t on sale,” there’s the fact that the show routinely failed to account for the cost of coupons. Two of the five people sought out extra copies of the circulars from acquaintances or recycling bins. The rest sent off to coupon services.

So that $51 bill that one woman touts doesn’t account for the $70 she paid to coupon clipping services. Sure, $121 is still a good deal, compared to $638. But it doesn’t sound quite as impressive, does it?

These people don’t seem to realize that, no, they aren’t getting these things free. Darned close, sure. But not free. If you pay 10 cents for a coupon (they tend to range from 5 to 15, depending on the dollar amount of the coupon) then you’re not getting the items free. You’re getting them for 10 cents each.

And when you think about the man who got 1100 boxes of Total for “free” (at least he was donating them to charity), then you have to realize that he paid at least $55 for his haul. An amazing deal, to be sure. But I wonder if he would have gotten quite so many if he had done the math that way. And I wonder why the show completely fails to point that out — either to the audience or the actual subjects.

I’m also frustrated that, in the guise of entertainment, the show spend a decent chunk of time making fun of its subjects. While these people may take it overboard, their goals are good. (Though I wish some of them would be less focused on hoarding and more interested in donating to charity — only one subject said anything about that.) And, as many frugal people have complained, the show makes anyone who is devoted to coupons look like a nut.

The two-rooms-and-counting lady estimated that she spends 70 hours a week, between shopping, searching for deals and keeping tabs on forums. Did I mention she has a full-time job, in addition?

Most (sane) couponers spend five hours or less a week — and they still manage amazing savings. It doesn’t suck up their entire lives. They’re just focused on life not sucking up all of their budget. I think that’s a pretty admirable goal.

And yet, the show does its job. Despite the horror and repulsion the people tended to evoke (or maybe because of it) I kind of want to watch more episodes. I don’t think I will — it’s stressful to watch people display those levels of control issues. (Or would it be good therapy to remind me to de-clench?)

Also, it does bring out some guilt that I am not more actively couponing. Every time I think of the show, part of me suggests I subscribe to the newspaper again and see if I can’t find a more sane balance of coupons.

For now, at least, I’m vetoing the idea. I have enough on my plate. Yes, the amount we spend on food right now stresses me out. But I’m already not getting done the things that need doing. Adding another item would cause more stress than it would relieve.

Have you watched the show? What were your thoughts?


  1. says

    Everything above "these people are scary" is blocked by a message, "this internet page cannot be found." Do you give the name of the program? I get great deals with coupons but nowhere two rooms full! Did these women have large families? Did the woman who was going to will the food to her children actually eat from her stash? Sell it? Share it? Was she hoarding out of fear of the end of the world? Is she Mormon? Survivalist or any sort of Prepper? Was any of this covered on the show you saw?

    • says

      PP: Sorry you couldn't view the site. Not sure why. Tim suggested that maybe pop-up blockers could be interfering? Or maybe you can just try a different browser?

      None of the women featured in this episode had large families. The two-rooms lady is childless, in fact. Just her and her hubby and their 3,000 rolls of toilet paper.

      One of my bigger beefs with these folks is that few of them mentioned giving to charity. They just stockpiled like crazy. Yeesh.

      • Lizzy says

        I actually have to same message every time I try to view this site, I have internet explorer, and the pop up blocker message doesn't show, so I don't think that is it.

  2. spiffi says

    I've watched this show and I agree with you – it does appear that the tone of the show is very well summed up as "bemused condescension".

    I recently got a subscription to the Sunday paper so that I could get the Sunday coupon inserts, and have been trying to make a point of using the coupons. Our area doesn't do any fancy "coupon doubling" so I have yet to manage to get anything for free (well, except for a bottle of salad dressing that was a "try me for free" coupon.

    But, I use the coupons from the manufacturers in combination with sales and store coupons, for things I would buy anyway – it doesn't take much longer, and I like having a bit of a plan when I go to the store – it stops me from wandering through the aisles, randomly selecting food πŸ˜€

    • says

      Spiffi: Coupons can be great. Safeway here will round all coupons up to $1 (over $1 coupons stay the same) so you can get ridiculous deals if you're organized enough. Now if only I could get organized enough…

  3. pamela says

    though not at their level..keep in mind that not everyone that uses multiple coupons purchases them!

    • says


      I pointed out in my piece that two of the people specifically do not pay for the clipping service. But the rest mentioned using clipping services and paying for coupons.

  4. Suzanne says

    i rarely find anything in the coupons circular that I use. not worth my time to look through them especially for processed foods. how much toothpaste can I stock up on? good feedback on the show, no sense to watch if it stresses you out.

  5. Barb says

    I have the same blockage as Practical Parsimony and have had for a long time. It only happens with this blog and no others. What could this be? I am unable to fix it on my end. Nothing works. Anyway, on the couponers, too bad I don't have cable so I can't watch. But I am saving majorly with the coupon match up. I do subscribe to 2 papers but it's well worth it. I am not a crazy hoarder, but I do have too much stuff and need to use more – at least as fast as I buy it πŸ˜‰ Barb

  6. Catseye says

    Never watched this show and now I don't want to. I have my control issues too, so I think watching something like this would just stress me out.
    I clipped coupons when I was younger and had more energy than I do now. I'd head for the grocery store and then usually, as I was pulling into the parking lot, I'd realize I'd forgotten the dang things. Again! Even when I remembered them, I never seem to save much money with them.
    I finally stopped clipping them about 20 years ago. The only coupons I use on a consistent basis are the ones I get through Kroger's loyalty card program. Those coupons are for things I actually buy, so they almost always get used.

    • says

      Catseye: It's also nice that you can add them instantly to your card, I'd imagine. I like that idea, for sure. Though it's also great to print out the ones on Coupon.com (often the same ones that the stores will load on your card for free) through Inbox Dollars. That site will give you 10 cents for each coupon you redeem that is printed from its site. Not a bad little way to pad your savings.

  7. Jamillah says

    I like the show "Extreme Couponing". As much as the first two women and man scared me, I was impressed with the Coupon Diva from Philly. She didn't have a stock pile like the other three but she said she wasn't in debt and she didn't have to buy toothpaste and toilet paper. I just want to use coupons are the things that I buy on a normal level. I don't need a gazillion coupons for stuff especially when I am single. That is why it is called Extreme Couponing. I was amazed so were the store staff when at the end what these people paid for their stuff using coupons. But I really don't want 42 bottles of mustard in my house!

  8. MutantSupermodel says

    I've seen it and the things you don't like about it are pretty much what I don't like about it either. I remember thinking these people are hoarding which is total OCD behavior. I was also frustrated by the lack of cost on the coupons. When I pay for a newspaper for coupons, I add that to my cost of groceries because one offsets the other. I also started to feel frustrated I can never score these types of deals– and then my rational brain clicked on. Am I going to walk 2 miles every morning to gather coupons? No. Am I going to order coupons online? No. Am I going to create a huge stash? No. So this isn't for me. I do coupon and I do create stashes but of much smaller sizes than those people have. The other thing is I live in FL which is not the most coupon-friendly of states. So a lot of those examples I kinda watched in horror but they don't really apply to me. I like TLC but they have the ability to frustrate me as well. This show is the perfect example of that. BTW there's one guy online who's doing major couponing for charity. http://www.pennyexperiment.com/

    • says

      Mutant Supermodel: It's the same in Washington: people got in a frenzy when Albertsons would double three coupons a week. It was an occasional offer. Don't know if the store still offers it, since I'm not there anymore. Point being, you can't get such crazy deals — though my mom proves you can get good ones — when your stores aren't doubling or rounding up coupons.

      And maybe that's a good thing because it leads to less hoarding. I mean, when I find Fiber One bars for under $1, I will pounce and get as many boxes as possible. But I only hoard the things I know I can use (and use steadily). I don't need more than 2-4 body washes, toothbrushes or other supplies to be waiting in the wings. More than that just causes space issues. And, as you pointed out, hoarding issues.

  9. Escalade says

    This type of behavior is compulsive — it's an illness. The producers of this program and their advertisers are exploiting sick people for fun and profit. Why would any decent human being want to watch a spectacle like that?

    What next? A reality show on wheelchair riders struggling to get over curbs and around stairs? Won't that be a kick!

    • Sherry says

      Actually, the people aren't as bad as the show makes them out to be, or at least "Mr Coupon" isn't, based on his interview on another popular coupon site. He said he doesn't shop like that normally, but that it was expected by the "reality" show to put on entertainment people want to watch. I guess it's basic human physiology that most people will not glance twice at a train that goes by unless it blocks their path, but will stop and stare at a train wreck. Same principle, I think, with the reality shows. If they were really real, people would complain they were boring and wouldn't watch. People want to be titillated, even if it's not actual reality.

  10. Ellen says

    Interesting that the first two Extreme Couponing programs didn't solicit any comments from the supermarket managers, checkout staff or other patrons stuck in line behind these hoarders. I can't imagine these people being able to tie up a cash register for a whole hour while they sort their purchases into 18 separate transactions at my southwestern Connecticut Stop & Shops! There would be a riot. The managers would be breathing down their necks.

    I used to clip coupons years ago but stopped because I just don't use a lot of the products that are couponed. You never see coupons for produce or meat. Processed foods are expensive and I'm trying to avoid them as much as possible for my health. Now I started up again and it's fun to see how much you can save, but again, if you're buying stuff you wouldn't normally get, how are you saving money?

    I've also run into the problem where the coupon is just not scanning; now I have to pay full price, go to customer service, and fight with them. Very time consuming.

  11. allyson says

    I have watched almost all of the episodes. I think it is a bit strange that people get that much stuff and just have it sitting in their house. Granted I have 3 tubes of toothpaste i got for .49 cents so I bought them but those people are close to hording! nathan I think has the right idea by donating to the food bank and make care packages for soliders at leaset he is using the stuff he gets for cheap/free to help other people. I will continue to get my paper at Walgreen's on Sunday for .98 cents with $100+ dollars worth of coupons and get looks when I walk into the store with my notebook!

  12. cappagli82 says

    Makes me wonder why they go through all that to save money…..and then let all the "extras" expire. They should be giving to charity and not wasting food! I'm pretty sure their small families never eat all of that before it expires and Im sure it just gets thrown away. How wasteful!!! I use coupons and seeing on the reciept that I saved $20 is good enough for me. It might not be much but it helps and $20 of savings 3 to 4 times a month adds up!

  13. kirazona says

    I just watched it and I liked it. Sure they're extreme and maybe OCD, but my Grandpa survived the great depression and fed 5 kids in an 800 square foot house. He did that by having a "stash" in the basement. Whenever anyone from the family would come over he would feed you well, send you home with leftovers and a bunch of other stuff he thought you could use. The guy didn't make much but he took pride in what he did. And everyone in the family benefited from it. To this day my grandma still goes to the bakery and asks for the old bread – stuff most of you would turn their nose up at. Now who's wasteful?
    Some people's charities aren't 501c's… they are family. Doesn't mean they are doing any less good in society. And there's no pride (children or no children) than being able to provide for your family.

  14. says

    I think coupon clipping is a worthwhile undertaking, it's just getting into the habit. I've tried before, but couldn't seem to discipline myself.

  15. buzzy says

    Just watched the show for the second or third time…..still don't understand why they have so much on shelves/closets/rooms and what they do with it all. I can't imagine they use it all before it is out of date or freezer burned…..and then they keep buying because it's free or at a good savings. Just can't make sense of it. I was part of a family of 6 at one time….now there's just one of me. My philosphy was if the shelves were full and it's not being used, that's our money sitting there. There was other places that money could be used instead of it sitting, sitting, sitting on the shelf.

  16. jaggedt says

    I can understand couponing or hoarding if you have a big family, at least 4 or more people. But it doesn't make sense to hoard food and non food items for just one or two people.

    It amazes me they have a whole entire basement stuffed to the brim with groceries but yet they still go out and buy out almost the whole store. Do they realize things expire and that they need to use the item before they do? Otherwise, it's completely wasted. I mean, seriously. How much hand lotion or shampoo can one person have?

  17. Ro in San Diego says

    I’ve been known to stock up on products when they are at their lowest prices. Yes, I have several cabinets in my house to stock the extra items. But that’s where it ends.

    I am a serious player in the “drugstore game” and love getting the brands and quantities of my favorite and beauty products for free or close to free.

    I donate a lot of my excess merchandise to friends, family and local charities and send large boxes of toiletries to my full-time student son.

    But I bristle when I am asked if I’m “one of those”. No one likes to be labeled especially if the connotation is that you’re a nut for wanting to make smart decisions on how to spend your family’s money.

    I watched this show when it first came out but came to realize that for the most part the people on the show were over the top and I didn’t want to be associated with them. Buying 63 bottles of mustard for .25 was an example of the bad behavior. I can’t relate.

    My motivations are pure – money I’m not spending on the cheap products I get can be used to go on a good long vacation and several short trips every year.

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