Extreme coupon shopping is much in the news. After the first installment of the new TLC series “Extreme Couponing” aired early this month, my in box quickly filled. Here’s a sample:
“I saw a television show about extreme couponing recently and everyone was saving a lot of money. But I told my husband that I would never go in someone’s trash looking for coupons. Have you seen this? Is it right for one person to buy 1,000 boxes of cereal at one time?”
And from another reader:
“We watched the show “Extreme Couponing” the other day and half expected to see you on it! A lot of what they showed looked like hoarding. Who needs 1,500 deodorant sticks? We were really turned off by some of the things we saw, especially women climbing into dumpsters with a small child to look for coupons. What did you think of the show?”
Some of the shoppers profiled on the show definitely push their couponing and stockpiling skills to the limit, stocking up on several decades’ worth of toilet paper and buying so many groceries in one trip that the cash register freezes. One episode showed a shopper purchasing multiple cartloads – including 62 of the store’s 63 bottles of mustard – worth more than $1,200.
While I think that any catalyst for people to become coupon shoppers is generally a good thing, I don’t think that “Extreme Couponing” does much to help people actually learn how to save big using coupons.
For many of the people profiled on the show, couponing is a full-time job. Some said they spend 30 to 40 hours a week obtaining and organizing coupons, planning out their trips and shopping. One shopper said she had 2,500 identical sets of newspaper coupon inserts from one week, and 1,100 from another week. The TV show showed her standing in piles of inserts waist-high. That’s far more inserts than any single person could possibly need. Then again, the name of the show does contain the word “extreme.”
It’s important to remember that much of what appears on “reality” television isn’t real. A typical supermarket does not have room to stock 1,000 units of the same item. When you see extreme shoppers purchasing massive amounts of products on TV, remember this: stores ordered all that product ahead of time in order to stage these dramatic shopping trips. While there’s nothing wrong with this – the store, of course, receives reimbursement for all of the coupons an extreme shopper uses – it’s certainly not a typical shopping trip. It’s a made-for-reality-TV moment.
What concerns me more is that the glorification of extreme shopping techniques, some of them questionable, reflects badly on couponers. When manufacturers pay for a coupon campaign, it’s certainly not their intent for a single person to use 1,100 or 2,500 of the same coupon. In fact, soon after the first “Extreme” segment appeared, one manufacturer added the terminology “Limit 4 like coupons per transaction” to its coupons.
“Extreme Couponing” also seems to be influencing some stores to change coupon rules. Since the show aired I’ve received lots of mail from readers who say their stores have started limiting shoppers to the use of certain number of identical coupons per transaction. Patrons of the same stores shown in the show have written to say they are puzzled that the stores impose limits on them but not on the extreme shoppers. One woman wrote “Are they bending the rules for TV? I can’t go to that store and use more than two of the same coupon in the same trip!”
Most coupon shoppers don’t want to devote full-time hours to couponing in order to cut their grocery bills each week. The good news, of course, is that you don’t have to. I’ve been a coupon shopper long enough to know that the next sale is usually around the corner. And while I usually have five or six multi-roll packages of toilet paper stockpiled, I don’t keep an entire bedroom’s worth.