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Do extreme couponers go too far?

The TLC show 'Extreme Couponing' has frugal bloggers debating when smart stockpiling becomes obsessive hoarding.

Posted by Teresa Mears Tuesday, January 04, 2011 1:20:38 PM

Like many people interested in saving money, we watched the new TLC show "Extreme Couponing."


We agree that the four people profiled are pretty extreme in their coupon practices, from spending six hours on one grocery trip, to dumpster diving for coupons, to filling multiple rooms of their homes with a stockpile of products.


We did like the retired nurse who walked seven miles each morning collecting coupons from her neighbors. (Her fitness may save her as much money as her coupons do.)


The question many people are asking after watching the show is, do these couponers go too far?


If you missed the show, you can see it at 10 EDT tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 4) and 1 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Jan. 5.


We certainly saw some aspects of frugality meets "Hoarders" in this show. One couple had enough toilet paper to last 40 years. Do they really think toilet paper won't go on sale again for the rest of their lives?


Lisa B. of Obsessive Coupon Disorder reflected the view of many frugal bloggers, who liked seeing people use coupons to save 90% or more on groceries (she says she usually saves 70% to 90%). But she also saw things on the show that disturbed her:

We were disappointed in how the guests were portrayed as hoarder-like. (And we call ourselves "obsessive," remember?) But we know not all coupon users fill up nine carts, clear store shelves and have a 40-year supply of toilet paper at home.
It would have been better if the show portrayed more savvy and consumer-smart shoppers (but then would they have to rename the show to "Above-Average Couponers?") which we believe represent the majority of coupon users. Stockpiling is acceptable (we all have stockpiles of a variety of items) but the "extreme" stockpiling displayed on the show leans more toward hoarding.

One of the show participants, Nathan Engels, who operates the website We Use Coupons, said in an interview with Heather of Family Friendly Frugality that the TV show exaggerated some aspects and minimized others that he thought deserved more attention, such as charitable giving. During his shopping trip on the show, he bought $5,743 worth of items for $241. That included 1,100 boxes of cereal he got free and donated to a food bank.


He ordered the cereal, as well as the quantities of some other items he bought, ahead of time. You can see his shopping list here.


To get the hauls these couponers got, you have to go to stores with certain coupon policies. Those stores may be hard to find. Marci of Cincinnati Coupons also noted that not all stores will order sale items for you, fearing you're going to resell them.


Another participant, Joanie Demer of Krazy Coupon Lady and co-author of "Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey," said Safeway had changed its policy and no longer allows stacking of e-coupons with manufacturers' coupons, so her experience getting $638.64 worth of products for $2.64 couldn't be duplicated. She shared her shopping list here.

She was the one who went dumpster diving for coupons, with her young son and a pregnant friend, though she explains on her blog that she only goes into recycling bins, with the permission of the recycling center. She has a two-car garage full of products she has stockpiled.


These were the two major issues raised by a number of viewers/bloggers:

  • When does stockpiling become hoarding? You only save money with coupons if you use the things you buy before they spoil. What if your kids decide, 10 boxes into your 100-box cereal stockpile, that they'd rather eat another variety? (Here in the subtropics, if I buy two boxes of cereal, I have to put the second box in the freezer to keep it even a few weeks.) Unopened cans of Diet Coke spoil within a year or two.
  • Are the extreme couponers greedy? One aspect of the show that was unrealistic was the fact that the shoppers were able to grab 100 boxes of pasta or 100 toothbrushes off the store shelves. (Nathan discloses that some of those items were preordered and put on the shelf for TV.) My supermarket rarely has 100 boxes of anything, and I'm lucky to be able to find one or two boxes of a sale item. Many stores also set limits on how many of a sale item you can buy.

What's your take? Are these people smart shoppers or hoarders? Does anyone really need 60 bottles of liquid soap or 150 candy bars? When does couponing become too extreme?

Tags: couponssave moneysavingsshoppingTeresa Mears
12/06/2011 7:59 AM
I do think there is an obsessive component here.  When you need to spend 30-50 a week (many described it as a job) to clip coupons, what has happened to your quality of life?  And your children's quality of life?   Plus it has ruined it for the rest of us.  It is true, they clear shelves, hold up grocery lines, etc.  Being a savvy shopper and excessively hoarding coupons and products are too different things.  This an addiction.
10/19/2011 9:45 PM
It's ridiculous.  I understand the benefit to using coupons to save, but these people are past the practical and take it to the obsessive.  Besides the storage capacity needed to store these items (and the savings that could be had to possibly downsize their home instead), does anyone really need 150 bottles of flavored water?  I saw one woman who does not buy anything without a coupon.  How about fresh produce??? Does your family never eat fresh vegetables or fruit because you can't get them on sale??

I have been an avid couponer for over 30 years.  I ususally have saved 20.00 a week on my grocery bill....BUT,  I buy what I need.  My shower is not stocked to the ceiling with toilet paper, I do not have 82 bags of croutons that have a short shelf life on them.  These people are like hoarders


I live in the Houston area.  Double/triple coupons are almost a thing of the past.   In my opinion these "extreme couponers" are the reason the stores are stopping doubling coupons.  Krogers has doubled coupons for over 20 years.  They stopped  2 months ago.  . 


Before Krogers stopped doubling coupons I was behind a woman in line.  They had a display of trial size bandaids for 49 cents.  She bought 72 boxes and pulled out  72 fifty cent coupons.   She got very angry when Krogers would not give her the bandaids plus 36.72 in cash.  Their coupon policy clearly stated that you could get and item free...but no more.  To me this is greed.  These extreme couponers are making it very hard on people like me.  These people are going to be very surprised when these stores quit doubling or tripling coupons....just to stay in business.


3/22/2011 10:23 PM
It's their time and their lives. Who cares what they do or why?
3/15/2011 6:42 PM
I have a family of 7 that I have to feed.  I use coupons as much as I can.  I also give away allot of stuff to people I know cant afford it.  I have a stock pile, because a few years ago I could not feed my family, my children had to go with out food, because of some emergency medical stuff.  I never what to hear my child tell me they are hungry and I cant do anything about it.   I now know that if we lost all our income again, I could still feed my family for a few months till I could find a job.  Our income still almost matches our blls, but my children can still have the basics that they need, because i take the time to coupon.  

So before you diss couponing let me ask you this do you like family to go with out food?  There is a huge poverty problem in america, and if people could learn how to take care of there family, I think it will help our economy, because people will stop living off the government. 
1/04/2011 10:59 PM
kinda makes me glad i no longer have cable, i'm afraid i make get sucked into this. I use coupons and I tend to wait for sales to use them, but I would never buy more than I need. Unless the apocalypse happens, no one needs 40 years worth of toilet paper or 100 boxes of cereal. I like the idea of donating to charity, which is what I do with all the free samples I get that I can't use.
1/04/2011 7:14 PM

I'm guessing these people hear the phrase "but those were for everyone" fairly often....


Storage is hardly free. You have to be pretty overhoused to be able to store 40 years worth of TP. Why not downsize the home? Muchos savings there. I might add that a six hour grocery trip to buy unnecessary items is an exceedingly poor use of time.


Too bad there aren't any coupons for psychotherapy.

1/04/2011 6:31 PM
I saw the episode with Nathan Engels and thought the exact same things.  While I think it is awesome he was able to get so much for so little money, I also think there is an aspect of greed and obsessive game play. I would be annoyed if I went in with a coupon to get 5 of something and he'd already taken 20, 50, or 1000.  Especially when it's just not needed.  No one needs that much deodorant, or cream of chicken soup, or razor blades.   I am glad that he donates a good amount of food, and I wish the show had focused on that more, but there was still a lot in his garage that seemed a little wasteful.  There are shelf lives on things, even canned.
1/04/2011 2:26 PM
I only saw the segment on GMA - kind of ridiculous the stockpile of shampoo. 

I have never seen such waste - why even store it - invite a charity to come and pick it up.
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