Extreme Couponing is Not Worth the Effort

Working from home, I’ve been brushing up on a lot of television shows I wouldn’t normally watch.  I find that working on the computer all day with a mix of TV leads to excellent production. And one of the shows I saw was an episode of  “Extreme Couponing“.  I’ve written a few posts previously about how I save money at the supermarket using coupons and buy one get one free specials but never to the extent of what I saw on this show.  The question is, does extreme couponing really work and if so, is it worth it?

Before any trip to the supermarket, I use 10-15 minutes going through the weekly circulars, looking for deals and coupons.  I make a list of everything I need and try and figure out just how much money I will spend.  On an average trip, I usually save around 25% of what I spend, so if my bill is $100, the savings at the bottom of the receipt usually says $25.  When you consider how much time I’ve spent and compare it to the amount I’ve saved, I think I do a bang-up job.  At this rate, my time is worth around $100 an hour.

Extreme couponing, on the other hand, is the process of taking hours and possibly days to compile a massive amount of savings, 25 cents at a time.  Not only does it require a massive amount of time, it also requires a massive amount of space.  This is because you aren’t buying the things you need, rather things you need later.  So when toiler paper has a $1.00 off coupon, you get 100 of them and store years worth of toilet paper in your closet.  Extreme couponers take pride in paying $20 for $700 worth or groceries and supplies but in my opinion, it’s a huge waste of time and effort.

In watching these women (most couponers are women) hoard coupons, they have to find hundreds of newspapers, spend hours online and then spend hours more cutting out these coupons and organizing them for their shopping experience.  When all is said and done, you’re talking a few dozen hours, simply to save a few hundred bucks on food you probably don’t want to buy anyway.  There comes a point in this extreme couponing processes where it’s no longer a frugal thing to do and it becomes cheap.  No wonder the folks at TLC call this show extreme.

The next time you’re headed to the grocery store, keep these tips in mind and you’ll maximize your savings:

  1. Check online for generic coupons on everyday items like cereal, toiletries and dairy products.  Most manufactures offer up to $1.50 off these items and all it takes is a quick Google search to save money.
  2. Grab the circular for the store you’re shopping at and take a quick glance to see whats on sale.  The circular can usually be found in the front of the store and even though most supermarkets display sales next to items, some do not.
  3. Pay close attention to what is on sale.  When items are marked “5 for $5”, that means they are $1 a piece.  There is no need to buy five so don’t be pressured to do so.  On the other hand “buy one get one free” means just that, so make sure you get two of the same item.
  4. Ask the checkout cashiers for any good deals the supermarket is offering.  They know better than anyone where the good buys are.  Don’t be shy.

Topics: Smart Spending

7 Responses to “Extreme Couponing is Not Worth the Effort”

  1. I agree. It’s not only not worth it, much of what they show is questionable and perhaps illegal. Manufacturers will not reimburse stores if they have evidence that coupons were purchased or if they can track back that customers used more than they would reasonably have access to (they’ll check the ‘cut’ of the coupons and if there are a bunch that were cut out identically, they’ll use this as proof). Not to mention that there have been stories where astute viewers have matched up the coupons that they show being scanned to the products that are being scanned, and there are wild discrepencies, showing that the stores might be allowing exceptions for the show that they wouldn’t to a regular customer. Coupons are great but if we save 10-20% a week with them, we feel we’re doing great. Anything more than that, it’s either not worth it and/or we’re probably getting into questionable territory that’s only going to hurt us (and others) down the line.

  2. It’s a full time job and really makes no sense because they still end up making several trips, meaning they didn’t get enough of what they need. If it really worked, they’d only have to go once or twice a year. It takes up a lot of room in their home, it takes a lot of energy, and it’s never things that they NEED. It’s just the fact that it’s free.

  3. Some of the practices in the tv show don’t work in the “real world”. When I was a child my father kept a stock pile by using coupons. In those days triple coupons were common. Now Its usually only double. Also back then, if the coupon amount exceeded the price of the item, you were given a credit. I remember my father bringing home a trunk full of groceries and household items that the store paid him to take due to this. Retailers caught onto this and capped the value of the coupon to the price of the item. That is how it is where I live anyway. “Extreme” couponing is more of a hobby than just a method of saving money. It is time consuming and is based more on the thrill of the deal than the deal itself. This is just my opinion though.

  4. For now, couponing is a hobby. Two of my friends save their inserts for me, I get two weekend papers, and collect from other sources, mags, etc. It helps me financially, I don’t buy what I don’t use, but save all coupons; at the end of the month I sort them, count them and send them to a military base through the Overseas Coupon Program where they can use the coups at the military base stores for up to six months past expiration date. It doesn’t cost more than $10 or so to ship and figure it supports the troops and helps people. Also I save all pet coupons for local animal rescue outfits; the appreciate them as it costs a lot to feed the critters. Takes time, but don’t all hobbies? And it does some good too! I stockpile a little because it saves me money. I live on a $100 food and supply budget per month!

  5. Sheila Joseph

    Look, I love to save money as much as the next guy. In fact, if you want to cheer me up, take me shopping to a store that’s having a blowout sale. And, if I can use a coupon on top of a sale….pure bliss. But this “extreme couponing” is truly insane. Before the show came out, I eagerly awaited it. Because back in the day (when I was in my twenties…I’m in my thirties now) i used coupons regularly. In fact, if i didn’t have a coupon in hand, I didn’t go shopping. However, I saw an episode just this week that demonstrates that the entire ordeal (and it is an ordeal) is simply not worth the time anymore.

    First, it is true that 15 years ago, you could actually leave the grocery store with groceries and money that the store paid you. It happend to me. Back then you could tripple coupons up to $1 and receive a credit over and above the price of the item. And, grocerie stores used to run sales on the items that had coupons running in that week’s Sunday’s paper. Thefore, when an item was on sale for $2, with a $1-off coupon in the circular, you could triplle that coupon and end up with $1 in your pocket along with the grocery item. I guess stores were losing money back then, so they started putting limits on tripple coupons and ofentimes on double up to $0.99.

    Even if that sound like a bargain to you, next you have to look at the HOURS and HOURS and spreedsheets and stockpiling to determine: is this cost effective? Let say you are the modest extreme couponer that spends only 20 hours a week couponing (and yes, that would be modest) and you save $300 a week (almost $1000 a month) couponing. That sounds fantastic. For many, that’s a car note or two, a month’s rent or morgage, school tuition, etc. But let’s break down how much that cost per hour. That is a salary of $15 per hour (and for the sake of brievety [because believe it or not, I could go on] I am not even going to factor in the cost to store these goods, which would be a percentage of the mortgage. That cost would reduce this salary even further).

    That $15/hour salary may sound nice, but it’s not because many of the extreme couponers have the skills to earn at least twice that per hour. If you look at the computer cataloging, excel spreadsheets, home and coupon organization systems they have set up, I wonder why some of these people aren’t woring at managemenet or executive levels somewhere. To be a successful extreme couponer (rather than a hoarder of inexpensive items that one will never, ever use) you have to have extreme skill sets. So, I think that instead of working at $15/hour, some of the extreme couponers should freelance, start a home based business, help a struggling non-profit, the government, or US auto manufacturer (couldn’t resist the joke) put profitable systems in place. They would earn a lot more money and the businesses would benefit a great deal from their dedication, tenacity, hard work!

    I believe Extereme Couponers are actually selling themselves short. But, if they love it, I still support them!

  6. Jan Trahan

    I agree – the amount of time these people put into couponing just isn’t worth it. My grocery store will not allow a customer to buy 150 of any one item. First off – they don’t stock 150 of any one item. My grocery stores limit coupons to 6 of any item. The supermarkets are stocked for the program. I don’t think you will find any item that is stocked (unless it is a warehouse type of store) more than 2 cases of any item. I’ve been couponing since 1980. I have an estimated 1/2 million dollars worth of no expiration date coupons. I would never use all these coupons in my lifetime. However, I consider time saving as well as dollar savings. I scan the circulars every week and pick out only the sales and go to the grocery store with only the coupons that I need for that sale. I have enough stock in advance to last about a year, thus I buy ONLY what I need to replace my already used stock. This works great because I only spend enough time in the store to pick up my sales. I don’t need to shop every week other than for perishable items. I get the maximum value of my coupons with a minimum amount of time spent shopping. Extreme couponing for most people is just not PRACTICAL

  7. Extreme Couponing IS worth the effort, but…
    you have to stay real. Spending 60 hours/week clipping and planning is NOT real. 9 hours in a single grocery store is NOT real. Building special spaces to store your purchases is NOT real. Buying 100 of anything is NOT real (well, it’s not realistic anyway). Keep in mind…
    This is a TV show. They can call it reality TV, but when the stores bend the rules to allow 1000 coupons to be doubled when they usually only allow the first 3 or 6 or even 10, well, that’s just not real. However…
    I’ve not paid more than 25¢ for top-brand toothpaste in over 5 years. I never pay for toothbrushes or razors. My routine savings are between 40-65%, BUT I buy things like meat and produce on every visit.
    Coupons ARE worth it, but don’t hoard, or clear shelves, or spend waaaay too many hours making it work. Oh, and be sure to share any excess with others:) That’s what will really make it all worthwhile.

    Happy couponing!

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