6 Reasons Extreme Couponing Will Not Work for You

Anyone watching the latest trend in reality television probably has drooled a little bit after learning people are saving hundreds of dollars on their grocery/shopping bills by clipping a few (thousand) coupons. Some of us might even be envious and consider taking up the couponing lifestyle themselves. Who wouldn’t want to get cartloads of groceries and household cleaners for a few bucks?

Is Extreme Couponing a Waste of Time?

But like much of reality television, there is some lack of actual reality in the programming. The editing room cuts out a lot of things you don’t see to condense the show down to television format.

So let’s take a dose of reality. Here are 6 reasons why extreme couponing may not work for you:


Photo by sdc2027 via Flickr

1. You Have a Real Job

It may not be made as apparent on each television show where extreme couponers are featured but if you listen closely, those who are saving hundreds on their shopping bills also spend more time during the week looking for and organizing coupons than most of us work in a week. We are talking about working 40 to 60 hours every week. If you saved a couple hundred bucks you are still only talking about minimum wage earnings on an hourly basis. (In other words, you would be better off working a high paying part-time job!) Clipping and tracking the volume of coupons needed to reap big savings is a full-time job in itself. With as much time as you spend at the office and as little time available to devote to your family, couponing probably will not be high on the list of relaxing ways to spend a weekend.

2. You Probably Don’t Even Like the Products

Consumers don’t tend to use coupons for things they don’t eat or use. For those indulging in extreme couponing, the use of coupons means the products they buy are limited. Not all manufacturers offer coupons so shoppers are forced to limited their selections to save a buck. While some families may be willing to always try new things and forego their loyalty to certain products, most Americans stick with what they like no matter how much extra it costs. Parents of picky kids will also have a heck of a time convincing young ones to try new gourmet products each week.

3. Coupons Theoretically Make Us Spend More

Unless a recipe calls for it, you probably don’t always pick up 10 cans of pork and beans at one time. However, most coupons being distributed today have a purchase requirement before the savings can kick in. Sure, you can save a $1.00 but do you really need 8 boxes of powdered sugar at one time? You would save more money by buying only what you need rather than spending triple or more just to save a dollar. Having a grocery category in your weekly budget is the best way to save. If you always shop and stay within your budgetary guidelines you will do alright.

4. Most Coupons Are Not Good for the Waistline

Manufactures who want to gain profits, especially on new products, will often offer pretty decent coupons to gain consumer interest. Unfortunately for most families, the coupons are for products that are not necessary in the best interest of our health. Most coupons are for pre-packaged, processed foods which are generally not healthy or remotely near the four basic food group categories. Instead of shopping strictly by coupon, it makes more sense to shop by a quality diet guidelines to ensure you are eating and spending smart. Some health experts recommend shopping on the perimeter of the grocery store rather than inside the aisles. Why? The perimeter contains your fresh items: fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy. But this is not where you find most coupons. When is the last time you found a “buy 1 get 1 free” coupon for apples? There are other ways to save on groceries without sacrificing quality.

5. You’ll Spend Money to Save Money

The extreme coupon users featured on the various shows make it look easy to access a billion coupons for each shopping trip but the reality is that you’ll probably have to spend a good amount of money to support your coupon habit. While there are many coupon-related sites online, you’ll have to pay for the toner and paper to print them out. You’ll also likely need to pay for several newspapers and do a lot of begging of your friends and family to score more coupons. You also need to consider your storage capabilities for the products you bring home. Shelving, storage area, and extra appliances all cost a lot of money – probably a lot more than you can actually save using coupons. There are coupon cutting services where for a fee you can order a certain set of coupons, but that digs into your “profits” from couponing, too.

6. Extreme Couponing Can Be Wasteful and Unethical

In certain instances, buying in large quantities pays off and is a good thing. But if you buy 10 gallons of baked beans, will you really use all of it before it goes bad? Where do you plan to store three pallets worth of toilet paper? How much of your home is dedicated to housing the items you got at a discounted price? It is easy to mentally justify getting something for free, but if you never use it then you’ve wasted time and energy finding the coupon, buying the item, and throwing the item away.

Additionally some of the tactics mentioned by extreme couponers border on coupon fraud. Things like changing your IP address so you can print multiples of the same coupon are probably legal, but what about ethics? Is it right to fudge the details every time just to get another item at a discounted price? There are other ways to save on groceries without sacrificing your ethics.

We would love to hear from dedicated, hardcore couponers out there. How much time do you dedicate to couponing each week, and how much do you save on average? Leave a comment — we’re dying to know!

About the Author

By , on Jun 6, 2011
Tisha Tolar
Tisha Tolar is a co-owner of Trifecta Strategies, LLC and the author of Gen X. When she is not busy being a fiction writer, she writes personal finance articles for several web sites, including Moolanomy.com.

Leave Your Comment (11 Comments)

  1. Lindsey W says:

    I think couponing is a great way to save money for some people, however it is definitly not realistic for all people. I live in a very rural community in utah, and not a single grocery store will double coupons, combine coupons, etc. The only store around here that does anything to help couponers is walgreens but the prices are marked up so much because of the small store size and options that you don’t really end up saving any money. I wish that I could save as much money on food as people say they do with coupons but in cache valley that is just not realistic. Thanks for the great article!

  2. Gloria Evans says:

    Well, I just started couponing a couple of months ago. I drove 40 minutes to krogers in a small town as I was shopping knowing this stoere doubles 1.00 I was treated badly like THE PRICES WERE HIGHER and Iwould not go there again.

  3. @Heather: We do eat a lot of meat and dairy, but the coupons aren’t frequent enough to really make a dent.

  4. Heather says:

    If you eat minimal processed foods, don’t eat meat, and don’t eat dairy, couponing doesn’t do much, whether you’re shopping at Safeway or Trader Joes. I don’t consider “healthy” cereal to be healthy food – it’s just less unhealthy than sugary cereal ( though if you read labels, you might be surprised at sugar contents).

    I have seen produce on sale occasionally, but not enough to cut my grocery bill in half on a regular basis.

    We’ll use coupons if we have them, but I don’t seek them out because it’s generally not worth the time.

  5. Stacie says:

    Strategic couponing is super easy and to be honest all couponing is easy these days. I subscribe to a blogger that blogs deals for my local stores, safeway fry’s cvs walgreens etc. She tells me what’s on sale and what coupons will match the sale. When she lists the coupons she tells me exactly which circular they came in and what date it was put in the paper.

    I promise I don’t spend much time on couponing. It has changed drastically over the years. I used to save more by buying just store brands and now I save more with coupons. I was a skeptic too and then I tried it. A huge deal for me is just knowing the coupon policy of the store. My store makes all coupons under a dollar worth a dollar so when something is on sale for. 99 I get it free with a coupon!

    Most extreme couponers win the ‘game’ because they aren’t loyal to certain brands. They buy what is on sale and what they have coupons for. I live in arizona and have to deal with coupon restrictions but that normally only applies to doubling or whatever limit the coupon itself states. I rarely need to exceed those limits when just buying for my family. My store just posted a facebook exclusive coupon for 2 dollars off fresh produce, no minimum purchase required! That’s two pounds of whatever fruit or veggie is on sale for 99 cents this week and something always is priced at that.

    I know this isn’t for everyone but once a person has figured out a system that works for them the amount of savings can be significant. Whole foods, sprouts, trader joes all accept coupons and run sales….you just have to shop the sales versus shopping for everything you want right now.it usually takes a change in shopping style to save significantly, but if you don’t need something right that very minute wait until you see it on sale. You’d be surprised how much you save yourself.

  6. Miss T says:

    I find couponing a real challenge for us since we donèt use boxed products. I also work full time and couldnt afford 35 hours a week to find deals.

  7. @Stacie: You are definitely allowed to voice your own opinion. I agree wholeheartedly with this article, primarily because I tried couponing for a while. I bought the papers, I followed the blogs, I clipped, clipped, clipped, and it wasn’t cost effective. I would say less than 5% of all the coupons I’ve ever seen are for fresh fruit. I have seen some where if you buy X item you get a discount on Y item (like cereal and milk), but that is usually something on a sticky pad in the cereal aisle or attached to the box… not something out of the paper.

    With the popularity of the extreme couponing “game” (TV show, etc.) I think it is reasonable to look at the other side of the equation. In my experience couponing wasn’t worth it. I could spend 8 hours per month and save, at most, $30-50, to buy the items I want to buy. That hourly rate, for me, was very, very low. My time was better spent elsewhere.

    But, every situation is different, and couponing does work for some people.

    @laurie: Very interesting that Arizona would limit the number of coupons. You would think the state wouldn’t really care because that just means there is more product flowing through their borders — more tax, more deliveries, more gas spent to deliver, and so on.

    @Kelly: I like the idea of doing it strategically. How do you best keep tabs on good deals without focusing on everything full time?

  8. Kelly says:

    I love the angle of your piece – forcing people to look at the un-reality of these reality shows. One other thing that should be noted is the exception that most stores who participated in Extreme Couponing made for promotional purposes. ALL stores have a coupon policy in place that was basically eliminated when these extreme hoarders, sorry, extreme couponers, promoted their stories.

    As a strategic couponer, I find that I save most on my health and beauty products (I can’t tell you the last time I paid for toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner or razors), allowing me to spend some of that money on healthy food.

  9. Tisha Tolar says:

    @Stacie – My job as a writer is to express different view points to my readers. The point of this piece was to show essentially that the reality of ‘reality’ tv shows like the extreme couponers is not necessarily going to work for everyone. Certainly coupons do save you money – that is what they are made for but they are also created by manufacturers to help market their products. For those who want to put the time in, coupons can really make a difference in a family budget. I am not denying that. I can easily write a lengthy piece about the benefits of couponing. It just so happened I watched an episode of the couponing show and considered how many people would try to emulate the people featured and not find the same success. I wanted to write a piece to say it’s okay to not go to the extremes. I shop for my family and I peruse coupons, using them when I feel they are worth it. I’ve done my research, I posted my piece…no soapbox in sight. Happy couponing!

  10. laurie says:

    It is what it is.. Couponing is a part time job, I know cause I have lived it. Lets go back YEARS.. I did this, not to that EXTREME.. but I did have a lot of toothpaste, cereal etc. I also was able to GIVE a ton! In Arizona the stores LIMIT the amount of coupons they will double for the same product. so 3 like coupons for 3 like products, so buying in EXTREME amounts takes many trips to the store.

    After years of couponing I quit doing it, as of late started it up again. I would never have the amount of product you see on those TV shows.. UNLESS I was doing it to give away. But with couponing this week I saved over 50% off my bill and did it all at one store, it also included Alcohol, laundry soap, meat and health and beauty products. What I saved in just coupons, not the sales totaled $42.25. I spent about 3 to 4 hours Total, prep, shop and put away.
    Worth it for my family, yes…

  11. Stacie says:

    I have just gotten into couponing and although I do not consider myself an extreme couponer by anymeans I do think it saves my family a great deal of money. I average between 30 and 50% when I go to the grocery store and I also include health and beauty items in those purchases.

    People make the assumption that coupons are not included for healthy foods. This is a poor assumption. I recently received a coupon for cereal, the coupon gave me a choice which cereal I wanted. I could have gotten the sugarloaded cereal but I opted for a healthier low sugar high fiber cereal. I also had a coupon that saved me a dollar on fresh fruit if I purchased cereal. Then, I saved money on meat by buying dairy. I was able to save 1.50 on meat if I bought a dairy product. I was able to get a whole chicken for less than .67 a lb. I have coupons for fresh pineapple and a seedless watermelon in my coupon binder right now. Not my first choices for fruit but I do have coupons for them. I also have a coupon for $1 off any dairy product of my choice, lowfat milk, yogurt? Seems to me those are included in a balanced diet.

    Not all coupons require a minimum purchase either. You can get a coupon for .35 off toothpaste and if your store doubles up to a dollar you can easily get that toothpaste absolutely free when the store puts it on sale for .99! Tell me you don’t need toothpaste, I dare you.

    Extreme couponers are just that, extreme. They are also hoarders in need of medical assistance. They give a bad name to all that coupon and make things far more difficult for those of us that are just trying to keep their family fed and all the bills paid. However, there are some extreme couponers that use those thousands of extra products they get for free to donate to shelters and food banks. Don’t give them all a bad name because of a few bad apples.

    While I don’t always enjoy frozen vegetables sometimes I’m in need of quick and convenient as I work full time. My store happens to make all manufacturer coupons worth $1 so when frozen veggies go on sale for .99 or .88 I make sure to grab my coupons and toss some of those bad boys in the freezer since they’re absolutely free to me at that point.

    Did you know there are so many blogs out there that publish your local deals that match up with the coupon circulars that you really haven’t got to spend more than an hour or two each week?! Surprising, isn’t it?

    I also save drastically more by using my coupons than I do without using them that the (literally) less than 5 dollars I spend a MONTH on two newspaper subscriptions is worth it. Please, for the sake of your validity as a writer don’t put everyone into the same box and do some serious research before stepping on your soapbox.

    Sincerely,

    An avid couponer that nutritiously feeds her family

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