Why your shopping trips aren’t quite like the ones on “Extreme Couponing…”

Though “Extreme Couponing” is currently in hiatus, each time TLC airs a marathon of the shows, my email inbox fills up again with questions from new coupon shoppers. In the time since the show’s first season aired, plenty of shoppers have picked up the scissors with dreams of saving big. But judging from the mail I’m receiving, many people are frustrated that they’re not enjoying the same, dramatic levels of savings depicted on the show, or they are writing to question some of the things they’ve seen.

Remember, all “reality” television typically involves both storytelling and staging, and “Extreme Couponing” is no exception. Here are some questions and insights from my email:

I heard that stores that don’t usually double coupons or allow coupon overage were doing so just for the show. Is this true?

Yes. When the May 25th episode aired featuring a shopping trip at Fry’s Supermarket (Kroger,) viewers around the country noticed that every coupon used on the show doubled in value, but Fry’s policy is only to double the first three coupons a shopper uses in a single transaction. Angry viewers flooded Fry’s Facebook page. Fry’s responded that they doubled all coupons just for the show’s taping, adding, “We do want to make it clear that the show was done for promotional purposes and that our coupon policy posted here on Facebook remains the same and is for all Fry’s stores.” Other shoppers watching the show would have the impression that they, too, could enjoy doubling every coupon at Fry’s, but Frys made it clear that they lifted their coupon policy as a “one-time” exception while this episode of Extreme Couponing was being filmed. (link)

In the May 18th, episode, shopper Chrystie Corns received coupon overage during her TLC-filmed shopping trip at Shaw’s. (Overage occurs when a coupon’s value exceeds the cost of the item being purchased. Some stores will allow you to apply that overage to other groceries in your shopping trip, while others will ring the coupon only up to the sale price of the item.) Shaw’s policy is not to allow coupon overage, but the store allowed it for the filming of this episode, resulting in a lower total at the register than a normal shopper would enjoy. (EDIT: Chrystie replied to this article in the comments below to clarify that the overage on the tomato coupons she used was a mistake that wasn’t noticed until after filming had ended.) Shaw’s policy is also to double only the first four like coupons for four identical items per transaction. To get around this policy, Chrystie was allowed to break her large shopping trip into three transactions, splitting her purchases up so that the coupons would all ring at double the value.

Again, viewers took to Shaw’s Facebook page. Shaw’s responded that “there were inconsistencies in the episode that did not accurately reflect our coupon policy.(link)

I saw some of the shoppers using multiple coupons that say “Limit 1 coupon per transaction.” Why did the store allow this?

One shopper, Angelique Campbell, answered on her blog that she called the manufacturer to get permission to use 140 identical “Limit 1 per transaction” $5 Similac baby formula coupons in the same shopping trip, explaining that she was filming the purchases for TLC. (link)

She also used numerous Crest toothpaste coupons in the same transaction that state “Limit 4 like coupons per transaction” but did not address this misuse.

Shopper Desirae appeared in the April 27th episode using a large number of Marcal Smart Steps free single-roll toilet paper coupons that state “Limit 1 coupon per customer.” The store did allow her to use them all in the same shopping trip.

However, most shoppers indeed would be limited to using only the specified quantity of these coupons per transaction, not multiples.

Is it true that shoppers were allowed to use coupons for items they didn’t even buy just to get their totals lower at the register?

Yes. There have been instances of coupons for one product being used to “buy” another throughout Extreme Couponing:

  • Shopper Missy Eby used $3 coupons for Purex with Zout on regular Purex detergent. After the episode aired and coupon boards began discussing it, she apologized for the misuse on her blog. (link)
  • In the June 8th episode, a shopper used numerous .50 coupons for Pepsi Max to buy Mountain Dew. The coupons doubled, making it free. It is not known why she purchased Mountain Dew instead of Pepsi Max. In the same episode, she bought numerous single-serve cups of Yo Crunch yogurt but appeared to use .35 coupons for Breyer’s Greek yogurt. (link)
  • Shopper Antoinette Peterson used Starkist Tuna Selects coupons to buy regular (plain) cans of tuna, which are less expensive. The coupons beeped at the register to indicate that they were being used on the wrong product. Antoinette argued with the cashier at Jewel-Osco, believing that the coupon’s statement that it was good on “any Starkist Selects” meant that she should be able to use it on any Starkist product. The cashier overrode the coupons and allowed them.

The most flagrant misuses of coupons came from Jaime Kirlew in the season premiere. Nearly every coupon used did not match up to what she was shown buying on the show at Safeway (link). The cashier manually overrode the coupons and accepted them.

On April 23rd, a Safeway spokesman told the Baltimore Sun that “part of her [Kirlew’s] strategy was to use coupons on products for which they are not intended.” (link) On May 11th, Kirlew admitted to the Wall Street Journal that she did use coupons in a fraudulent manner on the show. (link)

Is “Extreme Couponing” encouraging people to steal newspapers and inserts? They glorified a woman on the show driving around stealing newspapers from her neighbors’ driveways.

Indeed, the show’s April 27th episode did depict a shopper, Stephanie, driving around her neighborhood picking up “unclaimed” newspapers to acquire more inserts. Since the series, numerous instances of people stealing newspaper coupon inserts from vending machines (link,) (link,) (link), stealing the vending machines themselves (link), and even breaking into a newspaper print facility to steal coupons (link) have been reported in the news, with one newspaper reporting losses to theft in excess of 1,000 newspapers per week. (link). Yahoo’s most recent article on this phenomena begins “Extreme couponing is becoming extreme stealing.” (link)

I heard a lot of the shoppers on the show buy their coupons online. Ethics aside, why doesn’t the show figure the cost of their coupons into what they’re buying? Are they getting hundreds of coupons just for the show?

Likely because it would take away from the “wow” factor of dropping one’s bill. Crazily, coupons can sell for more than their face value on Ebay. Check out these auctions for $1 Capri-Sun coupons: 10 $1 coupons sold for $21.50 | 10 $1 coupons sold for $17.50.

As to the origin of the inserts, one shopper stated during a radio interview that the shot of a pile of coupon inserts being delivered to her doorstep was staged for the show, stating “That stack of newspapers that was shown on the show was actually given to me for the show… following the show I have not received stacks of papers like that ever again.” (link)

Why don’t the people on the show ever buy any healthy foods? Very few of them buy meat or produce.

Meat and produce are more difficult to get coupon deals on. To ensure the most dramatic high-grocery-bill to low-grocery-bill transformation at the register, many shoppers didn’t buy anything that they did not have a coupon for. In the instances where the store allowed coupon overage, some shoppers did use their overages to buy meats and produce, which is a smart way to get deals on those harder-to-coupon items. Other shoppers used Catalina coupons from past purchases to buy their meat and produce during their Extreme Couponing trips, which is another good way to bring the cost of those items down.

When I watch the show I noticed they never scan the shopper’s savings card until after they get a high total on the screen. Then they scanned the girl’s card and it goes from $399 to $199 something before any coupons are even scanned. Do you think that’s misleading?

Most stores will want to scan your loyalty card first. In holding the card until the end, the total at the register will appear higher — again, more dramatic for television. You’ll notice that the show says “Retail value” when they show the before-coupon total too, as they’re working from the non-sale prices of the items. Again, it’s got a lot more “wow” factor to see a $399 bill drop to $50 versus a total that starts at $199.

Most coupon shoppers do not count their loyalty savings into the amount saved (we would never pay the non-sale prices in the first place!) When keeping track of savings, coupon shoppers typically count only the post-coupon total.

Did you see the woman who bought 93 bags of Texas Toast croutons? With 93 coupons doubling to $1 they were all free. But all she bought was croutons! How’s that extreme?

That’s the easiest kind of “extreme” couponing trip to do. In buying only what was free with coupons, she took a $93 grocery bill to $0.

(But as you said… it was an entire cartload of croutons.)

Why do so many of the shoppers on the show buy tons of ramen noodles? Every time I watch, it’s almost like playing a drinking game… “Spot the ramen noodles!”

The Yakisoba noodle trays often go on sale for $1. In market areas that double coupons, .50 coupons for Yakisoba double to $1, making them free. It’s an easy way to add more items to the total dollar amount at the register. If someone buys 30 Yakisoba at $1 each, their pre-coupon total goes up by $30, then back down by $30 when those coupons are scanned.

Why do the people on the show claim to spend 30 hours a week couponing? Do I have to carry a 10-pound binder and devote half my week to learning to do this?

No, you don’t. I hadn’t seen anyone carrying a coupon binder to the store in years until Extreme Couponing began airing, and new coupon shoppers started hitting the stores, binders in hand, seemingly thinking this was the thing to do. If you have several hundred coupons for one item, a binder is likely the only way you can physically carry all of them around. But, if you’re shopping for your own household and not going “extreme,” you can easily become a coupon shopper and not devote excessive amounts of time to it. Many of us prefer the “clipless” method, where you only cut what you need. This method only takes about an hour a week versus cutting, sorting and organizing hundreds of coupons. You can learn more about this method at this link.

We started couponing after seeing the show this spring (I know, I know) and never have had a trip yet like they show on TV. Our store does not double coupons and they only let you buy 4 of the same item at a time. How much should we try to be saving with coupons? We are discouraged right now but on good weeks we have seen 40% savings and one week we saved 66%.

You’re doing fine! Don’t get discouraged. Realistically, if you’re doing shopping trips that involve fresh produce, milk, and meats each week, a good target range of savings to aim for each week is the 50-70% mark. Most of my weekly shopping trips fall into this range, and through following sales cycles and stocking up moderately during good sales, anyone can easily cut their grocery bill in half or better with coupons.

If you’ve arrived here while searching for information on “Extreme Couponing,” welcome! If you’d like more information on learning how to save 50-70% on your grocery bill each week without spending more than an hour a week, carrying a giant binder or filling your house with a crazy amount of groceries, Super-Couponing is for you. In about an hour, you’ll learn how to cut your grocery bill with coupons with a method that’s fun, easy, and will change the way you shop forever!

TLC’s Extreme Couponing logo used under Creative Commons License.


  1. MeetVirginia says

    Thank you so much for sharing this!!! I was wondering HOW they did it in the show. I work very hard and I don’t only buy what we need. Any food item seriously cheap is used in this home and we use the overage to pay for our meat since we can do it at our Fry’s. Target has gotten really, really hard to work with lately and won’t always stand by their policies. I usually have to get a store manager involved. Even then I get treated really bad for getting freebies. But I do have a HUGE binder and try to use any good coupon I have that is free. If I don’t need it, I share it with someone who really does. I have a family of 8 and usually saved 60%-85% each time I shop. It’s such a blessing. I buy 10 papers every Sunday for $1 apiece.

  2. Gburgcouponmom says

    Thank you for your honest article about “Extreme Couponing”. I really enjoy using coupons and to see how much I can save my family of 4. Many of my friends will ask me how I save so much. I gladly tell them the strategies I have found on this site and many others including http://www.couponmom.com and http://www.coupondivas.com. Then many times they will ask if I ever had savings like that on Extreme Couponing. I tell them no, that that show is not realistic. I am able to see the disappointment on their face when I tell them this. It almost makes them want not to even try to use the coupons. So now it is nice to have this article to really explain why that show is wrong.

    In these tough economic times, it is sad that TLC would produce a show on such false pretenses. It is only going to hurt those of us that have been couponing the right way from the beginning.

  3. beaner2 says

    Great article and reading this made me wonder though how long is it before TLC goes to manufacturers and gets a bunch of coupons for totally free products then gives them to the shoppers. Bam then they have a trip where everything’s free!

    But a normal person can’t do that trip. And a normal person can’t go to these stores doubling all the coupons just for the show and then get them to do it for you! I saw that episode with the tuna fish lady yesterday again (yea the Exteme Couponing marathon is on tonight again) and I was yelling at the TV, that coupon is not for what you bought! Why does TLC let them get away with fraud on TV.

  4. poetangel says

    Good post as always, and so glad you “caught on” to this and weren’t filmed for the program.

  5. Dealznstealz says

    Consumers turn to coupons in record numbers – (Really???)

    “The channel does not endorse or support any activity that violates laws or coupon policies, Dustin P. Smith, vice president of communications for TLC (Discovery Communications)”


    Most all these transactions can not be duplicated – TLC has a responsibility for oversight and due diligence. Boycott the show and get this off TV.

    Be sure to join us at http://bringbackdoubles.com/ and on Kroger Couponers group on facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/Krogercouponers/.

  6. msbrezzer says

    I love to extreem coupon! When I lived in a larger city it was very easy. now I live in an area where we do not get the sunday flyers with all of th coupons in the paper. It is very rare to find manufactors coupons in our area.
    I have learned to print some of the coupons out from differant sites, but somewhat discouraged. FYI- the nearest Wal mart, Target type stores are 45 to 60 miles away one way. I wish for more coupons in a 10 mile raidious.. Help Please!

  7. Toniesme says

    This weekend I gave a friend of mine some of my extra inserts and verbally told her of some of the CAT deals jewel had going on. She went to jewel the following day and shaved off 60% or better of her total bill…. She was ELATED! She is a new couponer… No tv or Internet, probably never even heard of the show. It was refreshing to see her excitement because it wasn’t distorted by some extreme show that she knows nothing about. I was happy to be able to pass on your ways of couponing to this friend of mine, because I know it will change her life, as it did mine, and with realistic expectations. Thanks, Jill!

  8. chrystiecorns says

    Hi Jill,

    Thanks for this blog post, I think there is a lot of frustration with new couponers after they’ve seen the show. I did just want to clarify that in my shopping trip, Shaws did NOT allow overage for the show. It was actually a mistake as I had coupons for tomatoes that were valid, yet weren’t scanning. The cashier manually entered them and they did double to over the price of the tomatoes. It was clearly a mistake and only one we realized long after taping was over. I also had catalinas from a previous shopping trip which also helped bring the cost down.

    Once again, thanks for the article!

    Chrystie Corns

  9. Gypsyohara says

    I am a long-time couponer (on and off since the late ’70’s). Extreme Couponing began to show in the midst of a class I was teaching (on Couponing) last spring (at my church). I was beseiged by questions, mostly “How do they DO that?” Here in Florida, there are virtually NO grocery stores which double coupons (of any ilk). I watched all of the series and even though I have been a devoted ethical couponer, even I fell into despair. Until recently, I hadn’t even cut out a coupon for nearly 3 months. Now, recovering from TLC’s 1-2 punch, I am even more determined to make my ethical coupon practices work for me.
    Unfortunately, for me, that means, re assessing and creating a new organizational process for myself. But onward and upward.
    I’m VERY excited to see that you have produced another DVD (Supercouponing 2) and I look forward to purchasing that when it becomes available.
    Thank you again, for your Extreme Couponing sluthing.
    Kim Danbert (in FL)

  10. jengelsgaard says

    I have both a comment and a question regarding this – I really like the clipless method of couponing. It’s easier, a time-saver, and less messy. When you go to the grocery store with your list and matching coupons, you are missing out on a lot of items that are on sale but were not in the weekly sales ad. How can you take advantage of all the sale items if you don’t have your binder with you? I don’t have time to make two or more trips to the store each week to take advantage of those items I missed. Any ideas how to make this work without the binder method?

  11. Patty Mazzuca says

    I began watching Extreme Couponing and was intrigued by the amount of things people were getting for for. I could do this. I am a stay at home mom with a part time job and could use some help with making a dollar stretch.
    I clipped my coupons and I asked other people for theirs and I searched for a store that would double coupons.
    BUT….they don’t take a million coupons at the same time or double over a $1. (Kroger Bourbainnis)
    This is very misleading and a big let down.

    I want to know if the show is not accurate then how the heck do they make those stock piles. And pay next to nothing for the merchandise.

  12. Stl Coupon Wizard says

    Hello Jill I am new here and found you through my local community newspaper. I have only read a few of your post but so far completely agree with you on the Extreme couponing thing. I was refered to TLC by Nathen Engles and was contacted by TLC about appearing on the show in the first season. Well it did not work so well because I refused to stage a shopping trip for the show. I am a Walgreens shopper and almost cry when I now visit any of my local Walgreens because of what the extremers have done to the store, at least in my area. The Extreme couponing trips seen on the show are in fact fraud themselfs and I find it hard to believe that some people have problems seeing that. I was rejected from the show because I wanted to display couponing the way that it really works and that was not TV friendly I guess. Before the Extremes I shopped Walgreens every week starting at 2:30 am Sunday morning (that is when the deals are up loaded in my area) and would shop Wags untill I ran out of coupons. My longest day lasted 16 hours in which I vivited 30 Walgreens. I picked up $1,600 of product at a $250 profit (in RRs) which in the end bvought a lot more product at Walgreens.

    Some would call that extreme, I will agree to a bit crazy but far from Extreme. I read a thread here asking you why your type of coupon use is not extreme and I often get the same question so I thought I would share my thoughts on it. Extremes really believe that you can walk in a store with a thousand coupons and not at least get laughed out the door if not escorted out the door. Extremes do not care if any other consumer gets to work the deals, they will empty the shelf with no regard to anybody else. They also don’t care what changes their actions do to the coupon policies at our local stores which affect all shoppers some of which really depend on the savings that you and millions other bloggers post using coupons. We all know that if used properly and with a little planning a 80% savings is easily reachable but there needs to be a little restraint used, I call it coupon ethics.

    I believe that any of the Extremes on the TLC show would have a very hard time matching my savings/profit regardless of the coupons they use. the differnce is that I do small transaction 2 to 5 items and no more than one of each item at each store(Walgreens Rules) which allows all other shoppers the oppertunity to take advantage of the deals. Sure it takes a lot more time but it what I like to call following the rules. I buy my coupons the old fashioned way, I buy up to 30 papers a week for the coupons, when ever possible I use my profit to buy my papers to keep the cost down. I believe that no one person/family or even neighborhood can use 1500 deodorants in a life time so why would you ever buy that many. I do donate products and a lot of them, the difference is this. I believe a freebie is not free, it cost your time, your shelf space and then your time to donate or dispose of the product. So those freebies are not so free. My rule of thumb is I will get enough of any product to last me a year or to the experation date on the product then quit buying the product. For instance Shampoo, I have a family of 4 and each of use will use on average one bottle or set (shampoo/conditioner) each month so I stop buying when my stock reaches 48 bottles.

    Now if a product generates a profit I will buy every one in town but one at a time again because it is the rule (Walgreens). So there is a big difference it is called a consideration for other shoppers which will preserve couponing as most of us know it. After all the rules change when managment of a retailer starts to get complaints from shoppers that can’t find the product, they then need to adjust the rules to help their shoppers get what they need or lose the customer. the one thing that I have noticed is that these extreme shoppers seem to think that this type of coupon use is a right granted to them, they need to realize that coupons are not a right, they are a gift from the MFG and can and will be stopped if mis-use is detected. The manufactuer’s intent is to get people to try their products not to give their produts away for free.

  13. llamalluv says

    The clipless method is great for my planned weekly trips, where I know what I am getting and what coupons I am using, but it is absolutely worthless when I am standing in front of the clearance section trying to remember if I have a coupon for that marked down item, and for how much, and what week, etc.

    I use a combination. Most of the insert (I get two per week) I leave intact. But I clip out the coupons that I am most likely to need when I am standing in front of the clearance shelves. My biggie is cosmetics. I always clip out cosmetics because I can almost always get an eye shadow, lipstick, or nail polish for under $1 at Target. The other is gum. We give out packs of gum for Halloween, and whenever I see gum on the clearance shelf for under $1 I will get a few packs.

  14. normal couponer says

    You stated, “Shopper Antoinette Peterson used Starkist Tuna Selects coupons to buy regular (plain) cans of tuna, which are less expensive. The coupons beeped at the register to indicate that they were being used on the wrong product. Antoinette argued with the cashier at Jewel-Osco, believing that the coupon’s statement that it was good on “any Starkist Selects” meant that she should be able to use it on any Starkist product. The cashier overrode the coupons and allowed them.”

    Technically, she isn’t doing anything wrong because the coupon did state “ANY Starkist product” right? She could have bought the kits, the packages, the can or etc because the coupon stated any. I don’t fully remember the episode, but did it state a size restriction? Was it expired? Did it state on the pouches only?

    I am just curious with what was wrong here with her using the product that stated any starkist product for a starkist product.

  15. mcmarktyler says

    I havent tried go shopping with coupons. But I have a friend who is couponing everytime she go shopping. She buy twice a week and she says its all worth it since buying more means you can save more with couponing.

  16. ocd freak says

    which states have the most coupons? and which manufactorer coupon websites are free with out having to download? the “extreme couponing” show that they double the coupons or the coupons are worth more…which state does that happen in because in the state of illinoi they do not allow many coupons to be given out!!.. :/ i am an 18 yr old mother trying to save on diapers and neccesary stuff for my baby boy… please help!

  17. resvirgo38 says

    Alot of the comments here on this site about the show “Extreme Couponing” have rubbed me the wrong way. This show is just that a tv show. I have witnessed people have large shopping transactions (i.e. 300-400 dollars) and walk away having only paid like 75 dollars for everything. So, what you put into the experience is what you will get out of it. Pleas stop moaning and groaning about a tv show. Just like anything else on tv it’s for entertainment purposes. And in the process you can learn something. If you noticed only a few of the participants from the show were proven to have done shady things. So, therefore, that would mean that the others played by the rules; and that would mean that they really did get there hauls for the low prices and even the zero totals you viewed. So, how about we focus on those positives and stopped giving so much attention to the negatives. Thank you for “listening”. Just had to get that off my chest.

  18. jeni_fini says

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets discouraged when shopping with coupons. I thought I was doing something wrong, asking, “Why can’t I get good deals and cut my grocery bill in half” like they do on TLC Extreme Couponing. This makes me feel a little better, but i’m still not saving as much as I would like. I’m still spending around $90 a week, which is the same as before. I have only three grocery stores, two that double’s up to $0.50 and one that does not take coupons (Aldis)