Extreme Couponing: A Syndrome Developed from the Feeling of Fear – Frugal Confessions

Extreme Couponing: A Syndrome Developed from the Feeling of Fear

Did anyone catch TLC’s Extreme Couponing Segment two weeks ago? It was shocking. I was at home on our couch working on some writing when it caught my eye. I consider myself to be frugal with a few bouts here and there of extremism, though I am working on a more balanced approach. However, the men and women on this show make me look like Paris Hilton on Rodeo Drive…after 23 days in prison.

During this show TLC’s producers and cameramen followed around four different people as they prepared for a large stock piling grocery store trip. While the overall strategy used by each of them is similar—use a grocery game service or sales ad, get as many coupons as you possibly can per sale product, and buy as much as you possibly can—each of these people had their own bizarre habits. One woman procured extra coupons by dumpster diving, two of the people purchased mass quantities of coupons off of the internet, and two of the people had dedicated several rooms of their home just to stock their food and toiletries (complete with wall-to-wall warehouse metal shelves). I watched most of it with my mouth open in shock.

This show was part documentary, and so each of the people and their families discussed the why and how behind their syndrome (I am purposefully using the word syndrome). Each gave a story centered around the same theme: fear. Whether the person had gone through a time of no money and little food, a period of unemployment and instability, or was overly concerned for the future, every person acted in this extreme way due to the fears they held about money and food security. Extreme behavior is often a result of some deep (or not so deep) feeling that compels a person to act a certain way or do a certain thing—even extreme couponing. In fact, I have realized through my own self-analysis that I tend to approach money from a position of fear: fear that it will not continue to come to me. Each month that I am paid, each article that I sell, each tax return I receive, could be my last. Because of this, I could identify with the people on this show…except that I have evolved a ton and enjoy my frugal lifestyle. The people on this show do not seem to have evolved, and while many referred to the game aspect of getting free items, I suspect the fun went out of the game long ago.

I have written before about how frugal people can also be plagued by overconsumption, though frugal and overconsumption may seem like an oxymoron. These people coupon very effectively and to such a large scale and seem to have no “off” button. What is enough for them? How many boxes of cereal do they need to feel secure: 20, 100, 1000? Because they have no inner filter, they overconsume like crazy. In fact, there was only one woman on this show that was not heavily overweight.

Here’s a final thought: one of the couples mentioned that they were $20,000 in debt, and that their couponing was allowing them to pay down their debt more quickly. Couponing and shopping sales will definitely help you to pay down debt more quickly, so long as you bank the savings. But they should think a little bit outside of the box, or even see what is right in front of them. The couple was $20,000 in debt but had shelves upon shelves of a total of 10,000 products they had scored for close to free. For a two-person household (heck, for an 8 person household), most of those products would likely expire before they can use them. They should use the products to pay off their debt by either donating the products for a tax deduction that can go towards debt repayment, or by opening up their garage like a shop and offering their 10,000 products at a severe discount. If they sold each piece for $2 each, they could pay off their debt tomorrow.

Did anyone else catch this show? What were your thoughts?

Other Articles You May Enjoy:

The Anatomy of a Coupon
Saving Money for the Person Who Doesn’t Have Time for Coupons

Featured in the Festival of Frugality blog carnival.

18 comments… add one

  • Diana B

    Yes, I watched the show and loved it. The first woman was too extreme for my taste but the final three people were interesting and “relate-able”. I have dumpster dived in my affluent community for MANY extra inserts so that didn’t turn me off. And I liked how the last guy donated hundreds of boxes of cereal to his church’s food bank.
    I agree with you that the one woman with debt should sell of a lot of her stockpile. I don’t have nearly as big of a stockpile as her and sometimes I have food that expires. Every fall and spring I hold a yard sale to sell off my excess hygiene items and make about $400 per year doing so.
    I heard TLC will be making this show into a 12 part series–have you heard anything about that? I’d like to watch it!

    • Hi Diana!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hadn’t heard of a 12-part series, but I will certainly watch it:).

      I could see myself recycle-bin diving:).

  • I recorded it after hearing the buzz on Twitter. I only watched the first segment, and have been meaning to watch the rest but just can’t get myself to do it.

    It is pretty crazy, and like Hoarders, has a way of making one feel better about oneself. If they sold their stock piles for profit, then it would make a little more sense. How many bottles of mouthwash can a person need? Definitely not 50, in my opinion.
    Lindy Mint recently posted..Tips From The Time I Survived a Diet

    • Hi Lindy!

      Thank you for your comment. You are dead-on: I was reminded of Hoarders (another show I periodically watch).

    • Keline Williams

      That show makes me mad, if only because some of them cheat the system (which is why some stores like Target are now coupon nazis) and the featured stores commonly let them get away with stuff because they’re on TV. So the average consumer could rarely get groceries as cheap as these people do.

      That said, I totally bought 30 (1L) bottles of mouthwash two years ago (I combined a clearance deal, store coupon & manuf. coupon at Target) and I’m still using them. I have a newborn & a 2yr old, so ‘running to the store real quick’ isn’t an option for me – I can’t stand to run out of anything!

      • FruGal

        Way to go on the mouthwash! I can only imagine how difficult it would be to take an infant to the store…much less on an extreme trip:).

        You are right, they have let illegal couponing slide on that show before (it was caught on tape), and yes, it has hurt the rest of us.

  • Sandra

    The sad part was that a couple of the people featured were overweight. So scoring all that food for little to nothing wasn’t really a benefit for them.

    I use coupons whenever possible but I don’t obsess over couponing. They let their fear take over their lives.

    • FruGal

      I noticed that their overconsumption really lead to physical overconsumption as well (for most of them). Thanks for your thoughts!

      • Diana B

        I’m not sure I agree with that statement. I don’t think because they like to stockpile a lot of free and cheap food that they became overweight. There are many different underlying causes for overeating and not exercising such as low self esteem and depression.
        A better correlation might be between being in debt and being overweight…

        • Hello Diana!

          I think overconsumption of anything –clothes, food, money, etc.–can lead to other areas in your life where you overconsume. It’s the behavior itself. Like you are saying, there are underlying issues that can manifest themselves into other areas of our lives.

  • I watched this show and agree with your conclusions. I wrote about it here, if you are interested in reading my take on it: http://www.momsplans.com/2010/12/i-watched-extreme-couponing-last-night/
    Melissa recently posted..Frugal Party Favors

    • FruGal

      Hi Melissa! I’ll check out your article–thanks:).

  • I watched, too, and was surprised with how TLC chose to edit it. Having read the blogs and websites of several participants, they were not paid to appear, they ALL donated the excesses from their huge shopping trips, which were specially set up for the camera crew, and the last guy pre-ordered the items he was shown buying, which he donated. He didn’t donate just the cereal, although that’s what was shown on the show.

    I’ve also been a regular reader of the site WeUseCoupons.com, run by the last guy on the series, and a number of the stockpilers do have huge stockpile sales and make thousands of dollars by setting up a room or garage this way. I can’t speak for all of them, but I know the last guy does this and makes extra income from it.

    I felt like TLC had a narrative they wanted to portray and spun the stories to fit the narrative, leaving out explanations that would make the individuals come off as less crazy. It seems like the sensationalism sells (obviously) while the idea could have been taught in a more productive and reasonable way for people to save money and make the most of their resources. Instead, it had to be “Extreme!”

    • FruGal

      Hello Penny!

      Thank you for looking into it and commenting. With the added information, I think you are right –TLC was looking to make them all look crazy. On the other hand, I still think these people were quite extreme; even if the cameramen had asked them to do so for this show, they all still had humongous stockpiles from previous shopping expeditions.

      Thank you for your thoughts and information!

  • I didn’t see the show but can get the gist. I rather clip a few coupons a week that I will actually use and spend the rest of my time growing my blogs, lol. I wish them all the best though and now wonder if I should mail some of them my leftover coupon inserts…

  • This was less about couponing and more about OCD. Some of these people went beyond normal for their need to save and stockpile. Listen people, if there is a flood you won’t be able to eat half that stuff anyway. Also, dumpster diving for coupons? Oh no ma’am. Not happening. Although, I must say that I do follow the krazycouponlady on twitter and she as on the show.

    Plus, where do they shop? My stores have strict limits on how many coupons you can use. I need to move.
    Sandy @ yesiamcheap recently posted..Waxing- Screaming and the Bucket List

  • The Ghost of Jeff Lynne


    I have started couponing more lately. With the economy continuing to flounder and my wife’s job future being uncertain we’re looking at more ways to save.

    I tuned into the EXTREEEEEEEME COUPON show about a month ago. I had no problem with the lady who used couponing to support her mother and daughter, or the man who used coupons to gather items to donate to charity. That was a nice show. I saw one the other night that, however that made me think, “There’s something wrong here!”

    The woman spending ten bucks a week to feed her family seemed pretty smart until I looked at them and what they bought. The woman had coupons for junk like Vitamin Water (we used to call that stuff Kool-Aid; it was just cheaper and not bottled then) and prepackaged noodle dinners. Her family did not look at all healthy.

    A lot of coupons I see in the Sunday Chronicle are for items I’d never buy and would never want. Junk food! You know what I’d like to see? Coupons for fruit and vegetables as well (and not coated in cheese and chocolate). I’m not saying junk food coupons need to go away, I just want to see coupons for food someone like me would eat (I’m a heart patient).

    I have joined Coupon Mom and am using your system for couponing. I expect to see some additional savings over the next twelve weeks, just not what these extreeeeeeme folks are doing. Yes, some of those folks ARE hoarders (using the whopping 6 hours of Psych classes I had in college 30 years ago as my diagnosis tool).

    When I see some of these people talking on and on about their “stockpile” and “building their stockpile” I wonder if they’re expecting the end of the world?

    • FruGal

      Hello! It’s great to hear from you. I am sorry about the uncertain future of your wife’s job, and glad you guys are being proactive.

      That show puts a terrible face on couponing, especially what you pointed out–people think that coupons are only for junk food. My husband and I eat very well (we don’t particularly like processed foods, and even moreso, we love to cook things from scratch) and we can make use of coupons. We probably save $20-$30 per shopping trip (and only grocery shop every other week, another great way to save money).

      Thanks for your thoughts, and good luck saving money! Let me know if you have any questions. You might want to check out the drugstore game–we pay hardly anything for toiletries (and do it all legally).

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