Extreme Couponing: Do You Really Save or is it a Waste of Time?

Extreme couponing has become quite the craze and there’s no denying there can be significant savings to be had; but at what cost?

This sounds like an oxymoron – but depending on the circumstances, couponing can come with a hefty price tag.  There are some great deals to be had out there and there is no debate that coupons can save you a bit of money but let’s closely examination this activity.

Can You Really Save With Extreme Couponing?

Is Extreme Couponing Worth It?

Couponing has evolved over the past thirty years.

It used to be that cutting out coupons that appeared in the local paper or the weekly flyers was the craze.  Back in the 80’s those on a tight budget saving $2 or $3 on the weekly grocery bill was the equivalent of buying about 3 loaves of bread and milk.

As the years went by envelopes appeared in mailboxes by companies who put together coupons and deals for stores and manufacturers, and some of these are still around today.  Stores started printing coupons on the back of their receipts (CATS) and some companies will send out a coupon if a customer emails them to compliment them on an item (or complain).

When the Internet came along, couponing became a way of life for many people.

There are no shortages of websites out there that cater to those who coupon and in some cases there is “extreme couponing.”  For those who dedicate time to research and collect coupons a lot of money can be saved.

The drawback to this is that this is time taken away from another activity in order to search for a deal; in some cases, this is quality time taken away from the family.

There is also a monetary loss to couponing.

In order to get coupons off the Internet it requires a printer, paper and ink cartridges.  If the coupons are for deals that are at several stores, then the wear and tear of the vehicle comes into this equation as well as the high price of fuel.

For those out to save a few dollars, they may end up losing money in the process.

You also have an opportunity cost of time.

Opportunity cost is basically the next best thing you could be doing instead of what you chose.  The way I see it, rather than spend so much time seeking out the best coupons, you could be working on building a side business of your own or even working part time at a local retailer.

Extreme couponing focuses on lowering your grocery bill while instead, a person could use their time to increase their income.

And then there’s clutter.

shopping_cartA great deal isn’t so great if it takes up valuable space in your house or apartment.  I don’t see the point in 50 boxes of mac & cheese if it creates visual clutter (which is a form of stress).  Of course this is an extreme example, but we’re talking about extreme couponing.

When TLC aired “Extreme Couponing,” a reality TV show, some Americans watched hoping to learn a trick or two about how to coupon their way to saving money.  What many people realized is that living a “coupon lifestyle” can be an obsession that creates stress.  This show provides tips and ideas on how to save a couple of dollars here and there and this can have some advantages; however living life to the far end of the spectrum like some people on this show is taking a good thing too far.

The extreme coupon lifestyle requires countless hours of coupon clipping and research on the computer which can be laborious; and when saving money becomes that much of a chore then getting a part time job will put more money in the pocket than the savings to be had from couponing.

In the wake of this TV show came countless blogs and forums questioning the validity of what TLC aired.

Many bloggers are making accusations that fraud may be rearing its ugly head.  This has also caught the media’s attention.   In “Discounting coupon rules might get you in trouble, ” The Chicago Tribune writes, “The controversy has raised awareness that manufacturers don’t see coupon use as an “anything goes” game.  The show has caught manufacturers’ and stores’ attention, and it could lead to policy changes.”  In this news story, TLC spokesman, Dustin Smith stated that they are looking into the allegations of fraud.  In regards to this show Smith stated, “It’s not an instructional or how-to program.”

I’m not against coupons.

I’ll use what I can to save a few bucks here and there.  I’ll look through my mail and save what I think may be useful.  But in general, I find that putting too much time into looking for great coupon deals isn’t worth it to me.  My time is better spent elsewhere.

I also found that when I was more into using coupons, I would be stressed out keeping track of the coupons.  We had an accordion file that we used to keep track of coupons.  We’d keep it in the car so we’d always have it when we drove to the store.  As useful as the coupons were at times it was also a pain to track, especially with the kids in tow.  I don’t need more stress in my life.

Saving is good, but if it costs you more than the actual savings then it’s no longer worth it!

This all falls back to an old saying that if something is too good to be true – then it generally is.

Saving money via extreme couponing is exhaustive, time consuming and can be very stressful.  Having a part time job two or three hours a week will put more money in your pocket and more free time to spend with the family, friends or having fun with hobbies.  It seems common sense to choose the easier way to put cash in your pocket than to take an extreme route that holds no guarantees.

What do you think of the latest “extreme couponing” craze?

Take a look at the Money Mastermind Show episode about couponing.  In the show you’ll hear about reasonable ways to use coupons and look at your shopping that will save you money.

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Published or updated August 15, 2014.


  1. Matt (with The Online Budget) says:

    Having tried just “mild” couponing (vs. the “extreme” variety) – it became apparent pretty quickly to me that spending more than just a few minutes per week on the activity isn’t worthwhile. Couponing isn’t as fun as the other pursuits, there are limits to your “income” (or money saved) from couponing, it’s a hassle, and it’s more efficient to stick with one grocery store, for us. That store, by the way, doesn’t use its own coupons – it has “couponless” specials – though it does accept manufacturer coupons. The danger of buying products one doesn’t need or use is also prevelant – you buy an item you may not use regularly because it’s a “deal”.

    • We tend to shop at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Costco so we really don’t have opportunity to use coupons there.

      I used to have a small folder I’d keep coupons in. I’d feverishly try to organize the coupons by type and date but it was really a pain. We ended up giving up the folder completely. If we happen to have coupons handy we use them (like if we leave them in the car and remember). Otherwise it is a lot of work for us to keep up on.

  2. optionsdude says:

    Extreme couponing is simply a natural extension of our economic environment with the cable channels following the latest fad to get viewers much like all the real estate and property flipping shows that aired during the real estate bubble.

    • Look, any show on TV is about the viewers, market share, and advertising (perhaps not so much PBS). The more fantastic the show is the better it is to get viewers and people talking about it.

      But it can also get more people interested in a subject, trying to replicate something like extreme couponing.

  3. To me, personally, it is nothing short of hoarding under the disguise of saving money. My gosh! Buying 25 tubes of lipstick! And not to mention that most all of what they buy is so unhealthy! Frozen foods and frozen processed meats, quick foods, like pot pies, KoolAid, soda pop, candy! The canned foods with all of that heart stopping sodium! Where are they fresh fruits and vegetables?? You can tell by the body sizes of some of the particpants that they need to eat alot more healthier. I find that having too much food around encourages over eating and in this age of skyrocketing obesity rates, these couponers need to take into account how unhealthy their purchases are. Perhaps they will need the savings to pay for their medical bills. 60 hours a week couponing?? My gosh, that is so silly and insane! Time IS money and that is something that you can not put a dollar amount on.

    • I can’t imagine 60 hours/week couponing. Man, I wish I had 60 hours to work!

      And you are right, a lot of the coupons that are out there is for food I wouldn’t normally eat anyway. No wonder there aren’t many coupons to use at Whole Foods.

      Hoarding food because it was a great deal to me, is a waste. Takes up space and it still costs something, even if it was a great deal.

  4. Rafael @ Reis Financial says:

    Great article and great comments so far. I agree with Matt on the dangers of buying products one usually doesn’t consume just to take advantage of the “deal”. I believe these ‘Extreme Couponers’ pride themselves on being penny wise but they may actually be pound foolish. The amount of time they spend cutting their grocery bills is potentially wasted; especially if their budget is poorly allocated. I wrote a blog warning individuals who wish to pursue this lifestyle to review their monthly cash flow before dedicating all their free time ‘couponing’:


    Cheri brought up a great point regarding the risks of extreme couponing and how it may hinder these individuals’ health. My buddy bought 4 large bags of chips because they were half price (he discovered this past weekend deal flipping through a flier), and he would have never purchased that amount of chips if there wasn’t a deal. Therefore, one could assume an individual is better off financially and physically if they are not going out of their way to find “deals”. I go to the store and buy what I need when I need it; if the store has a deal of the day that is on my grocery list then I will partake. Any additional time allocated to finding coupons is a waste of time in my honest opinion.

    • The lure of the deal is a tough one to resist for many, even when it’s for an item they don’t need. I get big eyes when I go to Costco, salivating over the great deals. But then I remember how many things went to waste when they either weren’t used at all or not consumed before they expired. When I see a good deal I pause to ask myself if I really need it.

      Sometimes having snacks in the house means eating them. If you can grab them you consume them. It’s not everyone but I know I’m susceptible to it. Better for me to not have 19 pints of ice cream in the house because they were on sale (3 or 4 maybe).

      • Rafael @ Reis Financial says:

        Funny that you mention Costco, that is the only store that I have coupons physically handed to me as I walk in. Therefore, I am likely to look at what is on special, but there are never any good deals that line up with my shopping list.

        • Hmm, I haven’t seen that yet, new member, but they used to have that at the door of BJ’s. I’d definitely grab what was there and glance through them and I’d welcome any coupon books that were sent in the mail, but that was the extent of my coupon research there.

  5. Not worth it. When it controls your lifestyle, and makes you consume more than necessary, you have lost the point. Save a few bucks here and there, sure, But a draw the line at dumpster diving with my kids and neighbors for coupons.

    • Dumpster diving for coupons…yes, I’d say that’s too much!

      • Oh, I’ve seen the dumpster divers in my city. My last trip to the city self-service recycling center (basically a bunch of dumpsters lined up) almost gave me a heart attack when I slid open the newspaper bin door to find 3 women inside with their children. I very nearly dumped a heavy bin of papers on a 3-year-old.

        On another occasion I saw a woman leave her kids in a hot, unlocked minivan for over 45 minutes while she rooted around the dumpster for “deals”. I was about to call the police when an off-duty officer kicked her out of the dumpster and lectured her about the dangers of leaving children in a hot car.

        In my opinion, extreme couponing is nothing more than hoarding.

  6. The show does a few things that can’t be done here in Canada, and likely will be soon prohibited in the USA. Most coupons or other savings tools in Canada say very expressly that they cannot be combined with any other offer. So if you have a coupon for 25% off, that’s all you get. You can’t buy $230 of groceries for $9.32.

    Better than clipping coupons and creating a whole filing system for them if to keep track of what the major specials are in the grocery flyers. Turkeys at $1/pound? You bet I’ll buy a couple. Salsa at $1.50 off. Sure, I’ll buy 6-8 jars instead of just 2. If I can save $500/year on groceries (Around $750 of before tax income?), it’s worth being a little organized. If I can save an additional $250 by getting all stressed out about coupons – not so much.

    • Yes, organize and plan your meals and if you can find some great savings then take advantage of it. There definitely are ways you can save on your groceries.

      But the stress of looking to reduce your grocery bill to near zero and keep up with organizing coupons? Not worth it in my book.

  7. Hi There Glen,
    Well it’s nice to hear from someone who isn’t gushing about extreme couponing! I love that you included opportunity cost (Economics major in college). So many people just think about the money they’re saving, but what about the time they’re losing? I like your idea about growing a side business instead. I suppose you could say that’s what I’m doing instead of clipping coupons! I’m helping to create something that could offer future passive income, rather than focusing on today’s savings. Great article!
    Humbly Yours,
    The Mayor

    • Uh-oh, I guess the economics major in me snuck out with that one!

      Saving is great, but it’s limited. Building a business, on the other hand, can potentially have no bounds.

      • Well you might have considered about making a business on the side, It could almost as devastating as couponing. You’re better gambling with coupons then with your credit on the line.

        Take a Loan for a business then have it flop can surely cause more damage in my opinion that just couponing and often sometimes these people that do the couponing are a stay at home mother. I assume that there is nothing else to do to fill their time. I wouldn’t mind doing it seeing as I have online classes and would rather save some money being on a college student budget. I would prefer to Free up money for other necessities.

        • Taking out money to fund a business is a risk, especially if you don’t have a solid plan to earn revenue. But not all small businesses require a loan. With the internet there are many ways you can provide services that don’t cost you more than your time, computer, and internet connection.

        • I have how just because they are a stay at home mom that they have nothing else to do to fill their time…really get a life.

  8. Hi Glen,

    I agree with the Mayor, it’s nice to see someone who’s willing to say there’s more efficient ways to allocate your time than “extreme couponing.” I don’t have cable, so I’ve never seen the show in its entirety, but I did manage to see a short clip from Extreme Couponing on Youtube. One woman took a full day off of work, spent 6 hours browsing through the store, came home (having not bought anything), and then spent hours researching coupons. I’m sorry, that seems like way too much effort to buy absurd quantities of things I don’t need.

    Thanks for the read,

    • Can you imagine taking a day off of work, and if I had to guess the woman probably doesn’t get that many days, and then not do anything productive?!?

      To me a day off either means I’m taking care of a bunch of things I couldn’t otherwise do, like doctor appointments, oil changes, etc…, OR I’m trying to do something cool with the family.

      If you can turn the coupon thing around and make something of it then go ahead (maybe a frugal consultant), but otherwise time is precious and we have to do out best not to waste it.

  9. I tend to agree with your point of view on this. There seem to be much better ways to generate more money for oneself or family – such as putting time into a career or even extra job. People who have bought enough toothpaste to last 5 years seem to be directing their energies in a suboptimal way….but if it makes them happy, to each his or her own!

  10. I save about $100-$120 month by using coupons I buy from thecouponclippers.com and buying what is on sale in the sale flier at my local grocery. Then for every $100 I spend I get 10 cents off per gallon of gas at their gas station, which is usually between 20 cents and 30 cents by the time the month is out.

    I don’t have the time or patients for “extreme” couponing, but taking a few minutes once or twice a month to order coupons for items I regularly use, and shopping the sale fliers to plan my meals is certainly worth the extra $100-$120 a month to me.

    • Taking some time to organize your shopping is fine. It’s when it becomes an obsession that I think it’s problematic.

      Now did I read that correctly? You buy coupons?

      • Yeah, they cost around 10-20 cents each, usually they are $.50-$2.00 off, so I make my money back and then can usually get another $10-$20 off my groceries each month with them.

        • That is interesting. I can see someone buying them but what kind of volume has to be sold to make it worth while for the seller?

          • Well they require you buy a $4 minimum of coupons. They list expiration dates so if it’s a coupon that doesn’t expire for a few months I will get a couple of them if it’s something I buy regularly. Problem is I don’t always have enough coupons I can buy to use the service. They ship via a regular envelop so it only costs them 40-some cents to send out and whatever help they have clipping/organizing coupons.

            I’m not sure how they get the coupons exactly, but I imagine they are involved in some sort of clipping network. Saves me a lot of hassle trying to go around looking for coupons if I can just click and pay via paypal to have them mailed to me in about 2-3 days.

  11. Suzanne says:

    We shop almost exclusively (for food items) at Whole Foods. They do have specials every week and we take advantage of those. There are also coupons available for the things we buy at WFM. On my last shopping trip to WFM I saved just a little over $50.00 by combining coupons with specials. We also use their case lot discount of 10%. There is a Trader Joes across the street from our WFM so we don’t need to use any more gas to go to both stores. For non-food items we scour the sales flyers of close local stores and buy whenever we can get an item for less than 50%. I’m retired so I have more time than those who work outside the home but still only need about 90 minutes, at most, per week to organize my shopping, clip and file coupons, etc.
    The point about the cost of printing internet coupons is valid. Paper and ink is costly so buying them at discount is important.
    I too noticed that the “food” being purchased by extreme couponers is largely unhealthy, processed, junk food. In my house we call these items POISON. You couldn’t pay me to carry them out of the store.

    • There are some ways to save at Whole Foods, like making sure you check their flyer when you enter (though one time a cashier was awesome and found the coupons for us!). But Whole Foods, and more so Trader Joe’s, doesn’t offer the extreme cases for couponing that other supermarkets and super stores offer.

      But I’d much rather shop at WFM or TJ because the food itself, and the service, is better. In many cases you get what you pay for.

      An hour and a half to save money when you have the time to do it is perfectly reasonable.

  12. As with anything, there’s this graph in my head (I know, strange) where the first hour/week can get you a high return, like the eBay purchase of 10% off Lowe’s coupons, then used at Home Depot to save $80 on the grill we wanted. The $1 off coupons for staples (toothpaste, TP, etc) and other things you need. But the next hours’ return diminishes to the point you’re just wasting your time. If you look at the curve, you just need to stop where the next time unit’s return is less than what makes you happy.
    The hoarding/clutter issue has its own place. If the kids eat the Mac every day (I hope not) for some, 50 boxes = 25 Mac days, which isn’t too crazy. I have the closet space to store 6months of TP, and when it’s half price and less with coupons, I’ll use that space. A 100% tax free return over a 6 month period can’t be beat, and these things aren’t cheap.

    • Yes, if you have the space and you will really use the item and you’ll save then go for it.

      But here’s the thing, isn’t there something wrong in eating that much Mac & Cheese? A lot of the coupon items are for food that’s really not that great for you in the first place.

      I think any time you are making a big purchase then it’s worth spending a little time doing research, on both the best item to get and the best price. I like your “graph.” I’d think for most people this is the case (I think it is for me).

  13. My husband got into this couponing after watching a show and sometimes he gets annoying but it really can save you money and we get free samples all the time as well. I won’t use coupons for stuff I know I will never use though because if your not going to use it who cares if it was only 30 cents its still just going to sit there.

    • Seems like the smaller coupons, under $1, are a lot harder to justify using.

      Sounds like you are saving money but your husband is close to crossing a line? Do you think the savings so far have been worth the time and effort? Just curious. Thanks.

  14. I think a study should be done doing a direct comparison with a person (or persons) who is using the extreme coupon method and a person (or persons) who is shopping “normally” and catching deals where they can, buying what they need vs what’s on sale, purchasing one newpaper vs 10, 20 or more to get more coupons…buying 1 or 2 boxes of mac and cheese vs 10…Yes, people say they bought 200.00 worth of items for $2.00-3.00, but how much did they spend to “earn” that deal? Maybe moderation is the key here. No coupons = minimal to no savings, some coupons/deals = savings. Extreme couponing lifestyle (and yes I believe it is a lifestyle) = putting a whole lot of $$$ in before you see the potential…POTENTIAL “benefits” (in quotes). Question is, are they really benefits if it has cost you so much to get there? Wouldn’t it cost less to buy only one tube of toothpaste than to buy 10 papers, then 16 loaves of bread, then ten 50-pound bags of dog food just so they will give you 3 “free” tubes of toothpaste? I’m just sayin. Maybe I just don’t get it…but…I just don’t get it lol. Happy couponing!

    • You might actually get it. Coupons don’t fall from the sky. And there is also the cost of time and space – you have to pull the coupons and clip them and research where to use them. Then you have to store all this extra stuff you accumulate. You’re right, moderation is the key.

    • Jennifer says:

      Actually, if you decide not to stockpile you can still save about 50% of your grocery bill couponing. I don’t have an extreme coupon stockpile like on TV. Remember, Extreme couponing is a SHOW. Most of the coupons they use on the show don’t exist! Many have been busted for coupon fraud. A good couponer can save anywhere from 40% to 80% of there grocery bill. That’s on items you buy every week like milk, bread, meat, veggies, toilet paper, toothpaste. I don’t buy junk food garbage like on the show either. You can find great deals and use coupons for healthy foods, whole grains, salads, chicken, beef, smart balance milk, butter, low fat and low sodium foods. I shop at Publix here in Georgia. This is an upscale market. I would never shop there without coupons. Publix offers store coupons and you can combine them with manufacture coupons. Use them with a BOGO sale and your paying $0.50 for an item!! 🙂

  15. I think I’d like to see the difference of output minus money “saved/earned.” Keep a chart of all the money spent to get the savings (e.g., purchasing 15 weekend papers, purchasing 50 deoderants to earn 1 free bar of soap…also subract back out all the products that don’t get used or expire…you get the idea). My neighbor has just begun this extreme couponing thing, and it doesn’t even sound right. She says the key to saving is to buy items that are on sale, NOT items that you need. So if she buys the shampoo that she doesn’t need, she’ll save save a fraction of the purchase price. My response to this is if you don’t buy the shampoo that you don’t need, you’ll save 100% of the purchase price. She can’t grasp that…much like I can’t buy that philosophy (pun intended). 🙂

    • It’s like, if a Porsche dealership is pushing out last year’s model, then getting last year’s 911 must be a good deal to take advantage of, right? It will only put you in debt but it’s a good sale.

      That’s an “extreme” example but I think we get sucked into the need to take advantage of a good deal else we miss out. But like you say, we save 100% of the price by not buying.

      • If an item I regularly use is on sale at a rock bottom price but I don’t need it at that moment, I still buy it and put it up for when I do need it. It saves me from having to pay full price and I have the item when I DO need it. If an item is on sale and I can get it for free with coupons I still buy it. Then I donate it to local food banks and I am able to take a deduction on my taxes for the donation. Like I said in a previous response Glen, there are a lot of factors your article did not take into account and you only give an extremely limited and one sided view on the entire subject of couponing. It’s a mute point though because the people “for” and “against” couponing are highly divided and the mindset will not change for either camp.

        • I agree with Tracy. Glen, some people got out of financial hardship by couponing and you don’t mention that anywhere; therefore, making this article very one-sided. A lot of them are parents who need to put food on the table for their kids. The way I see it is that it’s not about being selfish but more about survival of their families. Like someone said earlier, couponing is not just for junk food, it can also be used towards healthier food. Some people may wonder why anyone would buy so much of one thing. But on the show several of them donate their excess goods to local food banks and ship care packages to our troops. So not only are they benefiting themselves but other people who are in need benefit as well.

          • Both you and Tracy make some good points. As I’ve said I’m not against couponing per se, it’s this tunnel vision you see with some extreme couponers. Of course coupons can help you save money and for many people it’s a necessary way to help keep food on the table. But I think there are people out there that get lost in the chase for their good deal and they could find better uses for their time.

            • It’s been a bit since I’ve posted but you make an extremely valid point as well Glen. I suppose it is like everything else in life … “all in moderation”! As for me, couponing financially saved my family and was/is a necessity. I was diagnosed with cancer and after a radical surgery I was left unable to work and unable to contribute to my family’s bottom line. Since first visiting your site and making my initial comments, I took your advice and parlayed the time and skills I was already using to coupon for my family into starting my own business teaching people how to coupon, where to coupon, when to coupon and I present many deals (grocery and retail) throughout the day that my “customers” can take advantage of. I consistently post coupons for fruits, vegetables and organic meats and I plan on expanding that aspect of my business. Even though I’ve only been at it for a short time, I am already making what I would make at a part time job. I’m able to concentrate on recovering my health AND help my family financially both through my new business venture and through the deals that I find, not to mention the boost in self esteem I’ve gained by being productive and witty. I owe you a “thank you” for giving me the idea and the confidence to capitalize on what I was already doing. With that being said, I have met a lot of nasty “couponing” women and women that definitely get lost is the chase of the deal. I teach my blog followers moderation. You also might be interested in a little “study” I did regarding the post of printing coupons: http://theclassycouponer.com/HP_Printer_Blog.html
              Excuse the mess as I am in transition from going from The Classy Couponer website to Great Deal Divas website. I figured I better change the name and go through all the difficulty now while I’m small in order to save myself a HUGE headache later!

  16. Yeah…lol…or maybe even more specifically…buying a Porsche to get the free can of motor oil.

    Extreme Couponer: “I got a free can of motor oil and all I had to do was buy this Porsche!”

    Extreme Couponer didn’t need the car but they wanted the “bargain” so they bought the car to earn the free motor oil.

    Just seems to me like they’d save even more by spending the 1.95 on motor oil rather than going around the merry-go-round to the tune of 100,000 for a “free” can.

    • Funny, I heard a car ad on the radio where they are giving a free iPad with a new card purchase. I wonder how many go for that car to get the iPad, not thinking about what that iPad is probably costing them in the car?

  17. Please please please all of you complaining about how horrid couponers are. Keep doing it! To many people are doing it and making it hard for the rest of us who like to coupon! BTW we cook home made from scratch food 6 nights a week. We have enough self control not to hoard and as a stay at home mom while my husband works way to many hours than we like to care for his family, my not having to pay for bathroom supplies, cereal, pasta, or dish soap makes it much easier to afford the fresh fruits and veggies and meats that seem to be so much more expensive than trash food. Please continue to blame obesity or hoarding on couponing and ignore the real mental issues behind these problems because we all know that is how we fix things in America!

    • Carri, I know there;s a lot of negativity towards extreme couponing, as well as a lot of positives, but I certainly don’t think ALL couponers are like that. But there are some that are and that’s what we see on TV. And because people are doing it on TV other people see it and think they could be doing it as well.

      That you are able to use your coupons to be able to afford fresh fruits and vegetables — awesome! And it’s great that it helps you stretch your budget further.

      What is interesting is because of what’s seen on TV, companies and stores are changing their policies towards coupons. Seems it would be better if we didn’t see extreme couponing on TV.

  18. Glen,

    I don’t know how I happened to stumble upon this post, but I must say how thoroughly impressed I am with your comments. I very RARELY bother to read lengthy posts, but this one caught my eye. Mainly, and (sadly), truthfully, because it was an eye opener for me. I recently started couponing in October 2011. If it means anything to anyone, I would like to share with you my personal experience with couponing. I do not mean to influence or bring down couponing— rather give my honest opinion. My husband and I have 3 little kids under the age of 4 and have quickly realized that our budget is becoming veeerrry tight. I began researching online how to coupon after watching TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” in October. I was impressed to see how much money it could save people, however, I never would do it to their extreme. And I’ve made sure to stick to that. I have NEVER purchased an item I have not needed since I began couponing. For one, I simply do not have the money to waste on unneeded items. Second, I wouldn’t buy and store an unneeded item even if I had the money to do it!

    But I wouldn’t have continued couponing into November, December, soon to be going on January 2012 had I not FIRST done plenty of research and most of all— calculated my actual savings right at the start. I used an excel program to actually calculate and compare my spending with coupons vs no coupons according to my monthly budget on things I would normally buy that month anyways. I did one for food items, and one for nonfood items. Although it took a loooong time after each purchase to enter it in, it really gave me an idea if the whole “couponing” thing was worth it. Once I tracked about a month’s worth of spending, I was convinced couponing was worth it.

    I feel my perspective as far as spending goes has been completely transformed. Just about four months ago I saw an old woman in front of me with a file full of coupons shuffling through them for a mere $0.25 off this or $1 off that and I thought, “Oh my gosh how petty and ridiculous!” I was even irritated with her to be waiting in line behind her for so long. I thought, “Does she realize how silly looks to all of us while she’s holding up a line trying to find a $0.25 off coupon?” I know, I know, that’s rude of me. But that’s how I felt. I mean, all of my life I had never clipped a coupon unless it was for at least $10 off an item or more. I just didn’t see the sense in wasting time to cut out a little coupon like that. But see, that is partly the “perspective” I am referring to when I say that my perspective has been changed. It’s less about what coupon you use (because like mentioned many of them are for unhealthy items anyway) but it’s much more about WHEN you use the coupon you WILL use and HOW you use it. I know, I am getting really lengthy now– but let me just say that it’s hard for me to think any other way with spending now. It’s hard for me to just run into the store for 5 minutes and pick up an item at full price, even if I know I’m in a hurry.

    But see, that’s kind of the problem with couponing. I love that I know how to get paid to bring home a large tube of toothpaste or get $5 knocked of each steak, but I am beginning to wonder if it is worth the stress of it all. There are times that couponing can be VERY exciting and rewarding, however, there are other times that I honestly wish I could have what I have learned about couponing erased from memory, revert back to my old spending habits and spend like any other (most) normal people do. But it’s difficult for me to stop now that I’ve learned it and see the value in it. And that is where the stress of couponing comes in. The constant, almost routine pushing and pushing yourself to find deals because you know how much money it will save you but at the same time beginning to get tired (literally) of putting the energy into it and loosing valuable time with family as a result.

    I probably sound crazy. But anyone who’s couponed before would be lying if they say they do not spend a lot of time with it! It’s basically like a part-time job. Couponing takes work, literally. Be prepared for that. If any of you want to begin doing it, you might want to consider what Glen said about finding a job instead. And that’s coming from a NON-extremist couponer like myself!

    • I used to clip coupons and use them whenever I could, especially in those days when we were buying stuff like baby food.

      But it was always kind of a pain for me.

      I still love getting a great deal and at times find it hard to give up a great deal, thank you Costco, but to spend so much time finding coupons — for me it’s not worth the time.

      But I understand that it works for some people. For me, my time can be better used for my online publishing. Heck, I’d rather shop online so I don’t have to go through the trouble of packing the kids in the car and running out with them.

      What’s the end goal and what is the opportunity cost (what you could be doing instead) of couponing? This is something everyone should consider. If it truly works for you — awesome. But I suspect there are a lot of people who could be finding better things to do with their time.

      Thanks for leaving your perspective. Really appreciate it!

    • I completely understand. But you can’t let couponing ruin that for you. There are times I run into the store without my coupons. That happens. No big deal. My big grocery trip is planned and I still save a ton of money each month and that’s what counts. I LOVE to coupon and wish I did it when my son was a baby. The formula deals and diaper deals could have saved me so much more money. Couponing is just a way to help your family save a little extra each month. The thrill of that great deal is awesome! But I don’t do that each week. Sometime I only save 40%. That’s still way better then I did before! Couponing is only stressful if you make it stressful.

  19. I had to post my opinion on the subject. I’m a couponer, not extreme but I do have a stockpile and I’m able to save around $360.00 to $400.00 per month couponing. My husband lost a lot of income last year and buying generic products and not using coupons found myself with a $170.00 grocery bill for a small shopping trip to feed 5 people. I researched and found out HOW to coupon. When is the right time to use coupon to get the BEST savings. It does take some work and you need to be organized but it’s well worth the time and effort. Yes, it’s like a part-time job but the money I save is equal to me getting a part-time job. Best thing, I’m at home with my family while I cut my coupons. Not working outside the home. I also have a full time job and I have a 2 year old son. I make time to coupon. It only takes me a few hours a week if you are organized well. Building a stock pile is not hoarding. That saves you money. If you buy say 10 packages of toilet paper for $.50. You don’t have to buy toilet paper for several months. You can knock that off your list. You knock toothpaste, shampoo, cleaners, soup, cereal, mustard, ketchup, etc. Pretty soon your grocery list will only have a few items for you to buy each week. I spend now $50.00 to $80.00 per week for 5 people a dog and a cat. Before I spent $170.00 to $200.00 per week!

    • I think to add to your conversation, you have a website about couponing, so you make the time you put into it a possible side-income as well. Researching coupons can be as much about savings as it is about creating content for you site.

      I think if you can justify your time well then it’s not a waste. But you have to be able to honestly justify the time and effort that’s put into the coupons.

      • Jennifer says:

        As of now, I currently do no make any money off my blog. I work full-time so I can’t put as much content into my blog as say a stay at home mom who coupons and runs a blog. I try to find the best deals I can and link other couponers to the same sites I use to find deals. If you want to coupon match grocery lists off of ads like Kroger, yes that does take several hours to do. BUT to cut my couponing time, I go to other blogging sites who do the work for you. You just pull the coupons. My blog is for the working moms and dads, it teaches them how to coupon. My time couponing is WELL worth the effort the money we save. I’m able to pay off credit card bills and go on a nice vacation with my husband this year. We did this by couponing AND following a very tight budget. If I didn’t coupon and save $400.00 per month..we would still be in debt and struggling.

        • Jennifer says:

          Oh, to add about my blog. I created my blog 1 year after I started couponing. It’s very new blog. I wanted to teach friends and family how to coupon like me. Couponing saved me so much money per month I wanted to help other people. 🙂

  20. I agree Jennifer….I do as you do.

    We are a family of 6…4 kids. We are also a military family and I stay at home so we are on a very tight budget.

    I understand what a lot of you are saying but for us, we don’t make the kind of money where we can only eat organic or only on the outside edges of the grocery store. Does anybody ever ask or wonder if processed foods are so bad, why do they make them so affordable? And why are the good for you foods so expensive and why isn’t there coupons for healthy food?

    It seems like the poor are at the mercy of these rich manufacturers….it makes me sad. When I have to feed so many, I hate to say its cheaper for me to feed them mac and cheese vs. fresh fish. So therefore sometimes we are at the mercy of coupons and processed foods.

    I do plan on starting a garden and since I stay at home, I don’t look at couponing as taking away time, I feel like that is part of my job of staying at home….a way to save us money in return for my husband working hard to make a living for us.

    • “Does anybody ever ask or wonder if processed foods are so bad, why do they make them so affordable?”

      I believe it’s because the bad foods tend to be made with cheaper ingredients that can be mass-produced at low costs. Because they are low-cost they become more in demand which allows manufacturers to use economy of scale to produce even more at lower costs.

      It’s difficult to produce fresh food at the same scale. And because the expense is higher, the demand is lower making it even harder to scale. It’s changing as more people are demanding better foods but we have a long way to go.

      I totally understand though. With a limited budget you have to do what you need to in order to get by.

      • Thanks for explaining Glen! It sucks really that it has to be that way!!! Maybe if we do as you say and make more noise, we can get that all changed!!!!

        • Make noise and use your shopping dollars to talk for you. If you don’t like what a place offers, let them know and don’t spend your money there. When enough consumers make their opinions heard (that is, buying preferences), manufacturers/stores listen.

        • April, in terms of fresh produce, I would check the store circulars to see when they are on sale. Produce is often on sale when it’s in season. For example, whole sweet corn was 3/$1 at my local Kroger this week. They’re big enough that you can even split them in half for the kids. Its easy to find what fruits/veggies are in season online, then check the store. Or go for the frozen kind, which go on sale occasionally. Since they are frozen, you can stock up if you have room.

  21. Broderick says:

    I would have to disagree with the fact that you say getting a job will put more money in your pocket. I coupon, most say that I extreme coupon. I spend no more than 5 hours a week couponing and I have a stockpile of over $3ooo. If I were to work 5 hours a week, I would make about 30-40 dollars. That amount doesn’t even come close to the $2oo my family would spend on groceries each week. Now, I do agree with the fact that extreme couponing (the show) is ridicul0us and fraud. I do not have 500 deodorants in my basement. By the way, did I mention I am 15?

  22. Scott Richardson says:

    I think one thing you didn’t mention was the fact that most of the time, coupons are for processed food and food product, not real food. Sure, I too like to save money on Mac n Cheese, but that’s not what my family eats every night, and I’m glad for that. Couponing is something I did for awhile, but it didn’t make sense. Store brands were always cheaper and we stay away from heavily processed food like the plague.

    • Scott,
      I have to disagree. There are coupons for meat, vegetables, whole grain breads, healthy cereals, low fat dairy and much more. You have to shop smart and find and use your coupons wisely to get the BEST bang for your buck. The whole idea around couponing is to save you money down the road, not just the day you shop. If you stock up on toilet tissue, paper towels, tooth paste, shampoo etc you will not need to get those items for at least another 6 to 8 weeks, when another sale starts on those items. When you do shop you will have a smaller grocery list of items, HEALTHY items you can afford to purchase. You can spend $50.00 on all fresh fruits and veggies because you already have everything else you need at home. You purchase lean meats and chicken at bulk prices. I use Zaycon foods. When I shop I spend only $50.00 to $80.00 per week on fresh fruit, veggies, milk and bread. That’s it! I purchase items I need like whole grain pasta, soups, cereal and occasional junk food when prices are ROCK bottom. ( I have kids)
      I did my research and I gave it a good 6 months of couponing to really see the savings start to rack up!! I will never go back to the way I use to grocery shop again!!

      • I completely agree with your comment Jennifer. Also, the notion that couponing is nothing short of hoarding is ridiculous. I buy things when they are the price that I want to pay for them rather than pay the prices the grocery stores tell me to pay. I make less trips to the grocery store because I always have everything I need, I can replenish my supply at my leisure and I also spend significantly less on “impulse” buys by running to the store if I run out of something. There are just as many coupons for fresh produce, meats and dairy as there are for processed foods and my family eats very healthy. Glen mentioned that he shops at Whole Foods so he doesn’t have an opportunity to use coupons. I do not understand this comment as Whole Foods accepts coupons and they also offer coupons on their web page. When one coupons correctly Costco becomes completely unnecessary. I have not paid for shampoo, conditioner, soap, body washes, toothpaste, razors, paper, pens, laundry soaps, fabric softners, etc. for over a year and everything I buy is name brand. I also find great offense with Glen’s stance that people couponing could make better use of their time by getting a part time job. Some people, such as myself, coupon because they are unable to work ( I fought a year long battle with cancer and won but it left me unable to work at the present time). My family doesn’t want for anything BECAUSE I coupon. I wouldn’t want to be away from my children and my husband even if I could work. My job is at home. According to your bio Glen, you of all people should be able to relate to that considering you are a stay at home dad. There are too many factors regarding couponing that you did not explore and your article is incredibly one sided. It’s unfortunate that you and others did not have a positive couponing experience because I probably save 3 times more than a part time job would ever pay me. Btw, I can tell you with 100% certainty that the couponing show on TLC is just like any other reality show on television … fake (in terms of the way orders are rung up, etc.). It’s clear to anyone that knows about couponing that a lot of rules were broken by the grocery stores for the purpose of entertainment and there was clearn and obvious misuse of coupons. That is something that is not even debatable.

  23. We are glad to see the value of time being discussed. We believe that time spent and money saved should both be considered so neither is wasted. It’s important to keep the opportunity cost in mind as many have pointed out in the comments!

    • Yeah, I watched a few episodes of EC, and I noticed it often said the person spent 20-30 hours a week clipping coupons, and then they spent 7-8 hours in the store! That’s a lot of time. If they got a part-time job, they could probably earn that and more and not have to clip at all.

      • Oh absolutely! But imagine if instead of a part-time job they worked to start their own business. How much more empowering could that be for a person than couponing?

  24. If couponers enjoy the activity of searching for and clipping coupons and finding deals that match up then I say, more power to them. However, there are other strategies to decrease the food budget that have been forgotten and they don’t involve the opportunity cost of working at a job I may hate or searching for coupons.
    I use a price diary to figure the lowest cost per unit of an item and then I stock up during a sale on the item. I can cut up and freeze fresh bell peppers when they are on sale 3 for $1.25. Cooking from scratch, using a simple price diary, and bulk buying allow me to keep my food budget for two under 100 dollars per month. I spend very little time actually shopping or looking for deals.
    I think the bottom line is how would you prefer to be spending your time?

  25. What I want to know is how do they possibly use up the items before they expire. Had never watched this show and seriously, I look at it as hoarding. No family can possible use 100 cans of Pam in a year.

  26. Look at your savings over a lifetime, that would be the best measure of whether couponing is really worth it. And factor in the time away from your kids for a full or part time job.

    Also, doesn’t anyone else notice the difference between extreme couponers’ stockpiles and hoarders on the hoarding shows? The level of disorganization in the home of a hoarders is massively different than the level of organization required to be a successful extreme couponer. There is no comparison to me between hoarders of animals and other useless garbage and extreme couponers. Totally different types of people.

  27. I’d also like to add that the skills these extreme couponers are gaining would be highly transferable to starting their own business or working for someone else. I can see lots of useful transferrable skills here.

  28. I do “extreme” couponing to a certain level…I buy 4 newspapers per week at the Dollar Tree and I can honestly say that I love it and I wish there was a job in doing this. Everything I buy I get for FREE or the store PAYS ME for. It can become addicting at times but once you know how you do it then it’s like the back of your hand when it comes to targeting deals and spotting good sales. Also, I use the Krazy Coupon Lady website as they tell us what to do, what coupons to use, and how much you can get it for–I, however, take the deal to the next level and know how to make the deal even cheaper by understanding the coupon policy of the stores and factoring in coupons that I do have while others may or may not have. It has been a blessing learning how to do this because it has been a long time since I’ve actually paid for anything. I love answering questions about this and I started my own FB page where I post all my hauls and the breakdowns of how I did it—it is under Northwest Suburb Coupon Queen if anyone is interested and I’d be happy to answer any questions if you reply to this too. I hope this finds people enlightened as many of your other reviews were saying that it is a waste of time. I do find that it can take time to “organize” the coupons etc–but once you know how to get a lot of product for nothing then time doesn’t seem to matter. And also, to the woman who wrote above me about having this be a transferable skill can you elaborate on this as I’ve been trying to identify what the “skill” would be called–I was laid off in January and it has been difficult to find a job but I would love to be able to use this skill in a way to help people save money or even a possible employer. Thanks so much! 🙂

  29. My grandma still cuts her coupons out when the ads come. It is part of her routine. She then organizes them into categories in a bank envelope. She saves a lot of money this way. But, I also think that it is very time consuming.

  30. Your article is thoughtfully done, but I agree with MoneyDrain, and actually use the same coupon clipping service! There are a lot of useful and time-saving techniques you can use once you get the hang of it. One of them is to use a clipping service to buy coupons in bulk. For example, when I see a coupon in the paper for the bread we buy, I go online and buy as many coupons as I would use in the time before the coupon expires. I do the same for eggs and almond milk on a regular basis.

    As for the under-$1 coupons: I like those a lot, because my grocery store doubles them. The best is a $0.75 off one loaf of bread coupon, then I buy the bread when it’s on sale and get $1.50 off of the sale price (bread also freezes well).

    Because the sales work in cycles, I don’t buy up too many of one thing to create visual clutter. It all stacks into our pantry, out of sight until we need it. But, I will admit to having 20 boxes of mac n cheese, because that was the only way to get it for $0.80/box 😉 I’m not going to buy any more for 6 months at least!

    • Glen Craig says:

      The idea of buying coupons is intriguing but it still seems like a lot of work to me. On the other hand, if there’s a market for it I can see spending the time developing a business selling the coupons.

  31. Back in he 1990s, when my son was growing up, all the grocery stores in our area had double coupons (for coupons of .99 or less), and then once a week they would have triple coupon days. I miss that!

    Every Sunday, I would cut out coupons for items I used regularly and then I would keep them in an envelope. Each week I would go thru my supermarket’s sale flyer, and pull out coupons to use for my regular items that were on sale. I would spend about a half hour on Sunday afternoon – and would save $25-$35 every week with very little effort. And, I would be able to stock up on my “regular” items at extremely low prices!

    I miss those days, and enjoyed the challenge.

    Now, nobody seems to offer double/triple coupons. I won’t waste my time saving and filing coupons to save 20 cents off a can of tuna or 15 cents off toilet bowl cleaner. It’s not worth my time.

    • Glen Craig says:

      There are still places that offer up coupon incentives but I’d guess a lot dried up after extreme couponing hit the mainstream.

  32. There are ways to coupon without “Extreme Couponing” and as someone else stated TLC’s Extreme Couponing is a show. I have been couponing for three years and I’ll tell you when your husband is out of work and dying of leukemia and did DIE and you are left with a limited income and three kids to support- you do what you need to do. You don’t sit back and whine about everything or complain about spending your time else where. Couponing has helped me cut my grocery bill down to $50 a week and I do not buy junk! I score organic products, meat, produce, yogurt, and cheese for amazing prices ALL the time. I say don’t knock people for couponing because you don’t know the reasons why they are doing what they do and a lot of them donate to your local community. I would say that would be reason enough to coupon and spend “time” to do it.

    • I agree with Megan. You can use the “extreme” couponing strategies without being an “extreme” couponer. And you don’t have to go out and buy all the junk. I have also been couponing for about 3 years now and have found it to be much more valuable to purchase toiletries and household products that can be very expensive that we use on a regular basis – such as razors. And with the internet, you don’t have to do all the work yourself anymore. Plenty of websites will tell you where and what the deals are what the coupons are that you need to use, so it’s not necessary to sit and clip out every coupon anymore. I have worked out strategies to get the time I spend couponing down to about 2 hours a week and have started a website to help people who feel burdened by the amount of time they think it has to take. Check it out at http://www.twohourcouponing.com

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