Extreme Couponing: Fact or Fiction?

Extreme couponing is possible -- but may be challenging in practice.

Woman buying food at grocery store
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Couponers were excited (at first) when the TLC program Extreme Couponing was aired and it motivated a lot of people to try their hand at scoring hundreds of dollars in food for next to nothing.

The thought of spending almost no money for rooms full of grocery and personal products would appeal to anyone who is concerned about saving money. But unfortunately, the scenarios that we saw by some of the profiled couponers were scripted; stores' coupon policieswere adjusted just for the program, and unethical coupon practices were utilized to create the concept of what can be achieved by extreme couponing.

Time and Effort

During the program Extreme Couponing, the couponers were shown in various stages of collecting coupons, including dumpster diving and going to their neighbors' to collect the newspaper weekly coupon inserts. Then they would casually cut piles (and I mean piles!) of coupons and make their grocery list to head to the stores. The program failed to show the true time commitment behind extreme couponing.

Real extreme couponers make a full-time job out of collecting coupons, matching the coupons to stores' sales and utilizing the individual stores' coupon policies to get the very most out of every coupon that they redeem. For many, it is more than a 40 hour work week just collecting, organizing and strategizing the best scenarios for redeeming the coupons. Many die-hard couponers will get up before dawn to be the first customers at the stores so that they do not risk losing out on items advertised as being on sale.

Scripted Fake Deals

There were several examples shown where the profiled couponers received massive savings with their coupons, but in reality, the coupons that they used did not match up with the products advertised on the coupon. Also, in one particularly poorly-scripted shopping spree, the store doubled all the coupons the shopper redeemed. However, the store's normal policy at that time for all other shoppers was that they only doubled the first three coupons per shopper.

The store, Fry's Supermarket in Sahuarita, Arizona, received such a huge outcry from couponers across the country that within 24 hours that the show aired, the company posted a statement on the Fry's Facebook page:

"We appreciate your comments regarding the recent airing of TLC’s Extreme Couponing that was filmed at our Fry’s Marketplace in Sahuarita. Fry’s was flattered to be asked to participate in the national show and showcase one of our stores. In addition, we also had the opportunity to show that we are running one of the hottest coupon promotions out there by making all manufacturer coupons up to a dollar and gladly accepting all grocery competitor coupons. We understand that some customers may have questions regarding the coupon policy after viewing the show and we welcome your comments. 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."

In reality, many grocery stores have discontinued doubling coupons or they now have severe restrictions on how many coupons can be doubled. Also, almost all grocery stores that do double coupons will only double a coupon up to the price of the product, another policy that seemed to be forgotten for the sake of putting on a good show.

Poor Example of Real Couponers

Unethical Behavior
During one of the episodes, Tide coupons used by the profiled couponer were later exposed as being counterfeit. Also, there were several times that the coupons used were already expired. Responsible couponers would never knowingly use a counterfeit coupon, and many work diligently online to help expose counterfeit coupons that are circulated.

Most couponers and even seasoned extreme couponers make an effort to be considerate of other shoppers, unlike many of the extreme couponers that have been profiled on Extreme Couponing. In the program, some of the profiled couponers were seen wiping out the sale products on store shelves, leaving nothing for the other shoppers, hogging the checkout counters, and making a general pain of themselves.

In reality, most couponers try to keep a low profile and will often shop during off hours to avoid being an inconvenience to the stores and to other shoppers. Also, most couponers will buy multiple items if they can get it at super low prices, but most are not hoarders.

Buying Limits
Most stores have limits on how many coupons for the same item can be purchased at one time. For example, going in with 144 coupons and purchasing six cases of one product would not be allowed at most stores.

Also, there are often limitation policies printed on the coupon. For example, you may see on the coupon that you can only redeem up to five coupons for five of the products at one time.

Many grocery stores would not allow one person checking out to tie up employees and a register for five hours. You might get away with it once, but my bet is that on your next trip to the store, there would be a new policy preventing it from happening again. With that said, you can still save a tremendous amount of money by using coupons for products that you and your family will use. You can even save enough to donate products to charity.

Reality Couponing

Let's take a look at what is possible for most of us when it comes to saving with coupons and take some of the "spin" out from the program to see how it can benefit us.

  • You can get free products, and a lot of them, by using coupons.
  • You can use more than one coupon on one product at some stores.
  • You can put a tremendous dent in how much you are spending on food and personal products.
  • You can streamline your coupons so that you save on products that are healthy and that you and your family will enjoy.
  • You can save with coupons and build a stockpile of food without hoarding.
  • It can become a fun family hobby that enhances math skills and teaches the importance of frugality to children. A great way to teach this is to allow the children to spend what they saved on a new video game or a cool pair of new jeans.


After the big fallout on the authenticity of the program, TLC continued the program for five seasons, although viewer interest dropped off. The last episode appeared during the Thanksgiving 2015 season on TLC's Discovery Family network with a new title, Greatest Givers: Extreme Couponing, which focused on the good deeds done by some of the previously profiled couponers. Currently, there is not a future schedule for the program that has been released.