8 Lessons Any Shopper Can Learn From Extreme Couponers

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One month into the second season of Extreme Couponing, the insults and complaints seem to have finally died down.

When the TLC hit first aired in April, a steady stream of naysayers bashed the TV show for being, well, extreme. Critics have called it “deeply disturbing” (Washington Post) and likened it to “a heist flick” (New York Times). They’ve called its stars “coupon-crazy” (Money Talks News) and accused them of “potentially illegal acts” (the nonprofit Coupon Information Center).

Personally, I never understood why so many people wasted so much breath. What did they expect from a show called Extreme Couponing? And if it disturbed them so much, why didn’t they just change the channel?

I think even modest couponers can actually learn from extreme couponers. I know I have. Here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far…

  • Know store coupon policies. This never occurred to me before I watched Extreme Couponing. (I’m not a big couponer.) But if you use coupons at all, you’ll save time and money by looking up and printing out the policies of the stores you frequent. Some stores only accept one coupon per item, but others allow coupon “stacking” and even accept competitor coupons.
  • Prepare. The average extreme couponer on the show spends 15 to 40 hours a week preparing for shopping trips, but even 5 to 10 minutes of preparation can save you time and money. I don’t spend any longer than that, but I still plan out my shopping. I buy groceries at three nearby stores: Publix Super Markets, Walmart Supercenter, and BJ’s Wholesale Club. So every week, I first check the Publix ad for buy-one-get-one-free sale items, which I stock up on there. (Publix is the most expensive store of the three, but neither Walmart nor BJ’s can beat their BOGO prices.) Then, I buy everything else I need at the other two stores, depending on which sells it for less according to my research. (I do a comparison every few months – and it pays dividends every week.)
  • Buy multiples instead of stockpiles. Stockpiling 50 to 100 of the same item at a time is indeed extreme, but the rest of us can still learn from it. Whether you buy five or 50 bottles of mustard, buying in multiples saves money if you have a coupon or if mustard is on sale. I recently bought nine bottles of face wash, probably my most extreme purchase to date. But when I went online to compare prices, I discovered the manufacturer was selling it for 50 percent off, a much lower price than I ever see in stores. I couldn’t pass the deal up, so I bought $25 worth in order to qualify for free shipping. The eight extra 5-ounce bottles take up hardly any room under my sink and won’t expire before I use them – and I saved $25.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are a few tips for beginning couponers from Season 1 stars…

  • “Try it! I started my coupon journey with a $.25 coupon. Whether you save a $.25 or a lot more every little bit means more money in your checkbook.” Tammilee
  • “Start slow – it will take time. Everything will go on sale sooner or later.” Treasure
  • “Start small. Don’t think you need to learn every single store right away. Pick your favorite grocery store or drug store and shop there for several weeks until you feel like you have mastered it, and then move on to another.” Rebecca
  • “Get organized! There are lots of methods to organize your coupons. I personally choose a binder.” Jessica
  • “Don’t be brand loyal. If you are brand loyal, stock-up on your brand when the price is right.” Amy
  • “Only purchase items that your family can use. You can get carried away once you see all of the items you can get for FREE.” Antoinette

If even modest couponing still sounds like too much work for you, try our Deals page. Each week, I do the work for you by weeding through Internet coupons, plucking the best ones, and collecting them all in one place.

Karla Bowsher runs the Deals page; writes “Today’s Deals” posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; and shares consumer wisdom every Thursday. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or contact her at [email protected].

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