Is TLC Extreme Couponing Fake? The Truth About Extreme Couponing

Much like the rest of America who watches TLC’s Extreme Couponing, I was hooked. I’ve been a couponer for a long time so watching someone else be able to get those incredible deals was … almost addicting. There’s no doubt that taking home $2000 worth of groceries for only $35.00 is a dream come true, and watching it on the show makes it an obtainable reality for some. But let’s take a closer look at what TLC’s Extreme Couponing is not showing and not telling you.

How long did it take?
It was immediately obvious from the first few episodes that they glossed over the amount of time these people spend on couponing. In order to garner these kind of savings, couponing would need to become a part time job with over 20+ hours a week being spent. Most of these people make it their full time job. There’s a lot involved. Cutting the actual coupons is NOT all that it takes.

What about the milk?
Did you notice during any of the episodes anyone actually purchasing “normal” groceries with the exception of Joyce, who was probably the smallest shopping trip of all the episodes. The people on this show are not purchasing milk, produce, deli meats, etc. You can not live on extreme couponing alone. They aren’t showing these items being purchased because rarely are there coupons for these things and they would make the total higher, making people less likely to gasp in surprise at a HUGE price reduction via coupons. You cannot live on processed foods and candy.

Are these groceries really that cheap?
Well, if you watch the show, you’re seeing them scan those coupons and you are watching the price drop. But what aren’t seeing is how much money these people spent on coupons. What? Coupons are free! That’s true, but in order to practice the techniques show cased on the show Extreme Couponing, you are also watching them stockpile. In order to stockpile, you have to obtain mass quantities of particular coupons. You have to order them from a coupon clipping service. Coupon clipping services offer coupons for as much as .50 all the way down to .03. Even if they paid .10 per coupon, and they only bought 100 of them so they could get 100 of those items for free mixed with deals, etc. That’s still going to cost about $10.00. You don’t see this part, because if you did, you would then have to add that total to their total balance due at the end. They are spending a lot of money to get these mass quantities of coupons. Yes, they are saving, yes that is still totally worth it, but it’s deceiving if you don’t realize this is what they are doing.

Where are these stores?
Yep, that question went through my head a number of times while viewing the episodes. I live in the St. Louis area, and extreme couponing in this area is extremely difficult. The store I shop at will double coupons up to .40 but only 15 of them. This makes stockpiling pretty difficult unless I’m content with 15 items and with a family of 7, 15 of the same item goes a lot faster than you think. And that means I can’t buy anything else. Sure, I suppose I could come back in the afternoon and then again tomorrow, and then the next day and just keep doing it using 15 coupons at a time… yes. But would you do me a favor? Go back and read my very first point up there…. you know, the one about time. Go ahead, we’ll wait. Not to mention gas expense. Just saying.

Right… so are you seeing the problem here? Do you actually have time for anything else? Make sure and check your stores coupon policies because many have strict rules and while there are some that are as awesome as you saw on the show, I will assure you that since the birth of the show, most of the stores are changing their coupon policies now. * sigh * so yeah.

While doing research for this article, I learned some really interesting information. Here are a few things you must know about what TLC Extreme Couponing looks for when interviewing someone to be on the show. In order to be on the show:

  • You must already have an enormous stockpile. They want it to have taken over at least a room of your house. This of course makes the “wow” factor more obvious.
  • You must plan your largest shopping trip ever. (because you know it has to be worth it)
  • You must be the best savings at the end of the day. (this was an interesting twist of events… apparently I know someone who was selected to be on the show. Camera crew arrived, everything was ago and then at the end of the day – her savings weren’t as good as a few others, so she got nixed…. no idea whether she will get a shot at next season… niiiiiiiiiiice.
  • You must be extreme. Not just with the couponing, but in how you obtain the couponing, in your stockpile, in what you buy, etc. You must be willing to do just about anything.

Made me think twice about the actual act of extreme couponing. There has to be a better way.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    @Nicole I’m not sure when you wrote this, but I was watching the show trying to figure oht what it was when I saw three teenage guys go into q store and purchase $800 worth of random goods. After all coupons were scanned, the total was .71 cents. I saw that and my bs meter went off. I believe the show is fake and im comfortable saying that with zero proof. Great article.

    • says

      Hi Bobby, this was written years ago when the show first just aired. While you can certainly save money with coupons, it isn’t practical to send the message to people that this can be done all the time. It’s a full time job doing it the way they do it, and it’s mostly pre-packaged unhealthy foods that have coupons so when you stack those all up – you’re eating crap and working full time to get it for free or low cost. Seems silly, really.

      • says

        I just want to let you know that you can buy fresh food with couponing. I buy dairy products, Meats, Poultry, veggies, fruits as well as frozen foods. When my 5 kids were growing up in the early 80’s and 90’s, I did take the time to gather coupons and plan every trip, but I figured out by tracking spending and savings, that with coupons, my time used actually was as good as me working a part-time job out of the house in dollars, except I was at home raising my children. My shopping budget was not very big, but I always made it stretch to feed my family of seven and had stock to share with family and friends. My kids helped out and now that they are older are all wise shoppers today, as well as my husband. I believe showing the Extreme Couponers can encourage people to at least give it a try. As a couponer, I know my savings are not always extreme, but is savings no matter what. I cook pretty much all fresh food and little packaged, but what I do use, I either use coupons, price match or get money back from several apps that now reward you in digital gift cards or deposit money into your account. I agree you can buy food that has little nutritional value if you choose, but you don’t have to do it and will still save on what you do buy. A lot of the higher value coupons are on non food items, but those are the products we spend the most on anyways, ex: Health and Beauty and Cleaning Products. You choose how much time you put into it and that is what is great. Also, I never buy coupons or papers, with online coupons that you can print, or digital coupons you can download onto your card, you don’t have to do it. I have even designed a
        a letter for people who attend my couponing seminars that you can pass out in your neighborhood or give to friends so that they can pass coupons they don’t use over to you. It is a great way to make your budget meet all of your expenses when you don’t know where you can cut anymore spending. By couponing, every amount saved, can be used elsewhere to cover those other bills.

  2. diane says

    Hi Nicole,
    I was so happy to read your article. I was thinking the same things as I watched a marathon amount of extreme couponing episodes the other day. I looked at my coupons, my store circulars and thought… no way. Impossible. Yes, I never see any fresh items, meat, etc… You can see most of the stockpile items are extremely unhealthy. I never see big deals like that in my home town (Phila). I’m proud of saving around $100 each visit. That is about 21% savings for me. I think that’s doable without making it a full time/part time job and staying healthy.

    Loved the article. Thanks for your research.
    d

    • rITA says

      Yeah. With the coupon policies here all I can seem to save is 20% too! I have clipped and looked for coupons and been careful. And 20% or so is it. I buy real food,I have kids. I thought I was stupid or doing this horribly wrong. People keep saying they save 50% in other areas or at these special stores. The best I did was about 33% with a Kroger store sale and I figured my actual saving lower because some sale items were just the regular price at Walmart after the sale price. So yeah, 20%. Thank you so much for posting that the savings are just not out of this world.

      • says

        Hi Rita, you’re welcome. I hate shows like that, and there is so much I have learned since that article was originally written.
        With the cost of food on the rise and the coupon face values decreasing, unless you plan to just buy razors or body wash, couponing is becoming more and more difficult. Deals are still to be found, but not like we see on TV. Have a great one.

  3. Christina B says

    Agreed. Well said! I noticed through watching season 2 that the items purchased that they were getting for free were lifewater and Barilla pasta. Now months ago I emailed Lifewater because we drink a lot of it in our household. I asked the company how to get on an email list or mailing list for coupons. They informed me that they do NOT have coupons for thier product and that they price it affordably and support in store sales. Every episode so far of season 2 everyone is buying hundreds of bottles of life water and getting them for free with coupons. The best Barilla coupon I have seen is 55 cents off when you buy 2. I scour all the clipping websites and have never seen a coupon for .50 cents off 1. And when you see their stockpiles do you notice that those 2 products are the only ones that you can see the labels, the rest are turned backwards. Seems to me that theses companies are sponsoring the program. And these couponers are getting those coupons just to be one the show. I love coupons, I work very hard to save as much as I can. I cut our grocery bill in half. But I have to work very hard to do that. And you are right I feel that becuase of the show ALL our stores in Northern Indiana have changed their policies. Only one store doubles up to 2 like coupons per day per store loyalty card. They used to triple up to .50, double up to 1.00, and anything over a 1.00 rounds of to 2.00; they also used to take other store coupons and those could be stacked. I literally have to call everyweek and check the coupon policy because they are changing that often. Thanks for the atricle.

  4. barbara says

    I guess one could say this the extreme the networks will go to produce another dumb ‘reality show’ that’s far from reality. And the extreme people will go to get on TV for not much more then a 1/2 hour of fame. In my opinion it’s as big a joke as Honey Boob.

  5. Tessa says

    I watched Extreme Couponing once about a year ago. The did a piece on a couple that used the money they saved from couponing to travel. I remember being a bit creeped out by the whole thing because they had a room in their house that was floor to ceiling boxes of cereals, pop tarts, soda, and processed foods.

    The last thing they grabbed during the shopping trip was mountains of candy. The whole thing came to well under $100 and they made it seem like she was done shopping for the month. But I remember thinking she was still going to have to make another trip for bread, milk, cheese, meat and fruit.

    Apparently not, because later in the segment they commented that they do sustain themselves from their pantry. So that $100 is all they budget monthly for food so they can afford to travel. If they’re eating primarily from their couponing and really only spending about $100 a month on food then they rarely, if ever, eat fresh, healthy foods. That seemed even more evident in the fact that both these people were significantly overweight.

    I’m far from the ideal weight but if I was eating only what I could purchase with a coupon I’d be long dead.

    It just seemed idiotic and a bit pathetic to me that the idea that a steady diet of pop tarts, canned soup and soda is an acceptable way to live for the sake of extreme couponing.

    • says

      Tessa I could not have said it better myself. For all the reasons you mentioned above, I actually stopped watching the show. I am a sucker for reality tv but when it becomes clear how “unreal” it is, I end.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    • Jim G says

      You summed it up perfectly. That’s just a horrific diet. All the money they save will eventually go to health costs. The segment where a woman was claiming that she was “exercising” by lifting 12 packs of 7-Up was as sad as it was laughable.

      The only thing that made sense was the woman who would barter her snacks.

  6. Kim says

    I agree somewhat about the unhealthy factor but I do get some healthier things for free. All I pay is the sales tax. For example I just got 38 bottles of Kens salad dressing for .38 cents. Libby’s can veggies are usually free or as close to free as u can get. Frozen veggies are always free too. If u put some time in u will save on heLthy items. I have 3 stores who save their left over Sunday papers for me. I never pay for my papers. Thought I would share one positive comment.

    • says

      I’m glad you shared your experience. This article is VERY old and I agree that many of the companies have begun to make readily available some coupons for healthier options making stocking up on those much better than before.
      At any rate, the show itself is not entirely truthful. All you need to do is find someone who has appeared on it, and given enough time, they come clean about the lies and deception.
      Does that mean Extreme Couponing isn’t real? NO you can totally “extreme coupon” WITHOUT the show. ;)

  7. Trina Grant says

    I had noticed a lot of the people appearing on the show are sometimes extremely overweight. I also noticed they buy, like, ten cases of dog treats at one time.

    I’m interested in “extreme” couponing, but only to the degree it will feed my family, not a small African nation and their pomeranians. I am new to couponing, and I’m going to give it a try. I’m going to be reasonable about it though. I refuse to pay one red cent for a coupon, and I’m not stocking up on twelve years worth of store-brand orange soda. I will try to find coupons for the food my family already eats, and I don’t mind putting in a little time to search for sales, as I’m a SAHM.

    Just like any other form of entertainment, you have to take this show as caffeine-spiked brain candy, and nothing more. I’m interested in couponing because of the savings I’ve been wracking up using different stores and loyalty points, not because I’m interested in getting diabetes and spending my golden years staring at mountains of Alpo.

    • Katrina says

      I would like to offer you a bit of advice, since you are new to couponing. Please consider using coupons on things other than just what you currently use. If you are not loyal to specific brands you will be able to save more and try some new products for less or possibly free. For the products you are loyal to, you can consider writing or emailing the manufacturers to let them know about your loyalty and ask for coupons.

  8. Cindy says

    Ok, I am so frustrated. I record these shows and find it repulsive. I live in Fresno and stores here don’t accept double coupons. Also, notice that the food purchased is processed & fattening. I hardly ever see coupons for healthy food. I wouldn’t feed processed food to my family. I do stockpile, but I do it little by little. As, I can afford great quality at discount.

  9. Kay dr says

    Most of our shopping is Aldi. If I go to Kroger or Walmart, my goal might be to have my coupons cover sales tax. Now, that seems reasonable!

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