Is Extreme Couponing Hurting Self Esteem?

June 21, 2011

OK, so yesterday I posted about the brighter side of “Extreme Couponing.” Today I’d like to talk a bit about the trend’s darker side.

Could the TLC’s Show “Extreme Couponing” be hurting shoppers’s self esteem? Phil Lempert, a leading food industry expert and editor of and The Lempert Report, thinks it might be.

“When I saw the first episode of ‘Extreme Couponing’ last December, I thought the viewing public would learn new ways to save money and be reinvigorated to use coupons each time they shop,” says Lempert. “However, according to research and direct feedback that we’ve received, consumers no longer feel good about saving $10, or 10-to-20 percent. They’re becoming depressed that they are not able to buy $1,000 or more groceries for 25 cents.”

I can’t help but make the comparison to girls’ and women’s self esteem when they see unrealistic pictures of thin celebrities–and then get depressed because their own bodies don’t look that way. (Hello! Air brushing. In 2008 singer Britney Spears shared untouched and retouched photos of herself in a bathing suit, to show how even a star with a fit body like hers doesn’t look perfect in real life. Way to go, Britney!)

The same can be said for the unrealistic situations that the show portrays, especially when it comes to stores breaking their own rules. How so? In some episodes you come to find out that supermarkets that normally double only a few coupons doubled all of them when the cameras were rolling.

This not only hurts self esteem, when regular shoppers can’t match these deals, it hurts all shoppers.

According to Lempert supermarket retailers are now revising couponing policies to avoid driving themselves out of business with abnormal and unrealistic redemption costs.

“Couponing is a valuable tool for brands and marketers,” says Lempert. “With the Internet’s ability to focus offers better than ever, we should be rejoicing. Instead, we’re promoting a desperate feeling to catch up, saying that unless we can save more than we spend, we are failures at food shopping.”

In a quick poll on readers were asked about their grocery savings strategies as a result of the promotion of “Extreme Couponing.” According to the panel results, 73 percent said they spend one hour or less planning their savings/shopping trip with only less than one percent spending more than four hours.

When asked “if time is money” 59 percent of the panelists replied that saving time is equally important as saving money.

Even without the tens of hours a week clipping away, 64 percent of panelists report saving between 11 and 40 percent compared with the “Extreme Couponers” who may save upwards of 90 percent but who have spent between 30-to-40 hours per week clipping, researching and managing their coupons.

Unless you’re running a couponing site and earning a full-time salary for your connection to couponing, I can’t justify spending a full-time schedule worrying about coupons–especially if you end up feeling bad about yourself in the end. However, I do believe that there are some couponing tips you can takeaway from the show, just as I mentioned in yesterday’s post.

Agree? Disagree? Post a comment to discuss.

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49 Responses to Is Extreme Couponing Hurting Self Esteem?

  1. Elizabeth on October 12, 2011 at 12:04 am

    I watched a few episodes here and there. i learned 3 things that have helped me save more. tho its usually closer to 10% not 90%! i have a binder, i buy a paper from my dollar tree and if its good coupons i buy 2, and i try to plan my meals around what i have coupons for and stock up on thing i know i’ll use! to me the time extreme couponing takes isn’t worth it. my son will only be a baby for so long.

    • Leah Ingram on October 12, 2011 at 4:34 am

      You’ve got such a healthy attitude towards it and have clearly gleaned the best-parts version from the show. Awesome. Thanks for posting a comment.


  2. Green Philadelphia on the Cheap on September 14, 2011 at 8:35 am

    […] may not save as much as the folks on “Extreme Couponing,” but you will sure save a few bucks on healthy, sustainable, and ethical purchases! Posted in Deals […]

  3. | Progressive Catholic Mom on July 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    […] then there’s this: “Is Extreme Couponing Hurting Self-Esteem?” Yes, that’s right.  If you can’t live up to the uber-couponers, apparently […]

  4. JohnD on July 5, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    Most of the people featured on the show have lost jobs, are in dire economic straits or have some kind of disability. They’re no hoarders, they’re saving thousands of dollars, applying their savings to purchase healthier non-processed foods and donating or selling the overage. Sadly, there are so many ignorant, judgmental people in this country that they’ll complain without having a clue what they’re talking about or bothering to find out. When it gets harder to coupon and these people don’t have enough to eat, they won’t be able to go to the food bank because all of the people who complain and judge aren’t making donations.

  5. Linda on June 29, 2011 at 1:53 am

    I feel like some people are not giving couponers a fair chance. I’ve seen that some people say that these people have no lives, spending 20-40+ hours a week on couponing. Really, this is the same amount of time another person might spend working, so does a workingman have no life as well? Second, others have refuted that the time would be better spent if the couponers had a job. If they save enough money to not have a job, why would they go? Couponing can be done in the luxury and comfort of the home, and for many it is a fun hobby. Why waste time trying to find a job in this economy? Also, many couponers have jobs in addition to couponing. They want to save money so that their dollars can stretch farther. Often the money saved goes into paying bills, debts, or saved into college funds or vacation plans.

  6. […] Couponing Roundup Jump to Comments var addthis_product = 'wpp-261'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true,"ui_language":"en"};I’ve gotten a ton of traffic in the past two days, now that CBS Moneywatch, Yahoo Finance, and Xfinity have all linked to my blog post “Is Extreme Couponing Hurting Self Esteem?”. […]

  7. Jerry on June 28, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    I have been reading all the responses to this topic and they seem to be all one sided.

    My wife and I started “Extreme Couponing” shortly after the first episode aired and although it is laborius, the benefits have been life changing for us. As everyone understands, feeding a family of four can be costly. In the 3 short months we have been couponing, we have saved more than $3000 just in our grocery bills alone. We have also gotten into the realm of selling coupons which has reduced our grocery bills to almost nill.

    Yes, we have a modest stockpile of goods, and yes, some we may not use. But the show has barely focused on the fact that many donate their “overstock” to the needy. Whether it be homeless shelters, local food banks, churches, or even the military, it really does help the self esteem when you can drop off care packages containing deoderant, toothbrushes etc… to people without.

    I do agree that it is outlandish to clear off an entire shelf just because the item is free not leaving any for other customers(really upset about the episode where the whole bin of Excedrine was dumped into the cart) but i do appreciate the time and effort that goes into the whole “Extreme Couponing” thing. We spend 30-40 hours a week couponing, but the savings we have seen have been well worth it.

    With the donations and sharing of our coupons (even to others in the checkout line) has provided us with a glorious feeling of “giving back”. This alone has increased our self esteem ten fold, not to mention the money saved!

    • Leah Ingram on June 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm

      I’m happy to hear that someone is putting extreme couponing to good use. Good for you for donating what you can’t/won’t use at your home!

  8. Tamyko on June 28, 2011 at 10:23 am

    LoL that was to funny extreme hoarders. I would say it is crazy at best. Because they buy all kinds of stuff that they do not need to buy. What about the expiration date that is on all products. They are just doing to much and pasta products actually weeble after awhile if they are in a place where the temperature changes often. I knew before long it was going to get really serious. It will not be to much longer and all of the coupons will not be able to be used.

  9. Extreme Couponing backlash | Mashup Mom on June 28, 2011 at 10:19 am

    […] depressed by their inability to replicate the savings achieved by the pros on the show. “Is Extreme Couponing Hurting Self Esteem?” asks Leah Ingram on her blog Suddenly Frugal. Phil Lempert, food industry expert and editor […]

  10. […] by their inability to replicate the   savings achieved  by the pros on the show. “Is Extreme Couponing Hurting Self Esteem?” asks Leah Ingram on her blog Suddenly Frugal. Phil Lempert, food industry expert and editor of […]

  11. Saunya on June 28, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Military families hit hard due to “extreme coupon” backlash.

    Per AAFES fb page-AAFES, Your Military BX/PX (Official Page)
    To all our fans that have been wondering and asking about the acceptance of expired coupons in overseas locations: manufacturers have stopped allowing the Exchange to redeem coupons past their expiration date.

    This is sad and horrible for a lot of families serving their country overseas. We do not do “extreme” but try to save every penny due to the Euro being so strong. Most of us do not even watch the show or have heard of it due to deployments and such. TLC, did you even consider the consequences of such show????????

  12. Heather B. on June 28, 2011 at 8:30 am

    I’m all for couponing responsibly but why is this necessary:

    “According to Lempert supermarket retailers are now revising couponing policies to avoid driving themselves out of business with abnormal and unrealistic redemption costs.”

    The stores are getting reimbursed for every coupon used plus they get an additional amount(its like 5 cents a coupon) upon redemption. As long as the coupon itself is redeemed according to the rules on the coupon I don’t get why the store is acting like somehow they are being robbed. Stores are actually making a profit off of couponers every time they use a coupon in the store. Not feeling too badly for the stores who have marked the products up 70% in the first place.

    • Leah Ingram on June 28, 2011 at 9:40 am

      Heather, I have to agree with you. Supermarkets should realize that on “Extreme Couponing,” they are not depicting realistic shopping scenarios, especially with stores breaking their own couponing rules. The only reason I can think to address coupon rules is to avoid shelf-clearing behavior like we see on the show. But then again how often is that really happening? Also, it could be the manufacturers themselves who are changing the rules of reimbursement and the supermarkets have no choice but to respond. Maybe I should look into this…

  13. Ryan on June 28, 2011 at 8:26 am

    I “extreme coupon” for items I will use. I am one person and do not need volumes of merchandise that will take me forever. My soap, shampoo, toothpaste, laundry detergent, etc is all free. I have watched this show and was actally appauled. First, we have couples with far more children then they can afford doing this because of poor financial planning elsewhere. Next, we have people staying at home spending 20+ hours a week couponing when their family really needs them out earning a paycheck. Next, we have them raving about the hundreds of coupon inserts they magically are able to get each week so that smells fishy right there and then we touch on hoarding. Who parents stashes food all over their home and under children’s beds? Hello? This is a sickness… not something to be proud of.

  14. Rick Reese on June 28, 2011 at 8:17 am

    Wow, extreme couponing is interesting. The work required is tremendous. ZamZuu is the best shop, save, & earn referal website I have experienced. Pays cash back from over 700 stores plus 30% of the vendor’s commission on online purchses and when travel is booked online. It’s free, no expiration and save on the house expenses. Check out the live demo and open a free site at I have found it’s extreme couponing…with benefits.

  15. […] depressed by their inability to replicate the savings achieved by the pros on the show. “Is Extreme Couponing Hurting Self Esteem?” asks Leah Ingram on her blog Suddenly Frugal. Phil Lempert, food industry expert and editor […]

  16. Jo LaMore on June 28, 2011 at 6:56 am

    I watched the first episodes and was struck by the sheer volume of food, toilet paper, etc. these people have stockpiled and thought, why aren’t they using this ability/effort to supply food banks, homeless shelters, etc.?

    The people who have more than a few months supply of food, etc. for their own use are just hoarders and the show is enabling their disease.


  17. Allison on June 28, 2011 at 6:43 am

    I like to call these “extreme couponers” ORGANIZED HOARDERS. I really feel like these are people who are scared of something like nuclear fall out or something! On the other hand, I have seen many episodes where much of what they buy is donated to shelters or for other charitible purposes. So I guess thats not too bad. However, I don’t think these people realize that while they are donating it, they are also putting a huge strain on the stores.
    Last, I saw an episode featuring a store in my hometown. One that I frequent. I use coupons (although not to any extreme) and I know the rules of the store. On that episode that store broke everyone of their own rules. I was so mad I called the store. I found out that TLC pays them to be there. So basically this woman simply won the grocery store lotto is all.

  18. […] depressed by their inability to replicate the savings achieved by the pros on the show. “Is Extreme Couponing Hurting Self Esteem?” asks Leah Ingram on her blog Suddenly Frugal. Phil Lempert, food industry expert and editor […]

  19. […] is running. It may be that the item you want is on sale or that the store is offering an overall coupon. You may even luck out and have the item go on sale and have a coupon you can use […]

  20. Sarah on June 28, 2011 at 4:05 am

    I find the Extreme Couponing show to be more like another hoarding show. If you coupon how it is meant to be done you would know that most stores sales cycle at a 12 week interval. So instead of 200 bottle of anything you only need to stock up on a 3 month supply. I use coupons everytime I go to the grocery store and on average save about 60 percent off of my grocery bill, but not once have I ever used a coupon for an item that it was not intended for. These people on Extreme couponers are definately crapping the system, which I will later have to suffer the consequences for. Thanks TLC for ruining my HONEST couponing!!!!!

  21. […] depressed by their inability to replicate the savings achieved by the pros on the show. “Is Extreme Couponing Hurting Self Esteem?” asks Leah Ingram on her blog Suddenly Frugal. Phil Lempert, food industry expert and editor […]

  22. Kris on June 27, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    I see a bigger trend of people willing to spend 40 hours a week working on coupons……if they are among the unemployed. Then it would make sense. Although I would think the time would be better spent looking for a new job, we have a percentage of “underemployed” in this country that represent those that have given up finding employment, or ones that cannot get full time employment. I could see them turning couponing into a job.

    I couponed years ago and one of the reasons I stopped for a while was because of the time investment. I have recently picked it back up. One reason was I found a way to save a lot of time. Some of the new online couponing help and a coupon database I found have saved a lot of time. Also, I promised myself this time to limit my couponing to a certain part of my family’s needs. I won’t spend time on coupons or finding deals on any items that I don’t really need. No junk food items and no new fangled cleaners. 85% of my couponing from now on is for personal care items for my family only. Those are items I will buy no matter what.

    • Leah Ingram on June 28, 2011 at 5:47 am

      Kris: To me that’s a sensible and smart way to approach couponing. Good for you!


  23. […] depressed by their inability to replicate the savings achieved by the pros on the show. “Is Extreme Couponing Hurting Self Esteem?” asks Leah Ingram on her blog Suddenly Frugal. Phil Lempert, food industry expert and editor […]

  24. catsrule on June 27, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Its amazing of the extreme coupons people out there its like they need to horde food. how many bottles of catchup can you use in a week also how many boxes of pasta can you eat a week. I saw one with someone getting over 100 toothbrushes now that’s called stupidity. All these people are doing is hording items that will go to waste. also take a look at people who do this are have nasty diets with all of this food. I am happy saving a few bucks and being healthy. Also you have to have a big house to store all of these items. So the term hording comes into effect. this is how someone ends up as a hoarder. I am glad some retailers are starting to put limits on this, the greedy people can’t buy all of the items off the shelf so other consumers can purchase the product.

  25. Windy City Woman on June 27, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    One of those “extreme couponers” was exposed as a fraud on the Internet. It was “Jamie” on one of the first shows. They showed her grocery list. Most people have grocery lists that read something like this:”milk, eggs, bananas, ground beef, oatmeal.” Hers was just a bunch of UPC codes. You know how the fine print on coupons always says something like, “must be used on this product; any other use is fraudulent”? She would use a coupon for a related product, not the intended product. For example, diapers are expensive, so their coupons have a higher dollar value. A related product (made by the same company) would be baby wipes, which are cheaper. She would use, say, a $3 dollar diaper coupon on a $3.09 pack of baby wipes, and thus pay 9 cents for the baby wipes. That is fraudulent, but the computer accepted it. (I made up the exact numbers to illustrate the concept.) When I first saw the show, it didn’t make sense (didn’t pass the sniff test), because I have NEVER seen a coupon better than buy-one-get-one-free. Here no one doubles coupons (let alone triples coupons), and no one lets you use more than one coupon per item purchased.

    • Leah Ingram on June 27, 2011 at 7:12 pm

      I heard about that fraud, too, and how she’d pulled that off. Then I took out some coupons for products made by the same company and was able to “see” the similar codes on them and how she was able to do that. Disgusting and dishonest.

  26. […] depressed by their inability to replicate the savings achieved by the pros on the show. “Is Extreme Couponing Hurting Self Esteem?” asks Leah Ingram on her blog Suddenly Frugal. Phil Lempert, food industry expert and editor […]

  27. More Extreme News | on June 27, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    […] depressed by their inability to replicate the savings achieved by the pros on the show. “Is Extreme Couponing Hurting Self Esteem?” asks Leah Ingram on her blog Suddenly Frugal. Phil Lempert, food industry expert and editor of […]

  28. Jennifer on June 27, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    I’m sorry but if “Extreme Couponing” affects someone’s self-esteem, they have bigger issues than not just being able to afford their groceries.

  29. Travis on June 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    My wife started extreme couponing a few months ago. She’s a stay-at-home mom who got real excited about the opportunity to save our family some money. She’s done a great job, but she does get a bit frustrated that she can’t save as much as the people on the show. If you notice, every person on that show walks out with ridiculous amounts of a sports drink, Chinese noodles, Juice Boxes and cereal. On top of that, most of it’s junk food. If someone walked out with vegetables, meat, a few gallons of milk, fruit and a few other staples, I would be impressed, but you don’t. Every episode is the same. I do have a funny story about my wife’s experience. Check it out here:

    • Leah Ingram on June 26, 2011 at 5:40 pm

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your link!


  30. […] depressed by their inability to replicate the savings achieved by the pros on the show. “Is Extreme Couponing Hurting Self Esteem?” asks Leah Ingram on her blog Suddenly Frugal. Phil Lempert, food industry expert and editor […]

  31. Coupon Database on June 24, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Great post, Leah. It’s good to see so many have read it and feel the same way.

  32. BRB on June 24, 2011 at 9:00 am

    The show is interesting to watch, but I can’t say that I’m all that impressed by people getting a bunch of processed, nutritionless crap for practically nothing. I haven’t seen one product yet that these people buy thousands of that I would actually purchase.

  33. Larry D Syler on June 23, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    There are also shows on television called “Hoarding”. To me, this fits that category. The first few “Extreme…” were entertaining, but these people are obsessed and that can’t be good in the long run. To each his own, but I hope they are sharing with their neighbors. I, for some reason, doubt they are, however.

  34. Jude on June 21, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    Extreme Couponing is pretty entertaining but I don’t think it’s changed my habits much.

  35. Cathy on June 21, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    I don’t use coupons regularly and I find the “Extreme” shows way too extreme… My mother (God rest her soul) used coupons and was probably a borderline (grocery) hoarder. I lost my job 7 months ago and was able to manage by not “stocking up” on things like I (and she) used to. Only buy what you NEED, only use coupons for what you need. So I don’t get the appeal of (As Helena says) 100 cans of tomatoes… When dry pasta is on sale I still overbuy but I am training myself to look at what I have before I buy… (Sorry if this is sort of off topic…) I am starting a new job in 2 days and, while looking thru the sales ads the other day I actually wrote myself a letter telling myself to NOT fall into the same “hoarding” habit that I was in.

  36. Alyssa on June 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    I’ve only watched the clips online, but the whole thing makes me sad. These people have no lives. They have enough food for 5 years, and they will keep adding to the stock pile. They must be living in real fear to keep all that on hand.

    That said, I can see having a small stash of things you use often and using coupons to help you save on them. I don’t use coupons very much because we try to avoid most packaged foods and clean with all natural products. It’s healthier and cheaper. Besides, the big food industry doesn’t need my dollars.

    Actually, the SMARTER thing to do, would to buy $50,000 worth of products for $1000 and then sell it all at half price to whoever. Then you’d actually be profiting $24,000. Seems better than living in a false reality.

    • Leah Ingram on June 22, 2011 at 5:11 am

      I like this approach!

  37. Helena on June 21, 2011 at 10:49 am

    These people seem obsessed with this project. It’s a bit scary to watch. Anything done to excess is not healthy. Who needs 100 cans of tomatoes?!? I try to clip and use coupons on items I actually use, and buy the produce that’s on sales that week. I’ve noticed that many coupons are for processed foods and I certainly don’t want to load up on those.

  38. Roxanne on June 21, 2011 at 9:33 am

    You know, I watched a few episodes for the first time the other day and was astounded. I think I’d saved something like $35 that week on groceries via coupons and sales, and I did feel a little lack-luster about it after seeing the show. It’s interesting to learn that stores break their own rules during taping.

    I’ve been working a bit harder (an hour a week) to plan my shopping trips based on sales, etc, and while I’m not actually spending LESS on food overall, I’m getting more for my $$.

    You know, I’m all for having a well-stocked pantry and freezer, but some of the extreme coupon people cross into hoarding … it seems to me.

    Plus, so much of what they buy is crap, nutritionally speaking.

  39. Robin Warshaw on June 21, 2011 at 6:04 am

    About 20 years ago (yikes!), I wrote an article for the Phila. Inquirer Magazine (no longer published) about the coupon industry and mega-couponers in the region. Most were able to get 85% or more off on their average grocery bills, by working very hard cutting and organizing coupons, plus working refund offers. Big difference back then was that the expiration dates on coupons were much longer than now–6 months was common, one year was often given. Now, it’s more like less than a month before a coupon expires–plus there are fewer coupons in newspapers and magazines, so an avid couponer has to work a number of channels. These conditions increase the planning time, while pushing people to buy things they don’t need in the immediate future in order to use a coupon before it expires. That defeats the point of couponing from the consumer’s standpoint–which is to save money in the here-and-now, not give over what available cash you have to invest in products you might not use until much later (if at all). By then, there will probably be another coupon appearing for the same product–most repeat regularly. The “air-brushed” dream of buying a cart full of groceries for nothing is an impossible waste of time and mental energy. If you achieve 15-25% off your total on average when you go to the supermarket, you’re doing very, very well. And you can put your energy into the rest of your life.

    • Leah Ingram on June 21, 2011 at 6:24 am

      Robin: Wow I had no idea the industry had changed THAT much! I know that these days you often have to buy 3 of something to get the savings, whereas it used to be 2 of something.

      I’ve had a lot of luck printing coupons out from the Internet, and I always need to remind myself to look in my “women’s” magazines (All You, Woman’s Day) for additional coupons.

      This past Sunday I went food shopping and, between store sales and manufacturers coupons, I saved nearly $62. But since my grocery bill was higher overall than I would have liked it to have been, I still left the store feeling defeated.

      I wonder if “Extreme Couponing” will lead to a DSM diagnosis or syndrome of some kind!

  40. Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple on June 21, 2011 at 5:44 am

    I used to use coupons. I don’t so much any more. I found the show fascinating at first, but very repititious (I guess that happens when you DVR a “marathon”).

    I think spending that much time and having a stockpile full of that much stuff that you can never use and is not healthy is kind of depressing. About the only uplifting thing about the whole show is that for many, they turned to couponing when someone lost their job and it kept the family going and fed.

  41. Caron on June 21, 2011 at 4:04 am

    I always clip and use coupons when I shop. So of course I was curious about the Extreme Couponing show. After watching it a few times all I could do was shake my head. I can’t imagine spending so many hours per week clipping, planning and organizing, shopping and unloading packages. And what the heck would I do with 100 boxes of pasta and several hundred bottles of laundry? I wouldn’t want to give up my life to concentrate solely on extreme couponing.

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