Extreme Couponing’s Hidden Costs: Spaving Gone Wild

tlc extreme couponing

Extreme Hidden Costs

The TLC show Extreme Couponing can be impressive for the first time-viewer.  Who wouldn’t want to scoop up carts full of groceries for only a few bucks, or better yet – have the store PAY you to take it home with you?   All of this happens one neatly packaged one-hour show.  However, the show is unrealistic for a myriad of reasons, most of which the coupon newbie isn’t aware.  Here are just a few reasons why the savings are not nearly as great as they sound.

Over-Inflated Savings Statistics

Take this headline for example: Extreme Couponing:  Family Saves $40,000 using coupons.  Clearly, those statistics are over-inflated.  What non-couponing families do you know that spend $40,000 on groceries to begin with?  That’s $3,333 per month!
The savings they are quoting contain hundreds or in some cases, thousands of items they never would have purchased if not for the coupons.  Spaving, a term used to describe spending to save , is out of control on Extreme Couponing.  To really come up with an accurate account of  savings through couponing, you would have to compare current expenditures (minus the costs of couponing — see below) against prior expenditures.  Undoubtedly, those statistics would not be nearly as impressive.

Extreme Couponers BUY Coupons

Many of the people featured on Extreme Couponing actually buy coupons through clipping services. While technically it’s illegal to buy coupons, clipping services out there that will skirt this technicality by giving coupons away but charging for their time.  Most charge anywhere from $.02 to $.50 per coupon.  Legal ethics aside, the point is the money they pay to purchase these coupons are never computed in the savings totals you see on the show.

Coupon Printing Costs

Printer ink to print coupons alone can be very expensive. Plus, many extreme couponers have purchased extra printers for their home to keep the coupons churning out.  Paper is the least of the printing expenses, but should not be overlooked either.  While the cost of printing coupons varies greatly depending on what kind of printer you have and techniques you use (ways to save on printing here), it shouldn’t be overlooked.  At the minimum, it’s a few cents per coupon.

Costs of Stockpiling

Extreme Couponers spend a lot of time organizing their stash of groceries, commonly known as the stockpile.  It’s their big investment, the goods that all those hours of couponing has provided.  However, there are costs associated with maintaining a healthy stockpile.

  • Electricity to power the extra refrigerators/freezers they need to accommodate their stockpiles
  • It’s not just the storage units/shelving for the Extreme Couponers’  stockpilethat cost money, but the storage does as well SPACE.  Take this equation into consideration:  Value of your home ÷ Square footage of your home = Value of each square foot____________ ÷ _______________ = ____________So, if you live in a $250,000 home and it’s 2,500 square feet, then each square foot is worth $100.


Stores Shown on Extreme Couponing Almost ALWAYS Double Coupons

I have yet to see a store featured on TLC’s Extreme Couponing that does not double coupons or have some sort of store loyalty program.  Usually it’s both – a double whammy for coupon clippers. Where I live, there are no such stores.  That automatically rules out any hope of me being able to duplicate a haul like these couponers.
The one bright spot of this show is that it is teaching coupon tactics that do work when applied to normal .  The problem is that just about everything else shown is unrealistic.  What are YOUR thoughts on Extreme Couponing and the costs related to it?


  1. Natalie WI says

    I agree with all of this – I thought the same thing when I saw Extreme Couponing and they bought coupons…where is the cost for that? It isn’t that cheap. I live in an apartment – I have very little space to keep anything so I only buy what I need and can donate ASAP.

  2. says

    Another thing your forgot to highlight with stockpiling, the cost of a generator. Currently, where I live in CT, there are many many people without power due to Hurricane (Tropical storm by the time it got to us) Irene. Without a generator, even the most beautifully maintained frozen stockpile is in ruins. If you are lucky enough to have a generator, you must purchase the gas for it, and at this point that has also been hard to come by as many of the gas stations were without power and not able to sell any gas, IF they had any left from before the storm.

  3. SHANNA WARD says

    Who really needs or uses 200 bottle of Ketchup or Mustard? Or diapers for the baby they dont have? The items they are buying in BULK dont seem to be getting used or even needed. I didnt see actual food to be eaten or stuff that normal families eat. It doesnt make sense to me to extreem coupon on items that are not needed. I wish those people would think about donating those products to a needy organization. Dont get me wrong, I do clip coupons but only for items we actually use and need.

  4. Janel says

    I refuse to watch the show. My mother was a coupon clipper for years, and passed along the tradition to me & I’ve done it faithfully for twenty years. My area’s Sunday paper is lean on the coupon inserts, so family that lives in the bigger city saves theirs & I pick it up every few weeks. I shop at Safeway for the double coupons and only use a coupon if it’s high value, a particular name brand, or something that we use a lot of at my house. Also, I hit the “clearance” section for dairy, frozen, & refrigerated stuff that is still good for a couple more days (two boys, 6 and 4, will eat ANYTHING and EVERYTHING) for 50% off. Lastly, if I’ve saved 20-30% on my bill, I’m happy.

  5. Becca says

    I am in agreement. I will admit, I watched the show the first few weeks. However, I do not live where they double coupons and BECAUSE OF THIS STUPID SHOW…many grocery stores have changed their coupon policies! This makes it hard for those us that just want to save a few bucks on a shopping order. I have, though, learned alot from websites about saving money and buying things that are on sale and combining that with a coupon. I also am a big fan of target that allows you to use a target coupon and a manufacturers coupon. My guess is, thought, before long they will stop allowing the stacking of coupons also. Until then, I am impressed and do use alot of combo coupons at Target.

  6. McMom says

    I think many coupon clippers fall victim to exactly what the company’s want — you to buy THEIR stuff whether you need it or not. I will always have a few coupons in hand on my way to the store, but I clip coupons that I need anyways. And I still look at prices. If I get to the store and there is another option cheaper even without a coupon, I get it instead (and this happens all the time). After I started staying home, I began grocery shopping in a whole new way to save money, but I have found looking for deals on what I know I need combined with ONLY buying what we need and then NOT wasting anything once it comes into our house, serves me much better than building my grocery list solely around the Sunday paper.

  7. says

    I just wrote up a similar post for my blog about how couponing shows and extremists are actually tricking you into thinking you’re staving money!
    My mother was a faithful couponer and I’ve learned a lot from her over the years. I am proud of myself when I save money on what I need, want and can use, not because I am hoarding a lifetime supply of dog food for a dog I don’t (and won’t) own. It’s ludicrous – plus, it’s those type of customers that clean store shelves for the thrill of it and leave the rest of us driving all over town for the item we DO want/need/will use!
    I HATE EC on TLC with a passion!

  8. Misty says

    I hate the show with a passion, and I don’t even get the channel to watch it. I use only a few coupons, because usually they are not what I need, and thanks to this show it is getting harder and harder to use the coupons I do have.
    Thanks TLC!!

  9. Johanna says

    I believe the show has had a negative impact on the practing couponer. I am not a regular couponer, but over the last year, I have really enjoyed my occasional coupon thrill. I’ve noticed stores that used to stack coupons have changed their policies and have started to discourage usage. Items are often missing. It seems like an innocent way to save money for a fmaily has turned into something more…not innocent.

  10. says

    I agree, I don’t like the show, I tried watching it because I do enjoy couponing. But the first episode I saw, the lady bought 72 mustards, REALLY 72 MUSTARDS. There is having a few backups and then there is a sick greedy disease that makes you buy 72 mustards. Even if you only pay $0.01 for them it’s still crazy. I do my couponing in moderation and with realistic expectations.

  11. Peggy says

    the one GOOD thing is that some of these people are donating from their stockpile – to food pantries, servicemen and even sending home with adult children. While I would never extreme coupon (can’t see spending money to get coupons nor do I have time to do everything they do or store it all), I have gleaned some insight into getting the most bang from my buck. Where my budget was $100 before & I’d have $10 off, now my budget is still $100, but I’m getting $30 off. The “extra” spending (read: spending my savings) goes into better quality meat and fresh vegetables now. And I’m with Misty – it is harder now to use the coupons I do have. My local store is starting to restrict internet coupons again.

  12. crystal says

    another thing they do is use a large quantity of the exact same coupon and get them all doubled on one transaction…the stores in my area only allow 1 double coupon & any other identical coupons are face value only. So these people would have to make 50 trips in my store, just to get what they are putting on the tv show!

  13. Donna says

    None of my stores will double with a loyalty program either. The most I can hope to see is doubled to 1.00 and a rarity of doubling to 1.50 but I have yet to even find that. Plus a lot of stores on the Extreme Couponing shows give these women/men the overages and my stores will only adjust to the sale price; never giving the overage in favor of my pocket! So, I agree that this show is not only exaggerating couponing but is now giving many stores problems from the “stockpiling” that is now happening. The stores have now altered their coupon policies to favor the stores even more so, making it now harder for people to coupon. Ugh…it’s a good concept taken totally out of context!

  14. Mid America Mom says

    Time I think is one of the biggest if not biggest reason people do not coupon. It takes time and energy to find the coupons you want (be it clipping out of the paper or using a clipping service), find stores with that exact item on sale (if you want to maximize your savings), and yes deal with organizing the stockpile.

    We used a clipping service when the kids were babies for baby food and diapers. Then there were the toddler staples like chicken nuggets, hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly, mac and cheese. We did save a lot of money. I was normally walking away with at least 40% savings.

    Not clipping anymore.

    That time we would use couponing is spent differently. These days we find ourselves living a different lifestyle and few coupons can apply. We shop more, keep less in the house, but we get less waste and better nutrition. We rarely buy anything from the frozen or prepared food areas. There is no soda pop or energy drinks to be found in our home. We eat much more fresh organic produce and butchered meat than ever before. We weaned the kids to no sugar (or any other kind of sweetener) peanut butter and use the same for jam when we feel we can afford it. More scratch cooking. We work with plain yogurt and sour cream and add to it. We make pancakes, muffins, and cookies not from a box. Yes I still buy processed foods like crackers, bread, chips, granola bars, and condiments (I am wondering if I could make crackers?) but buy on sale or at the warehouse.

    Happier and healthier!
    Mid America Mom

  15. Linda Mechel says

    I have always couponed. 40 years ago I had the big album book with coupons and usually saved a bunch, but only bought what I could use. Now that my kids are grown I don’t use as many because the 2 of us don’t eat that much, but I will use coupons and get free toiletries. The local homeless shelter loves to get them. Lots of people donate food, but not toiletries.

  16. J-Mama says

    So glad you wrote this article! From time to time, I get inspired and get into coupon mode. However, I forget them at home, don’t feel like buying three items to save 50 cents, or don’t want to buy processed foods just because they’re cheap. I often feel like a coupon failure. It’s good to know that there are hidden costs. They make it look so easy.

  17. Danielle says

    I agree with your article, Kim. I don’t know why so many Americans just don’t understand moderation. If I have time, I will check my grocery list against a coupling site ton see if there are any coupons I can use, but many weeks I don’t have time, and it’s really not a big deal.

    It is so frustrating to actually need something, find out it is on sale, and the go to the store and realize that someone else has cleared the shelves and not only will you miss the sale, but you cannont buy the product that you would have purchased anyway! I am going to Earthfare today to buy beef because we have been planning to grill hamburgers all week. We have bought all of our beef from there for the past two years, and I don’t mind paying for it. However, they put out a coupon for free beef earlier this week, and I’m afraid that because of that it will all be gone when I get there. And I would happily pay for it! Oh well.

  18. Karen says

    I didn’t like that many of the extreme couponers were buying items that aren’t really needed, just because they could. Who really needs 100 bottles of hand soap sitting on a shelf in their home?? All that says to me is that the store will probably have to reorder the soap and will probably raise the price which then affects everyone who purchases that item. I agree with having extras of items you use on a regular basis like canned food, bottled water, toilet paper, etc. But what some of the extreme couponers are doing is not right. I like to buy healthy food for my family, and most of the time the coupons that are out there are for junk food, or items we don’t need. Just because you ‘can’ buy something or get an item for free, doesn’t always mean you ‘should’!

  19. Samantha says

    my thought is how much money are they spending on therapy for their OCD? they have to add that into their “Spending” too.

    I think this show ruined couponing for the rest of America. My local store changed their couponing rules after this show started.

    Thanks a lot EC!!

    Great post I hope the naive read this.

  20. Krystal says

    I follow some of the EC blogs and I love them! I have found the balance to the extreme deals. I get free tooth paste or cheap diapers when we are getting low, but I never buy more than 5 of an item…and for toiletries I have a tote as my “stock pile” when it is full I am cut off for a while!

  21. Seija says

    Personally I have not watched the show all that much…and out of those I only saw ONE person that was actually helping others in the store learn some of the basics of couponing…now that I found impressive! Most of them though actually make me sad to think that all of those “great deals” are going to waste in someones basement/closet/garage stockpile while there are so many people out there (especially in these economic times) that really need help…I would love to see more people on the show actually help others with their knowledge and/or items in their stockpiles…hmmm…packages for soldiers, familys that were hit by natural disasters, baskets for pregnant young women/ new moms that don’t have much…so much good could be done and yet there seems to always be a need for MORE in their stockpiles… Sad 🙁

  22. katie says

    i think im the only one that is going to disagree. i love watching that show i learn alot about couponing i was a single mom of 2 for a long while so getting things for free, cheap or even got paid to take it i would. i do not buy my coupons nor do i print any i get all my inserts 100% free.monday am i will go to the gas station, deli, and dollar tree and collect allk the sunday papers they didnt sell. i live in NJ and all of my stores double coupons, they even trippled them up to and including 2$ every so often. things that i knew i didnt or wouldnt use i would donate it to pantrys, helping others that would use it. you talk about square footage and money but look if i have a closet as my stickpile from celing to floor and i know my family isnt going hungry for the next 1yr im not going to care about the square footage!

  23. says

    One thing that I always thought dumb about the stockpiles. Is the people would be “well if I run out of room I give the stuff away or donate it” And my thinking is why don’t you not go shopping….I’ve said it once I’ll say it again..the show is good and bad. Good b/c it’s getting people to realize you really can SAVE money couponing and it got me to learn to coupon. It’s bad b/c it’s unrealistic!

  24. says

    Im so glad you published this. I thought this the first time I watched the show. The expense of having 2 or 3 computers just to print coupons, all that paper and ink. Im all for buying coupons on ebay, say $1.50 for 10 boxes of nabisco crackers is a great deal….but they weren’t FREE,….
    Im just happy when I spent less than half for any item, thats enough for me!

  25. Mariah says

    This is why I often don’t use coupons…they are typically for items that I wouldn’t buy and I would actually be spending more money than if I didn’t have the coupon…it still costs to purchase the item.

  26. oregon coast says

    Thank you for agreeing with me. I do use coupons but only on what we use. We live on te coast so double or tripling unlimited number of coupons here. You are right how much does it cost to store all the stuff extreme couponers buy.

  27. SoCal Suzie says

    I do NOT like this show at all. I have even written them asking them to take the show off the air. Since this show has aired coupon policies have changed at 4 of my 5 stores I shop at. 3 of the stores admitted they changed their coupon policies because of the “Extreme Couponing” show. Instead of saving close to 42% every month I am now only saving about 29%. I’m unemployed at the moment and coupons use to save us. Now, not so much.

  28. Diana says

    One women who lived in Chicago, Illinois was the most realistic one she spent 75.00 for about 300.00 worth of groceries at Jewel Osco. In the Midwest we do not have any grocery stores that double coupons and usually never get the difference of the coupon back they take off what the product was if it is a free coupon. Some Kroger grocery stores have changed thier double coupon policy (they are no longer doing it), This news came out before the second season of extreme couponing, Even the Kroger says that it is not because of the show, I tend to disagree. These people on extreme couponing spend 30-40 hrs a week doing this, I spend about 2 and enjoy it.

  29. says

    here the stores have stop gaps to prevent extreme couponing in any way, shape or form. i am as avid a couponer as the next person, and if i can’t do it, i doubt if another person can. here they limit things to 4 items per transaction, coupons may double but you can only use 4 for a particular item and then they no longer double, you don’t get any leftover credit for the coupon that you may have (so if the store owes you 8 cents, the store keeps it and it does not go towards your bill as a credit), the list goes on. the most i can save is 75% on an order with coupons, and that’s a feat in and of itself because the stores have so many restrictions with coupons now that you’re more likely to save an average of 40% than 75% (which is still pretty awesome).

    i definitely agree with this article. in addition to what i’ve said, factoring in all of the costs to extreme coupon, and it can actually be quite wasteful.

  30. Lisa M. Schroers says

    I LOVE THIS SHOW!!!!!!

    Yes, I do agree that SOME stock piles are outragous, BUT if it’s kept with-in reason I don’t see a problem with it. Esepcially if you know you’re getting a great deal on things you know you will need when your household bread winner will be out of work for a peiod of time.

    My husband is on medical leave for knee surgery. He has saved 3 wks of his paid vacation time for this. He will be getting paid for vacation, but he will be out for a total of 4 wks. Thankfully, he also has short-term disability to cover his 4th wk. BUT, it only pays HALF of his normal weekly pay.

    Using coupons combined with sales, I have a small stock pile to get us by till he goes back to work. Just basic that I know we use alot of. Toilet paper, paper towels, soups, cereal, cleaning supplies, detergent, fabric softener. Most room scents I have bought were on sale last week @ Walgreens. Buy $20 worth get $5 off coupon for your next order. When I bought the $20 worth I also had coupons too. I had $6 or more in coupons for these products On one trip I had a Buy this get this free PLUS I also had a $1 off coupon for the item I was paying for. When I got my $5 coupon I saved it for the next days trip to purchase Tide that was on sale for $5.99 PLUS I also used my $2 off coupon making it $3.99 then purchase 2 Puffs klenex that was on sale for $0.99 to use the difference AND use a coupon for that too. It was WELL WORTH IT!!!

    Using coupons is helping us. I’m not the exteme couponer that you see on t.v. But, I do well enough with what I save.

    Recently, a few companies (Dove, Treseme & others) had buy 1 get 1 free. It was brands that I don’t normally use, these were same type products just more expensive. They were on sale at Target too. Ended up being cheaper to go with these more expensive brands this time for the sale and the coupons too!! If I had it to do again I WOULD!!

    Too help us even more (no coupons for this) I has switched our t.v., home phone and internet company which will save us over $100.00 a month!!

  31. says

    I just recently moved to Florida from NYC. In NYC I shopped at Target and stores like Cheap Jacks and Odd Lots and Trader Joes .Many times but not always you could get products cheaper than had you used even two coupons.I buy things if I like them.Also the products the EC buy are disgusting processed food.DO they give their kids straws to drink the BBQ sauce as an extra snack? Here in FL I do coupon more because I have more time.Having recently moved and given away many things, I try not to buy things that I don’t need because I have some compulsion to look at it in my closet.I also dont watch commercial TV. I really dont need a Swiffer!!!!!!!! How bout you?

  32. says

    For months now we have been hearing over and over again how “Extreme Couponing has ruined everything”. It is so amazing how some of the “seasoned” couponers have created such an uproar because they are no longer the only people who understand the benefits of using coupons. With many stores making adjustments to their coupon policies as of late the cries of protest have begun to grow even louder. Have these changes made things tighter for couponers across the country maybe, but have these changes ruined couponing absolutely not. There were some unethical and at times flat out fraudulent actions that were portrayed on the show and of course we do not advocate that. However, the fact still remains that as long as you use coupons in the proper manner and abide by the store’s coupon policy you can still save TONS of money through the use of coupons.

    Our inbox is filled with stories of people who have fallen on hard times that have found breathing room because of the money that they have been able to save through the use of coupons. Take a guess where they were introduced to the world of couponing……..You guessed it!—Extreme Couponing. How much more difficult would their lives be right now if they never stumbled upon their introduction into the world of couponing. The truth is for every complaint that we have read about how Extreme Couponing has ruined couponing, we have read 5 emails of how the show has changed their families lives for the better.

    Here’s the reality of the situation, Extreme Couponing is the number one rated show on their network. That usually doesn’t equal a cancellation. If things have become more difficult for you because of the show we encourage you to take action. Now we aren’t talking about signing a petition to have the show cancelled because that is just a complete waste of time. What we mean is take meaningful action such as talking with your store managers about possibly getting more stock in for example. The more stock that they sell whether they receive cash or coupons makes their store number look good. The fact is Extreme Couponing is here and it looks to be here for a good while. There are couponers everywhere now so embrace them and share your knowledge instead of your disdain. We’re all in this together.

  33. says

    I love watching the Extreme Couponing show because it fascinates me but who really needs 100 jars of BBQ sauce? You have got to wonder how out of touch some of these folks are. I do really like when the shoppers donate their “overage” to charity or help out other families. That I see as the upside. I would love to see a way a community could “pool” their purchasing power and help out those who really can’t afford everyday essentials – and no BBQ sauce is not an essential. 🙂

  34. says

    I couldn’t agree with you more!

    If coupons like that existed in my area (Madison WI) then we’d be saving hundreds per month. I have never seen any type of coupons that offer the savings advertised on those TV shows or mentioned on many other blogs.

  35. Jaylah says

    I do understand I’m a bit late on this, but….

    “Spaving” is NOT saving unless you actually have a genuine need for that specific item in the foreseeable future. Buying an extra bottle of the shampoo you use because it’s on-sale is smart. Buying something you don’t really need (extra clothes, etc) just because you think it’s a great deal isn’t. If you buy something you don’t really need at 50% off, you haven’t saved 50%. You’ve SPENT 50%.

    I look at those extreme couponing shows or segments on other shows, and I see all of the totally processed crap they’re buying for “food.” I wouldn’t feed my dog half that crap they’re evidently feeding their kids.

    And why “buy” 100 air fresheners, even if you get them free? You’re going to “donate” them? Really? When? And do you honestly think that families desperate enough to get food at food pantries are really all that worried about air fresheners?? How about you donate a half dozen cans of fruit, instead, and really make a difference to somebody?

    I do, occasionally, use coupons. But ONLY for products I would buy even if I didn’t have the coupon.

    I’ve also noticed that, more than half the time, generics are cheaper than brand names, even if you have a coupon for the brand name. I’m not going to use a coupon, just because I have it, when a suitable generic is available at even less cost. And, as many others here have said, I live in an area where there are NO stores that double coupons.

    “Spaving” is really just a dumb term to make you feel like it’s okay to spend money you don’t need to.


  1. […] MommySavers.com “Spaving” Gone Wild: The Hidden Costs of Extreme Couponing is just one example, but take a look at the comments on the article.  One lady comments: “BECAUSE OF THIS STUPID SHOW many grocery stores have changed their coupon policies! This makes it hard for those us that just want to save a few bucks on a shopping order.”  Another says: “it’s those type of customers that clean store shelves for the thrill of it and leave the rest of us driving all over town for the item we DO want/need/will use!  I HATE EC on TLC with a passion!”  Another: “I’ve noticed stores that used to stack coupons have changed their policies and have started to discourage usage. Items are often missing. It seems like an innocent way to save money for a family has turned into something more…not innocent.”  There’s lots more. […]

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