Extreme Coupons: TV Show Draws Extreme Backlash

Last Updated Jun 27, 2011 3:21 PM EDT

Last month I described five reasons to steer clear of extreme couponing, and now I think I have a sixth: It brings out the worst in both consumers and retailers.

Industry watchers say TLC's popular reality show, Extreme Couponing -- which depicts coupon-obsessed men and women spending 30 to 40 hours a week cutting coupons to net pounds and pounds of groceries for pennies on the dollar (exhausted yet?) -- may be causing more harm than good in the real world.

On the retail front, some big retailers -- wary of couponing copycats -- are pushing back on former coupon allowances for ordinary shoppers:
  • At Rite Aid, shoppers can no longer combine buy-one-get-one-free coupons or promotions -- a strategy that, in the past, allowed customers to get two free items. The chain is also limiting the number of coupons a shopper can use per item to four, as long as there is enough stock. Before, the store accepted "multiple identical coupons for multiple qualifying items."
  • Target now forbids "stacking," the act of combining manufacturer and store buy-one-get-one-free coupons, in order to receive both items for free.
Meanwhile, viewers are trying to take on the TV show's tricks to no avail -- and becoming 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 Supermarketguru.com, told her that "shoppers 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."

And, believe it or not, some of the coupon-obsessed across the country have reportedly turned to newspaper theft to take advantage of as many coupon circulars as possible. Some subscribers complain that their papers are missing coupon inserts, while some regional newspaper companies report papers have been stolen from coin-operated racks. Now, that's extreme.

Coupon Dos & Don'ts
Still, as wary as I am of coupon mania, I'm willing to concede that there are some smart ways to use coupons -- as long as you're buying something you actually want or need. Many stores still have lenient policies. Here's some advice for tactfully getting the most out of coupons and some coupon etiquette Do's and Dont's.

Do Know Your Limits. Save time, energy and embarrassment at the register by playing with the rules established by retailers and manufacturers. Visit their Web sites to learn if there have been any updates or changes to their coupon policies.

Do Ask Friends and Neighbors to Leave Aside Papers. Some people actually subscribe to newspapers for the articles, not the coupons. It's perfectly acceptable to ask these friends and family members -- politely -- to set aside the coupons for you to pick up at a later time.

Don't Barter for New Papers. According to a report in North County Times, local publishers say customers are asking to return papers for new ones with fresh coupon circulars. I'm all for trading up, but, really?

Do Start a Small Coupon Swap. Rather than stealing your neighbor's Sunday paper to benefit from the extra coupon circular, create a support system through a small, local coupon exchange. Members can meet once a week in person for 30 minutes to exchange coupons for things they actually would buy anyway. (One person's buy-one-get-one-free instant oatmeal is another person's 50-cents-off cold cereal.) Online exchanges also exist at savingsadvice.com and thriftyfun.com.

Don't Copy Coupons. Many stores mention in their coupon policies that "coupons are void if copied, scanned, transferred, purchased, sold ..." etc. Again, stick with the official policy. You'll still manage to save a good chunk of change -- and by skipping a long debate at the checkout, you'll also avoid unnecessary delays both for you and the shoppers waiting behind you.

Do Ask Manufacturers to Send Coupons Directly. If you can't find manufacturers' coupons readily on their Web sites, email or call them to request coupons be sent directly to your inbox. That's what many successful couponers claim to do. It sometimes earns them freebies, as well.

Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter/farnoosh
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    Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter at @farnoosh.

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