TLC’s Extreme Couponing – If You Don’t Use It, It Is Still Wasteful Even If It is Free

I made it through 15 minutes of TLC’s Extreme Couponing last night before I had to turn it off.  The paralegal, Jaime Kirlew, they first featured had an enormous stock pile including a shower that is no longer functional because she had it filled from floor to ceiling with paper towels and toilet paper.

What really bothered me was seeing her take 62 bottles of mustard off the shelf (she wanted 77, but there weren’t that many on the shelf) and buy them all because with a .50 coupon that can be doubled, she was only paying .37 cents per bottle.  (That still comes out to $22.94 out of pocket for mustard.  Seriously?)  Two thoughts came to my mind–what can a typical family do with 62 bottles of mustard?  Yes, mustard has a long shelf life, but 62 bottles?  Plus, what about the other shoppers who may come to the store to buy mustard on sale and find the shelf cleared because of this woman?

When I watched the premier episode of Extreme Couponing last December, I knew they were featuring people who are extreme in their couponing, but I was hoping now that they are running a 12 part series that they would show more typical examples of great couponers.  Instead, they seem to be going further with the “extreme” part of the show.

I’ll be the first to tell you that having a skill to take $1,800 worth of groceries down to $103 as the paralegal did is certainly a talent.  Yeah, to her.  But just because she CAN buy things so cheaply, does that mean she SHOULD?  In the Chicagoland area, one of our extreme couponers is Jill Cataldo.  She teaches others to do what she does, but she frequently donates her excess purchases to her local food bank.  That is a wonderful gift; she takes her couponing skills and buys enough not only for her family, but for local food pantries so others can also benefit from her skill.

If the extreme couponers on TLC donate their goods, TLC is opting to edit that part of the story out.  However, I do wonder how much they donate on a regular basis when couponer after couponer shows their house bursting at the seams with all of their loot.  If you buy that much and don’t share the bounty, it will go to waste.  There is just no way a typical American family can go through that many products before the expiration date.  Even if these couponers get the products for free, it is still wasteful if they won’t be able to use them before their expiration date.

While I wish I could view TLC’s Extreme Couponing to learn more couponing skills myself, that appears not to be the focus of the show.  Rather than helping other Americans who are struggling and would love to learn how to lower their grocery bills further with coupons, this show seems to be focusing on creating a freak show like atmosphere.  Several of these featured couponers state that their lives are out of balance and that their relationships are suffering because of their dedication to extreme couponing.   While they may have started couponing to save their families money, they now appear to have crossed over to hoarding groceries.  If they buy 62 bottles of mustard even though they will only use a few during the course of a year, it is wasteful.  They are wasting the groceries, their money buying all of the coupons (though some do get them for free) and paying for shelving to hold all of their goods, their household space, and, ultimately, their time.  The whole point of stockpiling is to buy enough to get your family through until the next sale, not to buy enough to create your own mini-mart at home.


  1. If the extreme couponers are donating some of the items I wish the show would show that. I have no problem if they are getting all that stuff and then turning around and donating some of the items. I get that it is a secure feeling knowing you have all of these groceries if something bad were to happen (and in most of these peoples cases they have had some sort of loss of control happening at one point) but I too have the skills and I do sometimes get bulk for instance I was able to get 41 boxes of pasta free a few weeks ago. I kept about 15 boxes that I thought would last us for several months and I donated the rest to my church for our youth group and a family in need. I think these people probably have a great hearts but I wish the show would show what they do with the products other than just stock pile them.

  2. Isabella says:

    I do agree with your views. I think couponing responsibly and sensibly is fantastic! I am what you would probably call a moderate couponer, but I find that I can buy many healthful and nourishing foods using my coupons. (I did not change my healthy menu planning because of couponing.) Just recently I picked up a package each of Dole wild blueberries and raspberries and 15 pkgs. of Steamfresh veggies for my family for a grand total of three dollars. I share many extras with friends, but I by no means have stuff bursting from my cupboards and closets around here!

    I cannot coupon like many of the extremists because of purchase policies at my local grocery stores. Sometimes I wish I could crank it up a notch because I would love to donate lots more to the food shelves. (And I would because we live in a clutter-free home!) I think some of the couponers are just plain selfish hoarders. That woman should march right down to her local food shelf and donate most of those mustards.

  3. I watched some of the show with my daughters and we sat there with our mouths open. I had to turn it off when we watched one woman freeze the computer at the store. She bought 150 candy bars. Why? Because they were free. Really? Then she was mad because they had to ring her purchase in 3 different transactions. I thought the store was being more than accomodating but she said ” This had better be the last transaction.” WOW. I am concerned about how the stores will deal with these “extreme couponers”. What will it do to the people who use the system fairly just to feed their families?
    We coupon because that is how I cut the bills so I can stay home with my 4 kids. There are times when I go to the store and don’t use any because the sales are enough. Plus you have to wonder how they feed their families with 200+ boxes of the noodle packages. There has to be balance I think.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the show. Nice to know I was not the only person who thought the peice was a little off balance with reality.

  4. I watched it with my fiance last night with giddy anticipation to learn something great. While the show was as amusing as Hoarders is sometimes, there’s not really a lesson there. There was a guy after the paralegal that bought 1100 boxes of cereal and he does donate most of what he gets to his church and food pantry so TLC isn’t editing that out purposefully, I just don’t believe the others do it. And the woman that had food ALL OVER her house really bothered me. If you coupon in such excess that it’s in every room (including bedrooms) there’s a problem. And I agree the over buying because it’s free doesn’t make it right. I would love to buy things for free, but in all honesty buying more than three at most would be wasteful for my family.

    Would you mind sharing how you got the vegetables so cheap? I would love to be able to buy veggies for next to nothing because we eat so many of them.

    • They did edit out that two others in that first episode donated a lot, too. The woman with the candy bars and pasta donated almost all of it, and the one in the dumpster has a YouTube video of her donating that TLC didn’t include. I’m on a message board run by the guy, “Mr. Coupon” Nathan Engels, and he does a ton of informative videos on how to make the most of your shopping dollars. He gets a lot, but he does donate tons, not just the cereal.

      Several of his videos were about the experience on the show, and parts were staged and scripted. He preordered the toothbrushes, for example, and didn’t clear the shelf (bad coupon etiquette.) I was surprised to learn that TLC isn’t paying them to appear!

      I’m not saying that some of them don’t have a bit of an obsession, or that they don’t have more than they can use, but many do go through their stockpiles on a regular basis, donate it, and have “stockpile sales” like garage sales to make money.

      They’re extreme, but that’s TLC – the editing is definitely done to make them look more extreme than they are. “Couponing in Moderation” wouldn’t have the same draw.

      • Melissa says:

        So true. I feel bad for the couponers then because TLC is making them look like obsessive hoarders.

        • This is what is bothering me about it. Many people have asked me about the show since I’m a coupon-er, but I don’t want to be associated with that kind of couponing. I coupon to save on household items and toiletries and use the saved money to buy organic and local produce. I think the ones who donate are wonderful, but the show gives me the creeps. America has so many problems with excess to begin with, now we can add this kind of hoarding to the list.

          • Melissa says:

            That is a great idea! Then you can buy organic and local produce without breaking the bank. I like it.

      • Wow Penny–you mean they don’t get paid to be on this show? That’s nuts!

  5. I agree with the above comments. We too have a coupon “queen” in our area but she is “sensible” and shows deals. As you stated last night on facebook…this is boardline hoarding in my opinion. If your home has become this “packed” how is one living? This is just too much stress for me to deal with, I’m all about the savings but not when it comes with the price of my sanity!

  6. TLC – the supposed “Learning Channel” is all about freak shows and not at all about “learning.” I, too, had high hopes that I would be educated from the coupon show but that was not to be the case.

  7. Natalie says:

    We don’t have cable, so I can’t watch the show, but I wonder if the behavior shown on the show is typical for these people? In other words, did the woman who bought the mega amount of mustard just do it for the sake of the show, or would she normally stockpile something like that? And, would the store normally allow that many coupons, or are they just accomodating the show? Either way, very interesting…

    • Melissa says:

      She may have amped it up for the show, but based on her enormous stockpile, I think she probably shops this way normally.

    • There was definitely a push to have the biggest shopping trip with the cameras rolling, which Nathan Engels mentioned on his videos on his site, We Use Coupons. He wouldn’t normally buy 1000 boxes of cereal at a time.

      Stores do allow many coupons. They’re reimbursed by the manufacturers and paid for taking them in addition to the face value, so it’s a good deal for stores.

  8. Well said! When I watched it, I kept think about how much of hoarders they were. Sometimes I have to watch myself not get out of control on food storage because in the past I’ve thrown away stuff that was old and stale. Even if it is free – it is a waste – especially when people are hungry around us everyday.

    It really turned me off by the freak show it was. It is amazing – but when you see the hoarding that takes over their lives I am appalled.

  9. Isabella says:

    To answer Emily’s question about how I bought my Steamfresh vegetables…..I often order coupons from a coupon cutting service or buy them on eBay. I bought 20 Steamfresh coupons for 10 cents each. These were one dollar off two Steamfresh. Then I hold them until the veggies go on sale, which they recently did–one dollar each. So after doubling my coupons, they were free (well, actually a nickel each because of the coupon purchases : )

    My local store doubles coupons up to and including one dollar, but one can only use five at a time and must have a purchase total of $25 before the coupons are subtracted. This limits our couponing somewhat here, but we still do OK! However, occasionally, my store will allow us to use 10 coupons at a time, which is great! The Steamfresh veggie sale is running this week, so I plan to use all my coupons for 40 bags of veggies for my freezer, all for a nickel each (and the stamp)! ( Above I should have written that I have already bought 16 bags of Steamfresh veggies, not 15) I also like to spread my shopping around to be sure that I don’t buy too much from one store. I always carry my coupons in my car and stop at stores while running errands in the city. I won’t have to buy veggies for a while!

    • Melissa says:

      Thanks for the info. What coupon clipping service do you use? I have bought them from eBay before, but I am not sure that is the cheapest way. I wish our stores doubled coupons here. 🙁

  10. I agree, I was not impressed. I am more of a minimalist. I would feel terrible having my kids have toilet paper under their beds and things everywhere! There is something to be said about the feeling of a un-cluttered and minimal household! 🙂

  11. AMEN! It is funny because I was just catching up on the show since I had never watched it before. My stomach felt sick as I watched these people buy JUNK. Even though they saved so much money, they were still buying majority processed foods, and way too much of it. Some of those people are going to have to pay that much in medical bills because they were very obese (Now I am not thin and a bit overweight, but I try to eat healthy and not out of a box every day).

    I feel angered because it is so extreme and sickening. Thanks for letting me rant, haha! My motto is to buy what you need and to stock up on good prices to the point that it is helpful, not obsessive.

    • Ashley I so agree…i actually just wrote the same thing before i decided to read the other comments! but you eating healthy will do more for your heart even if youre not pencil skinny…the outside is only one element of what goes on in the inside of your body by the food that you put in…:)

    • Jody Champion says:

      Totally agree with you. These people were buying massive amounts of processes junk food, and it showed.

  12. Lanea E. says:

    I have to respectfully disagree with you. If you watched the rest of the show they showed a family that had 7 kids that used coupons and involved their whole family in the process to teach their kids how to be financially responsible. Did they buy in excess, yes, but I don’t think any of it would go to waste. In the past episode when it was just a special they did show one person donate a fair amount of items to charity and one family had a youtube channel where they showed that they donated even more and that many extreme coupons donate to charity. I would say that the para legal is more of an outlier and she seemed to have slight mental issues where money was involved.

    • Melissa says:

      I did watch the entire special, and there was a woman, I believe she was a retired nurse, who did a great job with coupons and donated quite a bit. She did not have the gigantic stockpile like the rest, and she said couponing helped her survive when she was younger. I loved her story and her attitude, and wish they would have focused on her and her strategies further. Unfortunately, TLC seems to focus on the ones who seem more extreme.

      • Some of them are amazing, but no matter if you are the Duggers or if you are having a cookout for the President, 72 bottles of mustard is too much!

  13. I think the Extreme Couponers show is almost like a spin off from Hoarders! I definitely like to take advantage of sales and stock my cupboards and freezer, but I still don’t buy so much that I won’t possibly use it before it expires.
    If these people are donating to food banks then TLC should acknowledge that, it would offset the horrible feeling of wastefulness and maybe inspire others who could obtain free food for donation to the food bank.

  14. Greed comes in different shapes and forms. It comes in the form of spending like there is no tomorrow. It comes in the form of the biggest and most expensive house in the neighborhood, the most expensive car on the dealer’s lot. It doesn’t matter you can afford it or not as long as you can get loan for it.

    Some folks are just trying to satisfy some kind of ego that they have developed in their lives. They want to grab everything they can regardless whether others are left with nothing.

    Coming from a third world country but having lived in the States for more than 35 years, many things and attitudes still sound very crazy to me. But you will find many people in any country who would tend to do similar things. In America, you might be able to do it a lot more than other places. Americans have been known to do more crazy things than others.

    Oh! You sweet lady. Share it with others. Don’t throw it away which you might do eventually. Share it with your extended family if no one else.

  15. I was shocked as well. Did you see that one woman’s stocking system? You put cans in the top, and it rolls them to the back; this way they won’t expire (the oldest ones get pushed to the front for use). As an organization lover, I dug this…but then I thought “how could her family ever use that many cans of food???”

  16. Jamie committed coupon fraud. It was not talent. Unless the cashier is looking at the sizes/weightof the items she has a coupon for, she can get away with it. Thoses 63 packs of deli ham she bought was for a larger size whichwas more expensive. She bought the smaller size for .98 and had a $1 coupon for each. She made .02 on each one. How many people go to the store with a shopping list that has manufactuers codes on them? I knew before the show aired that it was only going to hurt the honest folks, and it has. I have been shopping at the same store for years and today when I used my coupons, every coupon was scrutinized carefully. Not to mention all the little coupon holders that are in front of some items on the shelves, they were all taken down. There was no talent there…only theft. In my opinion, TLC promoted fraud and as usual…the honest folks are going to suffer for it. By now that groery store knows they were taken by her and I bet TLC pays them the $1800.00.

    • Yes, it is unfortunate that honest couponers are scrutinized. Did you see the woman who had to do 18 transactions and it took almost an hour to check out? I have yet to see a cashier be so friendly when dealing with that.

  17. I watched this show and believed that about 50% of the people needed therapy. I should mention that I didn’t watch the new one, I watch an old one once and got two pointers that I kept with me. The first one was that one of ECs thought a good bargain on cereal was $1. Score in my opinion. I didn’t have to learn that one on my own.

    The second one I learned was to utilize a coupon clipping service. I got a bunch of Starbucks coffee coupons from them. It was so worth my money.

  18. I agree. Most of these couponers leave the store with fresh or even frozen fruits or vegetables, meat or even grains. I also agree that it IS a waste. I coupon because I am squeezing my budget to pay off my loans but I am very healthy. Most of those participants buy sodas, candy, cake mix and condiments. Its really sad because the money they are saving will soon go to health care. I think this show is a combination of hoarders who are OCD….great concept but like you said unrealistic for the savvy shopper who wants to learn how to save and still be balanced.

  19. Not to mention the energy waste. I saw one episode where they had 2 freezers and four refrigerators in their garage. How much is their electric bill every month?

    • Good point. Plus, how can they use up all that food before it goes bad when they are continually adding to the stockpile?!

  20. Julie Schmidt says:

    I am collecting donations for my school where 90% of our students suffer from poverty and many are homeless. These children have scholarships to college due to a generous group of people who set up the “Kalamazoo Promise” scholarship program. I want to make sure our students keep healthy and fed so they can come to school every day. If anyone knows how I might make this happen in southwest Michigan, please email me. I would welcome your suggestions.
    Best- Julie Schmidt

  21. Yes, it appears very wastefull, but I did see an episode where a woman feeds people at her church with all the food she buys, and another where a woman helped put a wedding reception dinner together for her sister with all the deals. I’m still stumped by how they use foods before the expiration and also, some seem to have 300+ toothbrushes, etc. You just would never use that many. Couponing is great, especially for a big family, but I guess it’s called “extreme” for a reason. It’s hard to watch the waste and excess, I would love to see more of the giving side of things! Some of the people talk about spending 20,30,40 hours a week on this…they could spend less time per week, stockpile less, STILL be saving and have more time (not stockpile) for their family!

    • Yes, I would like to see them focus more on people who do good with the skill they have saving at the grocery store instead of focusing on hoarders.

  22. Jody Champion says:

    It would be really nice if they would tell us a little bit about how to do extreme couponing instead of focusing on some other things. Like how much stuff they accumulate in their houses they can never possibly use. Very interesting article.

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