The new TLC show about savvy coupon shoppers is certainly shocking to watch. These dedicated coupon-clippers spend hours each week planning their grocery trips, finishing with huge hauls worth hundreds to thousands of dollars—and they walk away with only a few dollars leaving their wallets. I’ll admit that some of the details of the shoppers’ lives turned me off. I couldn’t imagine having so much food and toiletries stockpiled that I would need to store things in bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, basements, attics and so on. But watching the checkout price go from nearly $600 to less than $10 is certainly tempting. So, how do these extreme couponers do what they do? Here are the secrets behind paying almost nothing at the grocery store:
1. Get extra copies of coupon inserts. Couponers find multiple ways of doing this—from subscribing to multiple copies of the Sunday newspaper, to asking the newspaper to deliver the extra inserts that would otherwise be chucked, to dumpster-diving for coupons, to using online coupon services. Having multiple coupons for products allows you to stockpile items at the rock-bottom price, which is how many of the extreme couponers end up with a grocery store replicated in their homes. In addition to coupon inserts, you can also find printable coupons online. These are free, but you can only print one coupon per product.
2. Shop the grocery circulars before you shop the store. Once you have your coupons, you will need to match them to deals, promotions and store coupons. If you just go straight to the store with your coupons, you may find that the generic brand is cheaper than the name brand, even with the coupon. However, by matching your coupon deal with other deals, including double or triple couponing, you will be able to get products for a great deal cheaper.
3. Organize! Matching all of these coupons requires incredible levels of organization. One method for keeping coupons orderly and right where you need them is to use a binder for displaying baseball cards and using tabs to keep track of what type of product is where in the binder. From there, you will need a system for creating a list of items, the price, the coupon, etc. Systems will differ from shopper to shopper—and I’ll admit that this is the area that will keep me personally from ever becoming an extreme couponer. I have neither the temperament nor organizational skills to take the time week after week to play with coupons, lists, circulars and calculators.
4. Plan ahead for your trip to the store. Some coupons specify that only one coupon can be used per item per transaction, so you will want to separate your lists and keep “transactions” separate in your cart. You will also want to make sure you have your coupons organized into easily accessible groups so that you can quickly find those you need. Checking out as an extreme couponer can be stressful for the cashier and other patrons, so plan your trip for a low-traffic time, like early morning or late evening, and be sure to let your cashier and shoppers behind you in line know that this will probably be a long order.
5. Remember that it’s just a show. Though it is possible to be an extreme couponer and save hundreds (or thousands) at the grocery store, it’s also possible to let this method of shopping take over your life—as several of the individuals showcased have made clear. A quick look at couponing websites shows that most coupon bloggers feel that the show exhibits unrealistic looks at how to save money and how real couponers live. Most real couponers will only stockpile through the next sale cycle, rather than for the next decade. And since coupons are almost always for non-perishables, remember that it’s impossible to always be an extreme couponer—without fresh produce, dairy and meats, you’d get scurvy and rickets.
If you’re willing to dedicate the time and energy to the task, it is more than possible to significantly reduce your grocery bill through coupons. Just remember that your time isn’t free, no matter how many free toothbrushes you can get by spending your time with extreme couponing.