15 April, 2011

Extreme Couponing on TLC. Fact or Fraud?

I am a big believer in coupons. I clip and sort them every week, I download them from internet coupon sites, and I carefully check out the sale flyers from the local stores.  I often cut more than 40% off my total at the supermarket, and there have been some weeks when I've done even better. I think the best percentage savings I ever got was 75% one week.  Pretty cool.

So naturally I was interested in TLC's new show, Extreme Couponing.  Everyone has heard stories about shoppers who have parlayed clever coupon use into 98% savings, and I thought it would be kind of cool to see it in action.  Was it really possible to get massive savings like that?  Would TLC actually show how to do it?  I probably spend a couple of hours a week getting ready for my ubersavings shopping trips - I wanted to see if that was what these other guys were doing, or if they used a different organizational system than I do.

I was pretty disappointed.

Screencap from TLC's Extreme Couponing
For starters, it seems to me that most of these Extreme Couponers are just highly-organized hoarders.  Instead of piles of shit and randomly stacked boxes and stuff all over their house, they have neat shelves lining cellars, garages, and storage rooms where they stack 500 multipacks of toilet paper, 4000 tubes of toothpaste, and 800 bottles of mustard.  They spend almost as much time organizing, collecting coupon flyers, and planning as I do at my regular job every week. And I was struck by how some of them are just plain selfish bastards, cleaning out the shelves at the grocery store so they can score 300 toothbrushes for a total of a dollar three-eighty. How impressive: an entire community gets to have rainchecks so some obsessive pennypincher can get a Savings Boner.

As it turns out, despite TLC's show description ("In Extreme Couponing, meet the everyday people who save hundreds of dollars in a single trip to the store") most everyday people will not reap the huge savings that the featured shoppers take in.  One woman on the show needed to check out in 18 separate transactions in order to loophole around store policies regarding quantity and coupon limits. The producers of the show arranged the trip with the store manager and with permission of the store's corporate office.  And many of the awesome victories on the show also rely on double and triple coupons - sometimes at stores that don't usually multiply coupon values, but which agreed to do so for the publicity value of being in the show. Think you have enough clout to get a store to chuck their policies without a network's PR muscle behind you?

And now it turns out that at least one of the people on the show seems to have used fraudulent techniques in order to pare her supermarket bills down to next to nothing. In an April 8 blog entry, couponing expert Jill Cataldo devotes a large number of column-inches detailing how one of the shoppers featured on the show (Jaime Kerlew) may have been taking fraudulent advantage of technical loopholes in the way coupons are scanned at the register. Jill explains how this particular kind of coupon fraud works and then analyzes the alleged perpetration  using screencaps and visuals from the actual show. Check out the blog entry here.


Jaynell said...

I've gained the title, from my husband, as "The Queen of Free Shit". I can use enough coupons to pay next to nothing, playing something we call "The Drugstore Game". But, there is certain etiquette among couponers; one should never clear a shelf (always leave enough for others to get a good deal) and also never willingly commit coupon fraud. This will just give the rest of the coupon community a bad name.

IrishLass said...

Maybe they're saving up for the zombie apocalypse ;)

Donna Turner said...

Amen - saving is one thing, being a pig is another.