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The Future of Extreme Couponing

By Russ Alderman

The practice of strategically using coupons to game the system and receive hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise for very little in actual expenses has now been popularized by the TLC program Extreme Couponing. For years, a loosely-organized, underground collection of bargain hunters have worked to use coupons in a variety of ways manufacturers never intended. “Extreme couponing” can be done in a number of different ways, but it usually involves combining store discounts with manufacturers coupons and gimmicks like “double coupon days” to buy items at a small fraction of their typical cost.

Some extreme coupon enthusiasts have used the hobby for good by acquiring bulk amounts of items like toilet paper or ketchup and donating the load to homeless shelters and other groups that benefit the underprivileged. Others use extreme couponing to their own personal gain by waiting for the right time to stock up on years worth of household goods or by buying items on the cheap and selling them at their actual market value.

TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” documents the lives of coupon hoarders who have vast storage areas filled with goods they acquired on the cheap. Some of the people depicted on the show are clearly obsessed with the practice of buying a lot for a little. For some extreme coupon enthusiasts, the goal is to buy anything at a price far less than it’s market value. Whether or not it’s something they actually want or need is not of concern. Many coupon hoarders shop late at night when stores are less crowded and there’s less risk of store management taking an interest in what they’re doing.

Unfortunately for the extreme coupon users, stores are beginning to fight back. Recently, stores such as Target, Rite Aid, and Publix have changed their coupon policies to limit the number of manufacturer’s coupons they’ll accept per item.

Manufacturers are also cracking down on extreme couponing. Recently, Proctor and Gamble created a limit of four coupons per consumer per shopping trip in an effort to reduce how much extreme coupon users undermine their bottom line.

The Food Marketing Institute held a keynote address titled “PROTECT YOUR BOTTOM LINE FROM COUNTERFEIT COUPONS AND EXTREME COUPONING” at a recent industry summit. They are educating industry insiders on the latest coupon fraud schemes and how to protect against them.

So while the practice of extreme couponing is now being celebrated via a cable television show, expect that only to make it harder and harder for consumers to successfully strategize coupon use to their significant advantage. The industry is fighting back. Additionally, the popularity of the TLC show is making extreme couponing more and more popular.

Extreme couponing had a chance to survive when it was only a small handful of eccentric shoppers exploiting holes in the system. Now that more and more people are trying to do it, manufacturers and retail outlets are likely to move swiftly to make extreme couponing a thing of the past.

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