How to Think Like an Extreme Couponer

extreme couponing stockpile
(Article by Lisa, while J$ is in Cali)

It seems I have finally come in to fashion. See, I’ve been couponing since long before couponing was cool. Notice how I even use the word coupon as a verb? I do it with CVS too. As in, “I’m going CVS’ing as soon as my husband gets home.” Read: “I’m going to walk into CVS with a pile of coupons and walk out with bags loaded with stuff I didn’t pay cash for.” Even when times were extremely prosperous and Americans were spending money as quickly as they could and spending money they didn’t have, I was clipping coupons. Raised by a frugal grandmother, it’s in my blood.

Then a few things happened, a perfect storm if you will. The economy tanked as did the housing market. Americans were losing jobs and their homes were losing value so quickly heads were spinning. Suddenly, it was cool to get stuff for free by clipping coupons. Now I no longer try to keep friends and family from seeing my stockpile of free goods in my basement. I became proud of it and now show it off. Instead of worrying that they’d turn me in to the show “Hoarders,” I’m secretly hoping they’ll suggest me for “Extreme Couponers.” (As an aside, one of my best couponing buddies, Heidi, insists that we are hard-core couponers, not extreme.)

With smart phones and social media, a hard-core couponer can now find a deal, find a few dozen free somethings, and have it posted on Facebook before the cashier is done scanning the last coupon. And non-couponers gawk at the photos and long for all that free stuff.  Couponing is finally en vogue. I taught a couponing class at my local library last month, and it had record attendance out of all their classes! How do we do it?

It’s really not that hard. Admittedly, as the hobby becomes more popular, the manufacturers and retailers are catching on to our game and they are making it a bit more difficult with limitations and wording on coupons. But there are still deals to be had if you know where and how to look for them. Even if you don’t want to dumpster-dive for Sunday coupon inserts (I don’t, btw) you can do well. Follow these few steps:

  1. For hard-core couponers, it’s just all about stacking deals. Here are the various deals that could possibly be stacked: sale price, store coupon, manufacturers’ coupons, Catalina offer (certificate printed out at register, like a gift certificate, when you buy a particular item or family of items), mail in rebate, e-savings, buy one-get one (bogo) sales, gift card offers, and earning rewards points.
  2. Pick one or two grocery stores that you like and be loyal to them to learn their policies as far as coupons and deals. It can be overwhelming when you are first introduced to deals, and it’s easier to learn a store or two first, then branch out.
  3. Many stores now offer shopper loyalty cards, get one. And then see if you can register it online for additional e-savings or e-coupons. These are electronic coupons that are attached to your card that automatically deduct from your total when you scan your card. (Editor’s note: Mrs BudgetsAreSexy and I just started doing this — SO EASY!! And we had no idea ourselves until we started watching Extreme Couponers ;))
  4. When the store runs sales and promotions, learn what deals you can stack. Will your store allow a bogo coupon to be combined with a bogo sale? Some do. On a bogo sale, some stores will allow you to use a coupon on each item, even the free one. Will they allow you to use a paper manufacturer coupon in addition to the e-coupon?
  5. When I am getting items for free, all I am doing is stacking deals. For example, Kellogg’s cereals is on sale this week at my local grocery store. First deal-sale, price is three boxes for $5. Next deal-when you buy three boxes, you get a Catalina printed out at register for a free gallon of milk. Next deal-I have many manufacturer coupons for Kellogg’s, making the cereal anywhere from $.27-$1.17 per box. Next deal-in store promo for a free tote bag when you buy two Kellogg’s cereals. Next deal-the Kellogg’s boxes at my store also had coupons attached to the front of the box that had a “Free produce or M&Ms when you buy two Kellogg’s cereals.” Next deal-there’s an online printable rebate form for $10 when you buy $10 boxes of Kellogg’s. That’s all it is, stacking deals. And I’ll score 40 or 50 boxes of Kellogg’s cereal, dozens of tote bags, my produce, several bags of M&Ms, a dozen gallons of milk, all for about $20 after all is said and done and I get my rebates.

I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years, I started couponing in college. I’ve learned that both retailers and manufacturers are not that original nor are they very creative. It’s the same deals, recycled over and over. Chances are if the item is on sale, there is probably a coupon out for it. The internet is your friend-just search the brand name + rebate or printable coupon and see how many hits you get. Consider finding a deal blog or board that you like and follow them. Lots of bloggers (and may I suggest SmartSpendingSpot) post all the deals in their area, complete with links to printable coupons, e-savings and rebate forms. Find a site you like, and the deals will be spoon-fed to you and soon enough you’ll recognize it all on your own.

Hard-core couponer Lisa lives in southeastern Pennsylvania with her husband, two young sons and three dogs. She runs the site and is also a moderator for several forums on, including the Stockpiling forum.

(Grocery stockpile pic by Tammra McCauley)

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  1. Lisa April 28, 2011 at 8:22 AM

    Hi everyone! It’s me Lisa, today’s guest post author. Just thought I’d stop over & say Hi.

  2. Steph April 28, 2011 at 8:47 AM

    Hi Lisa, great article. I think the confusion comes for most people as to what you might do with 40 boxes of cereal. I can’t imagine my family ever consuming that much before it expires.

  3. Amy April 28, 2011 at 9:09 AM

    Steph, it depends on how much cereal you eat. My family of 4 goes through 2 boxes a week, so 40 boxes lasts us 5ish months. Cereal doesn’t expire for at least a year, so I’m good there. If you use 1 box of cereal a week, then a stockpile of 10 boxes is plenty before it goes on sale again. The point is that if you won’t use it, don’t stockpile it. For example, my family does not eat mustard, so I only buy 1-2 a year for a few recipes we love. But I stockpiled 20 bottles of extra virgin olive oil at 1.99 each because I use it all the time and it won’t go bad before I can use it all. Take the strategies of stockpiling or couponing and make them your own.

    Also wanted to say hi Lisa! It’s amylynne01 from HCW I am a hard-core couponer too, definitely not extreme ;)

  4. Darla April 28, 2011 at 9:21 AM

    Being frugal helps your bottom line, but also enables one to give to others. If you find items you can purchase for pennies and can’t use all of it yourself – why not donate it to your local food pantry? Your food dollar can stretch to help those around you as well!

  5. Kevin @ April 28, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    My time is more valuable to me than spending the time it would take to figure out all these coupon deals. I think it’s great that some people do this, but it’s not for me. I just buy what’s on sale on the shelf

  6. CityFlips April 28, 2011 at 9:55 AM

    I’m just a baby couponer, but I love getting the deals. Since I’m fairly new the gig and don’t have tons of time, I check out sites like for a list of what coupons match the sales and get what I can. Last week all I got was a free bottle of Listerine at CVS.

  7. Jenn @ Frugal Upstate April 28, 2011 at 10:05 AM

    While I have all the respect in the world for folks who get these kind of deals, I find that I just can’t do it! I live 30 minutes from the stores, I don’t get the paper (therefor no inserts), and I don’t buy much in the way of prepackaged items. With the price of gas and the time factor (usually I only have between 7:30 & 3 to go shopping while the kids are in school) I just find the idea of the work involved in couponing to be too much. Instead I use a price book (which needs serious revamping with the rising food costs) and tend to shop at the few places (Aldi’s etc) where I get the best prices on a regular basis.

  8. jolie April 28, 2011 at 10:57 AM

    Up here in Canada, for the most part, our stores and companies do not have the same coupon philosophy as we see for our neighbours to the south. I use coupons sometimes, if they are for something I’m already needing. The more complicated structures I see on Extreme Couponing – well I think I’d need a course first before I could participate LOL Who says learning math in school is not important :-)

  9. MacroCheese April 28, 2011 at 11:30 AM

    I have a fundamental objection to the Extreme Couponing movement (is it a movement?).

    Walking away with products for free because of extreme abuse of the system seems dirty and mischievous to me.

    Just use one coupon and make your purchase.

    What this will do is effectively end the coupon business completely as more and more people are exposed to those techniques and try them out.

  10. Lisa April 28, 2011 at 12:40 PM

    I have lots of people tell me they don’t have the time. The example I always give is–it’s hilarious to me that I’ll post a brag or super good deal on facebook, then someone will say ‘I wish I had time to do that’ and then later they’ll send 500 farmville requests over. And fail to see the irony.

    Yes, this is a hobby for me as well as a cost-cutting measure. Like with any hobby, it’s easier as you do it more often. I only ever shop at 3-4 stores and have been doing so for years, so I know their policies, I know their promos and my mind just thinks in deals.

    My family happens to go thru 3-4 boxes of cereal a week, so this is not an extraordinary amount for us. And since Crispix and some other healthier options were included in this particular deal, I wanted more of that.

    As far as abusing the system, you’re free to think what you want about me. As a consumer, I’m free to shop how and where I wish to shop. Sure, I get tons of stuff for free. I also plunk down $80-$100 every week at my local grocer, because things like produce, meat, lunch meat, milk–very tough to find deals on that. Just my basics every week costs me that much. And I choose to buy those items at a store that also is very coupon friendly. Other stores in my area are not–they don’t double, or they will only double one of the same or four of the same coupon. They’re free to set whatever coupon policies they wish–and as a result, I take my spending business elsewhere too.

    I don’t break any rules. I follow the policies of the stores, the manufacturers and the coupon printers. There are enough good deals to be had without committing fraud. I’m just using the system to my advantage, I’m not abusing it.

  11. Suze April 28, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    Great job with the couponing! I love the idea of getting all that stuff free or almost free..unfortunately, I don’t buy much in the way of prepared foods..I eat mostly veggies and fresh fruit, organic stuff, real food that you don’t find many coupons for..It is good to know how to get these deals for stuff like cleaning products and paper products though. That stuff adds up quick. :O)

  12. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager April 28, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    I watched about 5 minutes of Extreme Couponing and got so frustrated. This woman bought 73 bottles of mustard. Does a family of four ever eat 73 bottles of mustard? I don’t think so. Who cares if it only cost $0.49 (and normally $1.49) it’s still $36 going to waste (okay maybe a little less cause you might actually use some).

    The thing that killed me is the stock piling of food like World War Three is going to happen tomorrow. I think it would be great if they showed a family that bought 73 bottles of mustard, kept four bottles like a normal family and then donated the other 69 to a food kitchen for the homeless. That is putting a good skill to work!

  13. 20 and Engaged April 28, 2011 at 1:15 PM

    Extreme couponing goes a little overboard at time, especially since there’s usually never a time where I can get something I need for free. It’s always something I can use occasionally, never over and over. But it’s still pretty cool :)

  14. Melanie April 28, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    I don’t have anything against the idea of extreme couponing, but I just wonder how you could ever get fresh produce, meat, etc? Those are the items that I usually buy, trying to stay away from processed food. Just wondering how one might do that.

  15. Brian April 28, 2011 at 9:01 PM

    I think it is awesome for those who do it, but I don’t see the value in getting all this cheap, processed food. Where’s the healthy stuff? Most of what I see in the pictures people post from this type of couponing isn’t very good for people who try to eat more natural foods.

  16. F April 29, 2011 at 1:52 PM

    My only thing about this extreme couponing. How do people eat all that food or use 50 bottles of mustard?

  17. Steph April 29, 2011 at 7:45 PM

    Well, I couldn’t wait to get home to post this message here. As I was shopping, my store was completely out of almost all items that were on sale and had a coupon. I had to speak to someone at customer service about another issue and she stated that they had changed their coupon policy and no longer allow stacking coupons. This is mainly because of the wave of people who come through the store and take every item they have that has a coupon and leave none for the other customers. If you are going through the store and loading your cart with 40 boxes of cereal at a time, your store will eventually change their policy as well.

  18. Lisa May 1, 2011 at 12:54 AM

    I have been couponing for over a year now, and it’s been such a great experience while our family was going through difficult financial times. I have a good-sized stockpile(I have enough free razors, shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, toothbrushes, coffee, cereal, lotion, etc) to last about a year, and most of these items were free or almost free, as in less than $.40 – $.50. I also get lots of snacks, which we love, not afraid to admit it! Those are also very cheap or free consistently. Instead of shopping for what I need exclusively, I add to the stockpile each month those things that I need. I’m spending the same amount but I’m finding that now I can purchase better meat, organic produce and dairy products, etc.

    Even if people can become more aware of how they are shopping and realize that there is more than one way to shop. It takes lots of time initially but it gets easier, and no one needs as much stuff as the people on the Extreme Couponing show. At the very least, check the coupons that come out of the machine next to the cash register; those are often high value or even actual money that can be spent on anything. Every weekend I go to the Coupon Exchange bin at my store and score at least 5 free products(i.e. beverages, aspirin, snore strips, rice, ice cream, etc) and / or those coupons that can be used as cash, because people “don’t have the time” to check their stuff.

  19. J. Money May 4, 2011 at 1:42 AM

    Thanks again for guest posting Lisa – really helped me out while away :) And also love a good fiestiness while I’m gone, haha… or hell, even when I’m here! Nothing like couponing to rile people up! Was great, thx.

  20. katie May 6, 2011 at 9:59 PM

    I just started my full out coupon journey and let me tell you, it has made me feel like a rock star!

    Yes, when the young ladies were following behind me throughout the store, asking me questions about coupons and sales and my (just made and brand new) coupon binder… ROCK STAR!

    When I gave them the diaper coupons I had in my binder (that I WILL not use – I was just going to be a coupon fairy and leave them by the diapers) because one of them was 8 months pregnant – but followed it up with “If you have the time, take these coupons to [insert other stores name here] because the diapers are on sale for xx.xx price and if you buy three packs (I had given her three $3 off coupons) the store will GIVE you a $5 gift card” – ROCK STAR!

    When I scored my 5 8 quart kool aid mixes (have three kids over here!) for FREE? ROCK STAR!

    Be honest, most of us eat some type of crap. We just do. And even if you don’t, the coupons and sales for personal hygeine and paper products can save you hundreds each year. HUNDREDS that you can spend on your non-crap diet! Or put into a savings account! Or pay off debt! Or go out drinking! Or – you get the picture!

    It seriously only takes what? 20-30 minutes to clip the coupons from the paper and put them in the binder. (Which only took 10 mintutes to set up) When the grocer sales ads come out, it takes what? 10-15 minutes to look through them to see what deals they have for that week and to flip to that category and see if you have a coupon? When you are ALREADY at the store and see something at a good price that wasn’t advertised, it takes what, 30 seconds to flip your binder open and see if you happen to have a coupon?

    Last grocery store visit I paid $70.01 for $300 retail price – but it was all on sale so on the receipt it reads I saved $86 and some change. But I did the calculations – had I bought the items NOT on sale, how much it would have cost. I didn’t have THAT many coupons – But I did buy what was on SALE – which was the majority of the savings.

    The time it took for me to save $230? Maybe an hour during the week – MAYBE.

    That hour is totally worth the savings for me.

    I am just upset that I didn’t start sooner!

  21. Windy City Woman May 8, 2011 at 12:46 AM

    I’m sorry; I just don’t get it. I never see any offers–coupons or sales–that are any better than buy-one-get-one-free. What is coupon stacking? Is that when you use 2 or more coupons on one purchase? The stores here (Chicago) won’t do that; some won’t even let you use 2 coupons on a BOGO purchase. The stores here do not double or triple coupons, either. How on earth do people get free or almost free stuff? Walgreen’s used to have those nice refunds, but they have a different program now. Instead of just praising the extreme couponers, will someone please reveal the strategies? By the way, Jaime from the show was exposed as a fraud: she uses coupons inappropriately (for instance, using high-value diaper coupons for wipes).

  22. J. Money May 8, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    @Katie – haha… you ARE a rock star!! esp for that coupon fairyness – that is dope ;) thanks for sharing!

    @Windy City Woman – I don’t know myself, but it seems a loooooot of people are figuring it out. I’m not sure too if I even believe or care about this coupon fraud… cuz technically I’d fall int that group by using expired Bed Bath & Beyond coupons, right? haha… If stores are letting couponers use them differently than they should, seems like a change is needed in both sides.

  23. Sarah May 8, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    I love couponing! For all the newbies (or wannabe newbies) the most important thing to take from this is to figure out how long your stores take to cycle through sales, and shop from the week’s sales circular. *At Walmart this is very hard to do as they change their prices constantly and don’t advertise when or where they will change them.* Other grocery stores will tell you each week exactly what is on sale, and for how long–a huge bonus.

    In the South the sales cycle is roughly 6 weeks, give or take a few. So, when you see the items you regularly eat/use hit their rock-bottom price (meaning, the lowest they will go in a sixe week period), buy up!! For example, when I see boneless, skinless chicken breast, or ground beef (both foods my kids will always eat) at my rock-bottom price (for me it is $2 a pound) then I buy roughly six weeks worth. For my family that would be about 12 pounds since I cook chicken about twice a week, and cook one pound at a time. I put one pound in the fridge, and the rest in the freezer, and I never have to pay $4 a pound for chicken. Lovely.

    Make sense? If you can add some coupons into that, more power to you.

    Of course produce, meat and dairy will take up the biggest portion of your budget, and you will pay more for those items than for processed food which is always on sale and almost always has coupons. It just is what it is.

    Anyway. Seriously. Stop watching those extreme couponing shows, and start focusing on your area’s sales and stocking up (you generally don’t need more than a 6 week’s supply) when you see low prices. If you spend 30 minutes a week cruising the circular and making your list, and you regularly save 25% or more on your bill than you have just given yourself a super easy, instant raise.

  24. Melissa K May 26, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    Hello, I live in a small town but I’m really wanting to learn how to do good at couponing….. can someone help me get started?

  25. J. Money May 28, 2011 at 4:53 PM

    Reading blogs like this will def. help get you started :) Google “coupon tips” or “how to coupon” too – you can find most of what you’re needing to by researching around a bit. Good luck!

  26. T June 3, 2011 at 5:44 PM

    Hello :)

    I’m brand new to couponing and I’m looking forward to learning more! Thank you for sharing your insights and I’m hoping you can help me figure something out. As an example lets take the case of the woman on TLC’s Extreme Couponing who bought 50+ bottles of mustard- did she have 50+ of the same coupons?? If I have a coupon for $1 off a product, I thought it meant $1 off a quantity of one??

    Thanks in advance for sheding light on this :)


  27. J. Money June 3, 2011 at 8:44 PM

    Oh man, there is soooooo much more to it than just that! They make it look easy ;) I don’t know exactly how it works (Maybe someone else here does?) but I know that you can buy/find multiple coupons online and around town to be used at the same time. So if you had 50+ of them you can get 50+ bottle in theory – but I know there’s limits and stuff too. A lot of the rules are being CHANGED because of the show, making it even more interesting. Sorry I can’t be of more help!

  28. Paula Benning September 22, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    Hello Lisa

    I can relate to your history very much. I too started in college. I think that many of the people that take extreme couponing seriously are those that have been close to the edge. The economy all but ruined my business and I was getting terrified. Fortunately couponing helped me get a bit ahead, pay other bills etc. so I took it very seriously and I still do.
    I enjoyed your post and this site, keep up the good work.