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Why I Stopped Extreme Couponing…and Why You Should Too

I began using coupons in November, 2004. I was seven months pregnant with my Emma when I did my first coupon transaction at Walmart. My first coupon deal was buying Huggies diapers for 75% off and I thought it was the greatest thing on the face of the planet. It wasn’t long before I was using coupons heavily. If I could find a deal that had a coupon. I would use it, and most of the time I didn’t buy a deal unless I had a coupon. I didn’t get into stockpiling until several years later. My family and I went through a flood that caused our water to be shut off for almost 7 days. It was then that I realized that having very little food (i.e. no more than a couple of days of food stored) and no extra water could really put a family in a bad situation. So as soon as the water came back on, I began to build my stockpile. I would go to the store and buy 10, 15 or even more of a single item just because I needed to add it to my stockpile. Freebies were plentiful and couponing wasn’t as restrictive then as it is now. Before long, I had a very impressive stockpile that I could sit back and admire.

Somewhere along the way, though, I got burned out on couponing. I burned out bad. I actually stopped using coupons all together until late 2010. It happens to the best of us. No one said that couponing is easy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a lot of work. It’s time-consuming and it can be mentally draining if you let it be. Add stockpiling to that and you’ve got a hobby that suddenly is creating a lot of stress for you. When I picked couponing back up in 2010, I picked it right back up at the pace I had been doing before.  It also wasn’t long before I started to burn out again. It was then that I realized that there had to be a balance between not couponing at all and what is now known as “extreme couponing.” So one day I simply made a decision and I stopped extreme couponing.


Are you an "extreme couponer?" I once was, but extreme couponing is a game that I don't want to play any longer. In this post, I show you why I stopped Extreme Couponing and tell you why I think YOU should too!



Please don’t misunderstand. I didn’t say that I stopped using coupons. What I said was that I stopped extreme couponing. I used to go into Walmart and shopping alone would take me four hours with two of those hours spent at the register checking out. I am one of those people who has hit the line limit on the Walmart registers. If you’re not familiar with what that means a cash register can only take a certain amount of items in one transaction. Once you hit that number of items, the register will lock in force you to cash the transaction out. In the case of Walmart registers their line limit is 200 items in one transaction. I wasn’t done using my coupons when I hit it, so customer service cashed in my coupons for cash since the register wouldn’t take them. (Yes, this was valid. I had the items that I needed within the limits that I was given on the coupons, the register just wouldn’t allow anything else to be scanned period.) I would spend hours upon hours upon hours clipping and sorting and filing only to go to the store and spend hours upon hours shopping. Then I would come home and have to spend two or more hours putting it all away. It just became too much. It became too tiring.

[Tweet “No one said that couponing is easy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.”]

So I stopped practicing the extreme couponing principles. I stopped buying 30, 40, or even more of the same item. I stopped pre-ordering. I stop spending hours upon hours focusing on nothing more than coupons and deals. I stopped letting it run my life. I stopped letting it be a chore that I hated.

What I started to do was practice realistic couponing. Yes I like having a stockpile. My income is very unsteady sometimes and I like knowing that no matter what my family will be fed for a few months, however, the extreme couponing principle is not based on stockpiling for any realistic amount of time. It’s simply based on buying as much as possible for as little as possible. There is no rhyme or reason to why extreme coupon or shop the way they do, they have not set goal in mind (as in, they’re not stocking to have a year supply or a six-month supply or even a five-year supply). They are simply stocking to stock and a lot of the time are simply getting the deal just to get the deal. Realistic couponing, however, has a goal in mind. My goal is simply to feed my family for as little as possible. I like to keep a 3 to 6 month supply on hand. That way if my income tanks. I don’t have to worry about food and instead can focus my efforts elsewhere.

[Tweet “Realistic couponers have a goal in mind on how much they want to stock and WHY they are stocking up.”]

Take my most recent trip to Target, for example. In that trip, I saved 63.4% I paid $70 out-of-pocket for $193.76 worth of groceries. I bought strawberries, milk, peanut butter, eggs, cheese, bagels, cooking oil cereal, and more. The nine boxes of cereal that I bought will last my family approximately 3 months. The eggs will last us two weeks. The peanut butter three weeks, and the cooking oil, well, a couple of months. I spent an hour putting my list together and 45 minutes in the store. I did it all, quicker and more efficiently by using a more realistic couponing model than I would have had I still been trying to extreme coupon…and I STILL saved the same amount of money that I would have had I done that trip to the “extreme.” I could have stayed in that store doing transaction after transaction after transaction (my record was 15 different transactions in 1 shopping trip) and rolling gift cards over and over again, but I didn’t. Why? Because I don’t NEED 100 boxes of cereal. I don’t NEED 50 bottles of cooking oil. We don’t use oil very often and had I bought more than what I did? It would all be rancid before I even had a chance to use half of it. My more realistic 2 transactions took me less time, less frustration and still saved me a pretty good chunk of change.

Now let me ask you something…how tired are you of the extreme couponing game? If you’ve been doing it for any decent amount of time, I’d be willing to be you’re pretty tired of it. If you are, I’m going to suggest you give a more realistic couponing approach a try. If you aren’t sure how does get started, here are a few tips and:

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  • Realistic couponers have a goal in mind on how much they want to stock and WHY they are stocking up.
  • Realistic couponers don’t buy in excess. The only by what they need to meet their goal.
  • Realistic couponers don’t allow the coupon game to take over their life.
  • Realistic couponers are okay when they don’t save as much as they would like to.
  • Realistic couponers follow all store coupon policies and all coupon limits. The realistic coupon or has no need for coupon fraud because they’re not buying in excess.
  • Realistic couponers don’t waste. Because they’re not buying more than they need or more than they can use, there is no waste.
  • Realistic couponers realize that they don’t need to get every deal, every single time.


[Tweet “Realistic couponers are okay when they don’t save as much as they would like to.”]


So have any of you given up the Extreme Couponing game like I did? If so, I’m curious as to what your own reasons are. I’d love for you to leave me a comment and let me know why!

Are you an "extreme" couponer? I used to be, but I stopped. This post explains why I stopped Extreme Couponing and why you should too!

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Stacy Barr
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Stacy Barr

Stacy Barr is the face and brain behind the frugal living and lifestyle blog Six Dollar Family . By the age of 30, she had overcome an alcohol addiction, a drug addiction, divorce, survived domestic violence and had built a life for herself and her daughter after spending 10 months in a homeless shelter. Her book, also called Six Dollar Family, has sold more than 7,000 copies since its release.

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  1. Hi. It’s just us 2. Both retired,middle 50’s. I was the coupon queen of my family,had kids n all. We now try to eat healthier,so coupons are scarce for the food we eat. I do have my favorite products we use around the home, mostly P&G brand,and I keep a few of them on hand at all times.I collect my coupons from the Sunday paper inserts,magazines,or store displays. I use store discount cards for sales at time I purchase,and swipe some at time I shop for kiosk coupons. I also utilize restaurant coupons in my email,and newspapers. I do miss extreme couponing, but find the food items and other products are ones that are extremely processed, or cheaply made,or not scent free. We are blessed to be able to live like this,and thank God,when we had to scrimp and save with children,extreme couponing was very helpful. I do love to watch the extreme couponing shows. I find their donating quite refreshing. Thank you for asking. I wish I knew a family I could “ride along” extreme couponing with here. It would be fun. Sue

  2. Rosa Gonzalez says:

    I have just started. I did start buying what I didn’t even use. Cause I could get it free…. My spouse and I are 60+++…I’ve done it for my grandkids.
    Now I only but what we need . Detergent . Etc. Etc….
    I would really like to know how to be a Couponer….not extreme…..
    So if you can offer any advice….
    I haven’t bought any papers. In 3 weeks.
    Thank you
    Rosa Gonzalez

    • Hi Rosa! I’d love to give you guys some advice. Ready? You’re already doing it. 🙂 Buying only what you and your husband (or your grandkids) need is a great way to stay realistic. Of course, having a small stockpile doesn’t hurt and can be a great money saver in the long run. When its time to stop stocking up, you’ll know. 🙂

  3. Wow I’m a realistic couponer I have my big binder and little coupon folder I go threw the ads weekly but I dont go overboard or extreme. I have 3 kids and I have no time to be an extreme couponer. Plus I think its being greedy in a way.

    • Good for you! I’m proud of you for realizing that! A lot of folks didn’t and they got sucked into it.

  4. Exactly! I used to be a deals blogger and I taught classes. Other bloggers always wondered why coupon tricks were last in my class–why did I bother with teaching planning steps? They thought it was a waste of time. THIS is why. Because without a plan, you get caught up and overdo it.

    • Exactly. There is a very fine line between overdoing it and keeping it real and unfortunately, thanks to the tv shows and other things, too many people got caught up in it all.

  5. Carolyn says:

    I never have had the chance to extreme coupon but I have always realistically couponed for my family and maybe a friend or two. I think the extreme couponers way over do it and to me it is nice to do smaller trips plus that leaves items for others to buy also.

  6. natalia says:

    But if it’s free you can donate… i know that I don’t need a lot of the same products but at least it makes me feel good donating

    • I agree! Donating items is always a wonderful option. My issue comes when people don’t donate and it turns into hoarding. 🙂

  7. Stephanie says:

    I have always been a realistic when it comes to couponing. I have a nice decent stick pile but not to the point that I have stuff spread throughout my house. Being a single mom of one until just recent with a newborn. I still plan to be realistic like before but know that I have less time now then I did before. When I do my coupons and look for deals, it is in the evening after the baby has gone to sleep for a few hours, but not more than 3 hours the most. This still allows me to have time for the teenager and myself. I don’t believe in being an extremist because I believe other have the right to get the deals as well. Greed has over taken the coupon world so bad that it is hard to get the deals anymore unless you go to different stores. If I don’t find the deal, then I go to Walmart and try the deal if it is in the sale ad. Otherwise, I don’t waste time about it or I check a few days later. I believe I only need the things I need to keep my family feed and make sure they have personal hygiene items to get them through for a few months. Family time is more important than always looking for deals and trying to find them 24 hours a day, when a few hours will work instead. And there are times that I don’t even go shopping if I really don’t need anything.

  8. I love that you call yourself a realistic couponer and define it. I never found myself a extreme couponer. I believe there are ethics in couponing just as there are in life. Taking everything off the shelf might be good for you but what about the next person who really needs just 3 items to get by for the month. Thank you for this article1

  9. Jessica says:

    When I started couponing I never was “extreme”. I’ve always kept in mind that I have 2 adults and 1 infant in my household when purchasing things. It takes me no more than 2-3 hours a week to browse deals, cut coupons, and go shopping. It’s never burned me out that way and I never have to worry about cleaning out my stock piles because they might expire! I love it! <3

  10. I’m so happy to have read your story. I wish more people in my area had couponing ethics cause there is nothin more frustrating than going to the store to buy something you actually need with a coupon just to save a little money & find the shelf cleared out completely.

  11. Hi There, We just wanted to let you know that you have been featured in this week’s Thrifty Thursday link up party from your great ideas last week. We would love for you to check it out and link up again this week! Thanks for sharing great ideas!

  12. Great post. Many years ago I got sucked up into extreme couponing and have stopped as well. It just wasn’t worth my sanity. Thanks for sharing on Frugal Friday. 🙂

    • 🙂 I think we all got sucked into it for at least a little while and its really concerning to see the amount of people still doing it to that extreme.

  13. Kimberley Turner says:

    Some ppl may feel that my trips are extreme…but I stick everything at my house and all of our seven kids and their own families and my in-laws etc… who are in college or on limited income…allow me to do this to help them… I do get stressed out when they don’t want to do their part yet depend on me to have it all the time….

    • About 2 years ago, I wrote a post about when was too much stockpiling too much…the basic point of the post was this: Only you can determine how much is too much. If your family needs the stockpile size that you have, then thats what they need. No shame and no apologies. You know if you’re taking something too far and if you’re not. 🙂

  14. Great post! I found that I got burned out very quickly, even before getting to the stockpile stage. Now, I’m pretty much in the same boat as you on how I use coupons. That small time each week always saves me such much. I’d still love having a stockpile, but I haven’t made it there yet.

  15. I thank you for your post. Although I so understand the want and need to provide for my family, I have always felt that extreme couponing so as to have a LARGE stockpile shows a lack of love for others. My family is on a very limited income and I depend on using coupons to get only what we need for the week/bi-week or month. There have been so many times when I have gone to the store absolutely needing what was on sale only to find the shelf cleaned out by someone stockpiling. That means that for that period of time to come, my family does without. To add to that thought, it is because of stockpiling that the industry now has tightened couponing budgets to the point that sometimes, coupons do my family no good (i.e. I have to buy 2 or 3 of a product to get a small discount). Please, show discretion and love for others when using coupons.

    • Daria, Thank you for your comment. Stockpiling in itself isn’t a bad thing. It allows a family to buy whats on sale, in a larger quantity to save money later. With that said, stockpiling just to stockpile is where the problem lies. Also, coupon policies were tightened mostly due to fraud and not stockpiling as a whole.

  16. gossipmom07 says:

    I love to coupon and I got sucked into it when I saw a marathon of extreme couponing on TLC a few years ago. I enjoy couponing but now I only coupon for things I need so I don’t have to go to the store for a few months, except for meats, milk and eggs and cheese . I do have a stockpile and stock up on things we actually use. But I don’t go overboard. Thanks for the post 🙂

  17. Denise E. says:

    I never did understand the whole extreme coupon into thing. I’d watch the TV shows and wonder where these folks got all the time and energy necessary to keep up the lifestyle. My sister-in-law decided to try extreme coupon into a year or so back. She has really no steady income, but there she was stockpiling all sorts of crazy things (shaving cream, Cologne and other non-necessities) and posting her great bargains on Facebook. Now, the girl can’t eat or pay her rent, but she’ shot enough deodorant to last for 10 years!!

  18. After a very expensive family vacation to Hawaii for my parents’ 50th anniversary, we looked at our debt and said “enough”. We are still working on paying it off. It’s slow and steady progress. We went from homeschooling to a very reasonably priced private Christian school for our 2 teen girls. But teen girls are expensive. Music lessons (harp and piano), camps, sports, etc. I gladly pay for all those things because they are good for their minds, bodies and keep them out of trouble.
    I have cut way back on the couponing. But I still like to combine sale and coupon to get a great deal. Some other ways I save money or make more money:
    my dr told me about a great free app called GoodRx. You just show it to the pharmacist and it saves you money on your Rx. just don’t run it through your insurance. Works for us because we have a HSA. If you have Rx coverage, it might not make sense.
    Kmart frequently sends me emails with “free $10 worth of points”. I keep a mental list of what to spend that money on. Underwear for husband, etc.
    Same thing with JCP. I frequently get coupons in the mail for $10 off $10. I got a cute exercise shirt on clearance for free the other day.
    My parents and I bowl on a league. The bowling alley sends out emails for free bowling times, or $1 games. We go practice during the free or cheap times.
    We live in a state where you don’t have to buy the alcohol to get the alcohol rebate deal (NC). So I frequently get rebates for buying regular stuff I would already buy
    I volunteer at Whole Foods in the cooking school. I get to eat the good food, bring home leftovers, and get paid in gift cards to Whole Foods and get points to use to attend cooking classes free. I use the gift cards to buy healthy food and smoothies, etc. from Whole Foods that I normally wouldn’t buy due to cost.
    I always check out the marked down produce rack at the grocery store. Find some good deals there.

  19. I started in 2008 with a new baby, a teenage boy who started eating like a horse and needed expensive braces. I looked at any way to cut costs and stumbled into couponing and stockpiling. I spent hours looking at every circular, buying newspapers, hitting up friends and family for their Sunday paper coupons, ordering coupons, putting lists together, then going to each store to get every single deal!! My hubby made comments that I was neglecting him…didn’t stop me. Finally my house had stuff in every nook and cranny.I pulled back and after about a year I realized what my coupon greed/excitement had done. I had bought things that nobody in my house liked and it had expired. Or the laundry detergent/fabric softener after 3 years gets “gummy”. I just started couponing again because we’re buying a house, but on a realistic level. Things we use, necessities only. And I calculate 12 months worth.

  20. I’m 21 years old and have always been really fascinated by the whole “extreme couponing” trend. At 18 I started to research couponing a little more in depth but living in California there are a lot of restrictions on the use of coupons. My go to store is target I have a red card to save my 5% use their cartwheel app and use as many store and manufacturers coupons as I can. My family has a mostly organic diet so coupons are pretty hard to come by but I figure if I can save some money on non food items it makes buying the more expensive healthier foods more reasonable. P.S. Love your blog!

  21. OMG…… I think you wrote this article for me!!!!!…. I did it for 6 years, I had stockpiles under my kids beds….. it was amazing what I could get for practically no money. What I did pay with was my time, hours preparing and organizing and Internet searching for more coupons. I missed so much of my family in those years and one day it just became so overwhelming that I just stopped. well that wasn’t my plan, I still bought 8 papers every Sunday but never organized them. I still took my coupon books everywhere because I had plans to catch up on my ever growing piles of newspapers. I felt ashamed because everyone always asked ” your not couponing anymore?”. I stopped watching the fake “extreme couponing show”. One year later and because of this article I will start again within my means and time frame. I cringe every time I check out at store without my coupons because I know how much I could be saving.

    • JC, I’m glad that the post helped you. I rarely use a coupon these days (aside from electronic ones) if I were completely honest. The deals are still there even without them and the truth is that you don’t need them to keep your costs reasonable. We cut expenses in other ways like making things homemade instead of buying them and it really balanced a lot of the costs out.

  22. michelle says:

    Yep an ex extreme couponer here too. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog. I was couponing since 2004 too, but we had a large family 9 plus 2 most weekends and holidays, oh and grandma 🙂 I started couponing because my husband wasn’t working and it was either that or get a job, which was difficult because he was unreliable. I stockpiled quite a bit,but we ate most of what it got. For me it was the challenge to actually make enough money each week to cover the meat and vegs. I found most of the couponing food not what I would normally feed my kids. I gave away a lot of personal and household stuff to other families that needed it. I stopped because I could no longer get to the stores without a car, and then they started restricting every deal to one item only and even the papers stopped putting the coupons in the papers so it was really no longer possible.

    We shop at Costco now unfortunately on food stamps and I find we spend the same amount on the food as I would using coupons anyway.

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