Extreme Couponing or Compulsive Shopping Addiction?

I watched Extreme Couponing for the first time last week. As a recovering compulsive shopping addict, it hit a little too close to home for me to be comfortable with what I was seeing.  I fully believe that the individuals featured on the show are as unhealthy as I was. Sure, they aren’t carrying $40k in credit card debt, and I applaud them for saving money, but shopping has taken over their lives.

Once upon a time, I participated in a TV interview and it made me accept the label of compulsive shopping addict. Dr. April Benson was the professional commenting on the interview and she provided questions to ask yourself before you enter a shopping situation that is unhealthy:  ”Why am I here? How do I feel? Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay for it? Where will I put it?”

As I watched the show, those questions were on my mind. The shoppers were there, for the most part, for the challenge, for the rush, for the desire to watch their stockpile grow. In most cases, they had groceries on hand that would last a year or more and did not need more. Yes, they were paying with coupons that would expire. I get that. But if you don’t need it, why are you buying it? Cereal expires. Many canned foods expire. Not to mention how unhealthy the food was.

Then, there is the issue of where to put it. Children sacrificed their living space for the overflow of surplus goods. A man lost his “man cave” so that bags of ramen noodles could be tossed to the side of the room. This was the third room that this stockpile had taken over in that particular home. For two people.

What disturbed me the most about this massive waste was that only one person mentioned donating to charity. Just one. How much of that food is going to go bad in those rooms rather than do good in the communities?

The fixation on accumulating more. The need to organize it and “make it pretty with all of the labels facing out.” The need to then rearrange it. Making the haul look perfect.

It’s what I used to do with my shoes.  My precious, precious shoes.  I used to be proud when I would save over $600 on the retail price.  And, trust me, getting some of the brand new designer shoes that I got for under $100 is like getting a box of cereal for under $1.

Shopping has taken over their life in an unhealthy way.  It saddens me that the show is choosing to highlight the anxiety at the cash register as the show’s climax. This show should be more like Hoarders. Someone should be asking the woman who bought 40+ ramen (honey, they’re not noodles – it’s freaking instant ramen – I saw what was in your cart) and 100+ candy bars if that is healthy and if that is really how she wants to eat.

Would people buy that crap food if there wasn’t a coupon for it?

What do you think? Am I making too much of nothing? Should I be celebrating their amazing savings and how shopping has taken over their lives?Get Keyword Ideas

Comments Closed


  1. I have to admit I’m already addicted to the show. But… there is no way in the world I could ever come close to doing what those people do. I clip coupons every now and then but none of my local markets doubles them and they rarely have 2 for 1 offers. I also hardly ever find coupons for the products I buy and no way would I store food in my kids’ rooms. Bugs? Yuk! I agree that maybe there should be a show that tries to cure them of their obsession. I guess I’m hooked on the crazy.

    • Danielle says:

      I agree. My husband is not thrilled that I am into the show. But it is like watching Hoarders. For me, it is like watching someone with my own illness be celebrated instead of treated and that is just messed up. I know what it did to my life and I know how long it took to fix. You know these people probably bring out the crazy for a Kohl’s sale and at Target. And that one woman probably didn’t pay for any of that make up that she kept layering on.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I think you are right – shopping has taken over their lives. If they stocked up on food they could reasonably consume over the course of a couple months, that would be one thing (frugal and sensible!), but the fact that they make multiple trips per week and spend so much time preparing for those trips makes me think that they are trying to fill a void. Maybe having all that food on hand makes them feel secure, and getting it so cheap makes them feel successful? Especially if they don’t have a whole lot going on otherwise. The way they plan and calculate their trips and organize their haul makes me think that they would be really successful project managers or something! But a lot of them seemed trapped at home and channel their skills this way, I guess. It does make me a little sick that so many people go hungry and we have TV shows about people showing off all their food…

    • Danielle says:

      I completely agree. The hauls made me feel quite ashamed when I thought about people in need. When we have excess food, I take it to a woman at work. Her daughter works at a shelter making meals for the homeless on the weekends.

  3. I think that a lot of the problem is the way that the producers have chosen to do the show- much like any “reality” show, they of course choose to use clips that are more fascinating, exciting, or unusual because if they showed us a half an hour of people sitting at a table & cutting coupons, we wouldn’t watch it.

    On the one-hour “special” they tested before the actual series, one of the couponers was one-half of the “Krazy Coupon Lady” blogger duo. There was NO mention of charity donations in her 15-minute segment, but I know for a fact from reading her blog regularly that she {well, they- like I said it’s a blogging duo} donates regularly to charity. They purposely get items for free in order to donate them- they got like 10 FREE blood glucose meters last summer & donated them all to nursing homes. &Once a month they collect expired coupons to distribute to military families stationed overseas because they are able to use the expired coupons. So while I can’t vouch for the ones on last week, I know for a fact that the Krazy Coupon Lady donates like mad & there was no mention of that on her segment, whatsoever.

    THAT SAID, I see your point completely about it becoming more of an obsession than a necessity, and I agree to an extent. I think it depends on the person & their situation, and there are tons of other factors. Last year I had some free time & built up a mini-stockpile {I had enough stuff for like, 2 months, not years like these people} & I did want it to look nice- I mean I don’t just throw my other belongings in a corner or throw them on a shelf all knocked over, so I wanted it to at least look organized if it was going to be in my home. So I don’t think the organizing obsession is that unhealthy- it’s just when they get things just for the sake of getting them, like you said, that it becomes compulsive.

    I do have to say though that sometimes these couponers themselves are “needy” and ONLY get by without food stamps, etc. due to couponing or have saved themselves from going off the deep end & needing those things thanks to their stockpiles. So while I know you’re coming at it from a problem-shopping background & see the hoarding aspect, I come from a “can-we-afford-bread-this-week?” background that I grew up with and when I see those stockpiles, I think of months that I was growing up & could have actually HAD three meals in one day if we knew about things like extreme couponing.

    WOW. Long comment. Sorry! Totally felt the need to say ALL of it because I wanted to defend “extreme couponers” but also let you know that I totally see where you’re coming from & that you’re not completely wrong by any means! :)

    I guess, like anything, each situation is different.

    • Danielle says:

      I think this is fantastic comment and this is exactly what I wanted to hear. I am disappointed that TLC didn’t bring up more charitable contributions because that makes me want to know more. That would make me go to the dollar store and pick up a couple of papers and send the coupon inserts to them. Editing does make it hard. Thank you for clarifying that.

      When I had a small stockpile, I too wanted it to look nice and definitely didn’t throw it all over the house. But I didn’t obsessively rearrange it.

      I totally see it from a need perspective as well. In those cases, please world, teach the masses your skills and let everyone learn how to get discounted food. But I wonder how many of our neediest in society have the time to spend. I certainly doubt that they have the money to use the clipping services. For some of the women on the show, I want to send them one of Dr. Benson’s books and ask them if they recognize themselves. There is a type of compulsive shopping that is mainly based on getting bargains and feeling a need to shop more to get more bargains.

      I saw so many of my old habits there. It’s scary how similar it is.

  4. Does anyone else find it interesting that the extreme couponing and hoarders are on back to back? Ironic?

  5. Hi Danielle, Thanks for bringing this show to my attention. Sounds very typically Reality TV-based exploitation. I think your questions are point on, and even though I have not seen it, it sounds like people are acting from a place of deprivation.

  6. I just stumbled across your website today by Googling Addicted To Couponing…..as you can see I do have my own website where I post deals and freebies. I actually started the website because my sister who lived across the country needed to learn to coupon, so I started that so she could log on and see. What I found was that I became an extreme couponer. I am guilty of having 20+ boxes of peanut butter m&m’s in my closet because…they were $0.20 a box….and to answer your question do you really eat that…yep I do. And soooo not proud of it. I’ve probably gained 20lbs in the last year and I attribute it to couponing. I’ve always done meal planning, as I have it on my website, and its been my system for ten years or more, but adding extreme couponing has taken saving to another level. I’m writing this post hoping that another money saving mama will see it and agree with me. It IS totally addicting, my anxiety has gotten WORSE since I started it, and we eat 100% more junk (cereal is NOT good for you, bags of chips and candy are the best couponing hauls to date) then we used too. I want to take back the 3 hours a day I spend looking for deals but am almost afraid to do so. I am a stay-at-home WIFE, not mom, wife and we live on one income. I’ve always felt this was my job, but at what price.

    Please posting back to this would make me feel like I’ve not dug a hole too deep to climb out of!

    LOVE your site!