Sunday, March 2, 2014

TLC Goes TOO Extreme

Reality television shows tend to provide various emotions and reactions within the viewers. Talent shows (like The Voice) usually spark a strong sense of loyalty to a performer; bridal shows (such as Say Yes to the Dress) fill women up with love, hope, desire, giddiness-among other gag-worthy words; and dating shows (think The Bachelor/Bachelorette) deliver deep involvement along with a fierce debate on who needs to go home because they are just full of drama and “who is just perfect for him and he is so stupid if he doesn’t see that”. Another feeling that can often be attributed to certain reality television shows is motivation. This can come in the form of weight loss shows (The Biggest Loser, obviously) motivating a viewer to begin the process of losing weight. With any show that provides a viewer with a sense of motivation comes the desire to make changes. I’ve watched copious amounts of tv and my specialty seems to be getting drawn into all sorts of reality shows. One reality show that has recently sucked me in and stimulated me is TLC’s Extreme Couponing. I mean how a viewer cannot be motivated to try and save hundreds of dollars on groceries is beyond me. Upon closer inspection of the show, Extreme Couponing, there seems to be many notable downfalls in TLC’s attempt to motivate viewers and better audiences’ lives through unrealistic and sometimes fraudulent methods.

It is important to understand the broad idea of the show Extreme Couponing before fully criticizing it. Each episode is a half hour in length and follows two different individuals on their respective grocery shopping trip. Their lists are methodically made; they carry large binders to hold all their coupons, and many hours available to spend at the store. They often have many carts full of the same things and place large pre-orders of certain items beforehand to guarantee they get the enormous amount of product they want. The individuals “show-off” their large stockpiles at their homes and the amount of savings they have had on it all. On almost every episode they discuss just how much time each individual spends on couponing in a given week. Of course since it is extreme, these people are not just clipping some coupons out of the Sunday paper; they are cutting, printing, and organizing THOUSANDS of coupons almost daily. This takes up about as much time as a part time job (most of the episodes that I have seen state they spend between 10 to 20 hours a week on the whole process). So while it may seem gratifying to only spend $6 on $100 worth of groceries, it seems to me that maintaining a steady income with a part-time job would provide more of a reward than having a stash of 50 tubes of toothpaste out of the same time spent. TLC’s representation of people struggling with the economic times and solving their money problems by extreme couponing places an emphasis on the idea that viewers should just coupon for hours instead of continuing to search for steady employment.

In the majority, if not all, of the episodes of Extreme Couponing, individuals are depicted as scoring hundreds of the same product for absolutely free. That’s right, FREE! As in no cost at all. Doesn’t that sound awesome and like something everyone should be doing? It sure does, but than reality sets in and the realization of the difficulty required in locating hundreds of the same coupons at just the right time to match a store sale dawns on me. Besides, are the items that are supposedly possible to score for free even worth all of that effort? A few might be, but more than likely someone does not need 200 packs of Tic-Tacs simply because they are free. A former extreme couponer, Christy (who was never on the actual television show) published a post on about why she stopped her obsession with couponing, “The problem, of course, is that I didn’t need the items I was buying. The coupon craze created an incentive to buy unnecessary goods…The acquisition of these unwanted free items also made it seem like I was saving a lot more than I actually was. Often, when you hear about people getting $500 worth of stuff for a few dollars, they are buying whatever is free without concern for whether the products are useful.” (Rakoczy). Christy also points out in her post one of my main concerns with the practice as well and that is that while it may seem like a great deal to purchase 50 cans of tomato sauce, it is only truly worth it if all 50 cans do not go to waste and you have the necessary and appropriate space to store them (Rakoczy). Bringing me to conclude that another downfall in TLC’s attempt at motivating viewers during a tough economic time is the portrayal of the “need” to get items for free can lead to shoppers following the same ideals to gather numerous products without realistic justification for these things. A stockpile of products is just a tiny step away from hoarding and with no apparent need or use for certain products within that stockpile definitely crosses the line to hoarding in my book.

So we have now covered the unrealistic and useless time consumption of coupons as well as purchase of unneeded products and hoarding, the last important issue remains: fraud. A quick google search of “extreme couponing fraud” will pull up numerous blog posts and news articles full of claims against the TLC show. A lot of the individuals who have appeared on the show have received criticism for using known fraudulent coupons or coupons on the wrong items. Jill Cataldo has a well-known website which she provides assistance to others wanting to save money on groceries through coupons. She has posted quite a few posts discussing different cases of fraud shown by Extreme Couponing. Not just limited to talking about why she knows the coupons are fraudulent, Jill also posts screen shots of the specific coupons she doubts and the products bought using them on the various episodes (Cataldo). Jill is knowledgeable on weekly sales and current coupons available at filming times. Many stores in which individuals shopped at on the show actually modified their coupon policies just for the tv show (Cataldo). But obviously, that was not presented to the audiences anywhere on the episode because that would clearly defeat the inspiring and motivating purpose TLC wants to portray. Other information that has been conveniently left out from each episode is if the individual actually purchased their coupons from websites or coupon services or if they obtained them in unethical ways. Again, revealing that would decrease the savings achieved as well as not reach as high of an awe-inspiring motivation to audiences.       

After every episode I watch of Extreme Couponing, I walk away thinking, “Hell yes, I’m going to go find coupons now, save tons of money, and build a stockpile! This is awesome sauce!” Within ten minutes of this thought the lovely feeling of defeat washes over me after I realize how hard it is to find coupons relevant to things I need plus the amount of time I would need to spend researching sales and the best discounts in the area. There is an undeniably high level of difficulty in achieving the same drastic success as shoppers depicted in the show because of TLC’s use of unrealistic and fraudulent means. I cannot be shockingly disappointed that I won’t achieve coupon greatness because like any reality television show, things have been staged and scripted and exceptions have been made. In the meantime, I think TLC should consider changing the title of the show to Extreme Fraud or Spend Hours a Day Organizing Pieces of Paper that Hold Little Value to Your Life While Hoarding Useless Free Products. Just a thought.


Works Cited
Cataldo, Jill. "Was Coupon Fraud Shown on TLC's Extreme Couponing?" Jill Cataldo. N.p., 8 Apr. 2011.      Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Rakoczy, Christy. "6 Reasons Why I Stopped Extreme Couponing." Money Crashers. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.


  1. Your perspective on Extreme Couponing is hilarious and oh so true. I think it's almost mind-boggling how much time and effort people spend on trying to find deals and steals. It's one thing to use a coupon (which I do often) but spending 10-20+ hours on collecting deals is absurd. I do agree with your input on how you said people use their time while they could be getting a part-time or full time job. It's sad that many of Americans think it's okay to coupon your way through life. GET A JOB. I know it's not an easy task but either is couponing! I really enjoyed your this blog post!

  2. I really appreciate this blog post because I have a lot of the same feelings about this show. My favorite point you made was when you pointed out that yes, these people are getting massive quantities of products for free, but they don't actually need any of these products that they have hoarded. I also really enjoy how you talk about extreme couponing as being almost equivalent to hoarding because the show doesn't ever discuss the downfalls of extreme couponing; it only glamorizes it. The truth about extreme couponing is that it is a form of addiction and hoarding. These people do it because they can't stop. They don't need to do it, and often they don't need the things that they buy. This was an interesting take on the show and feels more real to me than the show itself. (I also agree with the suggested name change.) Beyond some grammar errors this was an interesting and good read.

  3. So glad you chose this show out of all the crazy ones on TLC. I am an avid watcher of TLC and extreme couponing has always been one I cannot pass up. I think the angle you took on the show is really interesting, looking into the idea that some shows are seen as trying to motivate or inspire the viewers. I definitely see how that can fit in with this show for sure. I also think it would be pretty interesting to take a look at how it kind of fits in with the idea of extremes and really out of the norm situations such as hoarders, honey boo boo, my strange addiction. I feel like there is so many ways you can view those shows and its crazy that it can motivate some viewers and just be a circus show to others.

  4. I really enjoyed your blog post. I have seen the show a few times, but it was interesting to see you break it down and analyze it, especially when you compare it to taking up the same amount of time a week that a part-time job does. That is a really strong comparison regarding the time it takes to keep this up, especially since TLC tries to play it off like Extreme Couponing is simply a hobby, when in reality it’s a job. The economy isn’t great right now, and groceries are expensive; but is it really worth all the time spent on this instead of having a second income for your family? I love that you brought up that while it’s great to get items for FREE, but most of the time the items you’re getting for free aren’t really worth it—not to mention they are probably items you don’t really need. The quotes you use are GREAT and they really help to clarify just exactly what extreme couponing is, and the raw reality of it. I never really thought of all of the food that goes to waste with extreme couponing (hello, who needs 50 cans of tomato paste? Oh wait…no one). Also, I had no idea about the fraud happening. It seems crazy to me that these stores would be able to alter their coupon deals that week just because of the show. That completely takes away the reality of it for viewers at home, (who is going to change the deals for the average viewer at home? NOBODY) it’s entirely unrealistic. You did an excellent job of critically analyzing the structure of the show and the ulterior motives that they have that they’re hiding from the viewers at home. Well done.

  5. This was very well written! It is interesting to find out how they are saving so much money-- because they are getting unnecessary things.I agree that TLC is going too extreme, especially if there is fraud involved. I think television portrays unrealistic images to an audience. I wonder how many other television shows on TLC are not completely true and/or they hide other truths from the show. I really enjoyed reading your post!

  6. I really enjoyed reading your blog as it brought to light several things about the show that everyone is always thinking. First is the need portion, you are exactly correct what the hell is anyone going to do with 500 boxes of tic tacts and is it not more of a waste of energy acquiring the coupons needed than just not buying them? That time and effort could have been spent else where doing more productive things. The second thing that everyone is always thinking is that it has to be staged. The classic register breaking every damn time is too predictable and becomes a redundant theme of suspense....I have never seen an episode where the store manager doesn't fix the register and the customer is stuck either returning the items or paying for them in full...that would be an awesome episode though.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.