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 moneycrashers.com 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.
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.