TLC pitches its show “Extreme Couponing” as normal people doing extraordinary things. With basements, garages and storage rooms full of grocery stockpiles, these savvy shoppers insist they get most of their purchases for cents on the dollar, if not free.
Each show depicts one or two families who dedicate their lives to the clipping, printing and organizing of coupons. It then follows the family to the grocery store where they fill shopping carts full of groceries and then rack up the savings at the register with their piles of coupons.
But experts and consumers agree that this picture of insanely large saving isn’t practical.
“ ‘Extreme Couponing’ portrays it to the extreme,” said Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert. “It’s not a reality. It’s not something a regular person can easily do.”
Woroch isn’t the only one who thinks “Extreme Couponing” is impractical.
“It’s unrealistic. Most stores don’t allow the doubling or tripling that is shown on the show,” said Jennifer Clarke, a coupon instructor.
But it does expose people to couponing, said Laurie Meyers, owner of Coupon Sense, a Chandler-based online company.
“Now, couponing is much more accepted,” Woroch said. “With the rise in gas and food, people are looking for ways to save.”
Between the recession and the TLC show, many of the negative feelings toward coupons seem to be going away.
“There is no shame in finding a deal and saving money, just as five years ago, there wasn’t any shame in paying full price,” said Meyers.
Tiffany Noriega, 28, of Maricopa is just one of the many who have lost their jobs in the recent years. She started couponing a few months ago.
Noriega lost her full-time office job three months ago. At the time, she was also working part time at the airport in a gift shop and now works there full-time. But the cut in her family’s income was noticeable and Noriega began clipping coupons.
Rather than a lifestyle change or a chore, couponing has become a new hobby for Noriega. While she and her husband watch TV together at night after work, Noriega clips and organizes coupons. Most days she spends about two hours a day on couponing.
Her husband was skeptical at first, Noriega said. Then they went on a shopping trip together.
“He’s seen the prices go down at the register,” Noriega said.
Now when they go shopping, coupons are on his mind, too.
“He always asks me, ‘Do we have a coupon for this?’ ” Noriega laughed. “The last time it was for ice cream and my answer was, ‘Yes!’ ”
More and more people are starting to coupon, and stores are noticing. Many have clarified their coupon policies, according to a story by Scripps Howard News Service.
“I don’t know if it’s my eyes have finally been opened now, or what,” said Noriega. “Most shopping trips I see at least three other ladies with binders in their shopping carts.”
But Noriega isn’t the only one who has turned to coupons lately. Meyers has also noticed an upswing in the number of people who use her website. Since 2008, there has been a 150 percent growth in her business.
Coupon Sense allows customers to search sale items online, match coupons to sales items, create personalized shopping lists, track savings and receive personalized help navigating the website and the world of couponing. The company has a membership fee of $15 a month, with an introductory fee of $4 for the first month.
Members even receive emails that include the ingredients listed on the website that are on sale, Meyers said.
Clarke, who trains people on how to use the Coupon Sense website, said that she used to help about one or two new people a week. Now it’s about five.
Her typical customer is often a stay-at-home mother, Clarke said.
“Generally, stocking up a pantry resonates with families,” said Meyers, “But anyone can save money.”
And there can be real savings for those who use the website.
“I think I’m pretty extreme,” Clarke joked, who has four children and a husband to shop for. “I’ll cry if I don’t save more than 50 percent.”
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