CINCINNATI — Amanda Ostrowski starts her mission by scrutinizing online coupon forums to find the latest deals. She then marches into her local supermarket to preview sale items. Hours later, she heads home and seeks out coupons that match the sale items.
Armed with about 1,000 coupons she purchased for $70 from an online clipping service, she later returns to the store. She proceeds to fill up nine carts with hundreds of products, most of which she'll get for free.
Welcome to the life of a super couponer, subject of a new TLC reality show called “Extreme Couponing,” airing each Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT.
“This is going to be one of the biggest hauls I've ever done,” Amanda says in a trailer for an “Extreme Couponing” episode.
Among Ostrowski's deals: 150 Butterfinger candy bars that she got for free by matching a store sale of two bars for $1 with manufacturer coupons for $1 off two.
Ostrowski, who has used extreme couponing to build a 40-year stockpile of toilet paper in her home, is one of many super couponers who save big at the checkout.
Indeed, “Extreme Couponing” episodes feature shoppers like J'aime, who gets $1,900 worth of merchandise for $103, and Jessica, who spent just $7 for $680 worth of goods.
Several Kroger Co. supermarkets have participated in “Extreme Couponing.”
The company supports the show because it highlights its friendly associates and values, according to spokesman Keith Dailey.
“We know customers can get great value by shopping at Kroger, and the show is fun and upbeat,” Dailey told SN. “So-called extreme couponers are sophisticated shoppers who work hard to find value for their families.”
But others question if “Extreme Couponing” is fair to food stores and shoppers. One concern is that extreme couponers use so many coupons that they sometimes clear out the store of certain products.
At least one “Extreme Couponing” episode addresses this topic.
“We wiped the store clean,” one couponer says of dental floss.
Some retailers agree.
“Extreme couponing facilitates out-of-stocks, which makes it difficult to provide premier service to all customers,” said Maria Brous, spokeswoman for Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla.
Brous added, however, that since extreme couponing is not the norm, the activity isn't likely to adversely affect store supplies.
Still, the Coupon Information Center, an Alexandria, Va.-based organization that fights coupon fraud, is disappointed in the show, according to Executive Director Bud Miller.
“We view it as a missed opportunity,” Miller said.
That's because, rather than explaining how to maximize coupons in an appropriate manner, the show creates unrealistic consumer expectation from coupons. Among the CIC's concerns: The show's producers prearrange all the shopping trips, the show is heavily edited, coupons that are rejected at the checkout are not shown, and certain activities may be in violation with the terms and conditions of coupons, said Miller.
“The show is all about exploitation, and nothing about learning,” he said.
TLC spokesman Dustin Smith countered that the show was never intended to be a couponing tutorial.
“This is a docu-series of behaviors; it's not a how-to program,” he said.
For a detailed look at how “extreme couponer” Jessica Hacker drastically reduces her grocery bill, see SN Extra this week at supermarketnews.com