By Quentin Fottrell
Get your scissors ready: It’s time to start clipping coupons like you’ve never clipped before. Or maybe just wave them in anger and disbelief at the television.
“Extreme Couponing” returns to TLC tonight for a second season. The show, which follows shoppers who have a magnificent obsession with coupons, has made waves in the couponing community since its debut for the massive stockpiles its experts generate, and the over-the-top tactics they use. The result? A seismic shift in how manufacturers and retailers issue and manage coupons.
Companies have taken steps to curtail the most extreme of the extreme couponers. As Pay Dirt reported, Rite Aid, Target and Publix have restricted their coupon policies so that couponers can use fewer per transaction. Stores are also using a more sophisticated barcode system to prevent shoppers from using coupons meant for other items as “Extreme Couponing” star J’aime Kirlew did, and removing self-checkout registers so store employees can keep a watchful eye on coupon use. Manufacturers are also limiting the amount of times a coupon for a category of product can be used by one customer.
Kirlew, who talked to Pay Dirt about how the show changed her life, is unrepentant about some of the tactics that have made viewers gasp. But she’s made some changes, too. Newspaper theft has increased with the rise of extreme couponing, and Kirlew – who used to get free extra coupon inserts from her news carrier – now buys all her papers. “My discount is still 75% to 90% on my grocery bill,” she says.
As the extreme couponing craze continues, couponers should keep things in perspective. Coupon expert Jill Cataldo says the show has given novices unrealistically high expectations. “Shoppers feel disappointed if they walk into the store and their bill isn’t $5,” she says. Dustin Smith, a spokesman for TLC, says the show only endorses legal and responsible coupon use. “TLC has made the couponing conversation a national topic, and that dialogue helps anyone who is looking for ways to stretch their dollar,” he says.
Kirlew says she hopes some stores will eventually come back around in the rough economy: “It disappoints me to see a cashier huffing and puffing because we walk in with a coupon binder or a box full of coupons.”