December 10, 2018

Coupon Etiquette Series Introduction: The Unspoken Rules of Couponing

Sep 20, 2011

The TLC show “Extreme Couponing” has created an overwhelming interest in couponing and thousands of people are now clipping coupons for the first time ever. While TLC could be using the show as a tool for teaching others about the benefits of couponing, they have instead portrayed the absolute worst examples of couponing.

On the show we’ve seen everything from shelf-clearing to coupon fraud. It’s not only put a bad light on couponers, but has misled viewers into thinking that these tactics are okay. Let me be clear – just because you see someone do it on television, does not mean it’s right.

In my ongoing attempt to educate beginner couponers on the ins and outs of couponing, I’ve decided to write a “Coupon Etiquette” series. This series will not only teach you the unspoken rules of couponing (which will keep you from being disliked in the coupon community), but will also help you learn which couponing tricks are legitimate and which are illegal (which will keep you out of jail).

In addition to using the show “Extreme Couponing” as a “How NOT to Coupon” guide, I hope you will follow these coupon etiquette lessons on the unspoken rules of couponing.


  1. Great idea! I will read for sure!!!

  2. i agree! i think my favorite thing that TLC’s EC skips right past is the cost that these people are incurring to get their coupons. they never tell you the cost of the clipping services that they are using or they slide right past the fact that the lady from detroit on the season premier who is buying 200 copies of the sunday paper EVERY week! i don’t know about you but my sunday paper is $1.75, that would be $350 a week and $1400 a month… sure she got the product free but she is still spending $1400 a month to get her coupons! i don’t know about you but i can feed my family for WAAAAAAY less then $1400 a month! i have found free resources for my coupons that are local and in my community. once again, the library is ‘old school’ but efficient! most of them have coupon swapping groups and are great places to find FREE coupons! with great assistance from your website, i have gotten my weekly grocery bill down from about $80 – $100 a week to $40 – $50. i am slowly building a reasonable stock pile but mostly just for toiletries, paper products and cleaning products. i only spend a couple hours a week on couponing and only spend $1.75 a week for my newspaper and swap the rest. i think i’m off to a pretty good start… thanks! <3

    • Yes, exactly! They do not show how much is spent on newspapers. But if they were to show a realistic couponing shopping trip, it wouldn’t be as sensational. πŸ˜‰

      And sounds like you are off to a GREAT start! πŸ™‚

    • Don’t forget the computers. They have bought several computers just to print coupons with because of limits some coupons have on them.
      I hope that made sense.

      Example: a coupon site that only allows two coupons per computer. They have say, 4 other computers, to get more of the limited coupons.

      That show is not realistic in any way. You have to spend a fortune just to get all these coupons. Ridiculous!

      Can’t wait for the series! πŸ™‚

  3. I agree with Mary. You have to think these people are racking up higher costs in getting the coupons and could use that on actually groceries! I will say I do have a little toothpaste/ shaving cream stock pile because freebies on those are common so you DON’T have to clear a shelf; just get a few and let others have a good deal.

  4. andrea d. wiener says:


  5. Charity Armistead says:

    I agree with Mary. She couldn’t have explained it better! I love this website!

  6. I will be taking a couponing class this week. I want to learn how to do couponing the right way. I would like to learn how to stock up on things that my family uses…but in moderation. I don’t care to end up with 47 things of deodorant or 24 tubes of tooth paste! There’s a difference between stocking up and hoarding!

  7. Than you!!!!!!!! I’m a new couponer but I agree – common courtesy (and integrity) is completely missing on that show.

  8. I’m a beginner been at it for 5 months and I agree that TLC has not helped the average shopper . I did notice they never revel their internet sites. I did catch last weeks and the lady buying 200 hundred pappers . Well thank you for your site it has really helped and old man

  9. I couldn’t agree more! I just started couponing this week and we had two really good deals going on locally: Harris Teeter triple coupons & Farm Fresh double coupons. I pride myself on having a very high level of integrity but I can tell already that it doesn’t necessarily run across the board in the couponing community. I’ve taken time to talk to store employees and have heard horror stories of people’s behavior this week. Seriously, do you really need to team up with 4 other women and descend on a store like locust, clearing shelf after shelf? And then to top it off fight with the store over their coupon policy which is readily available for your viewing pleasure? I was treated as if I was a common criminal at Farm Fresh on day; apparently the cashier had many run-ins with nasty customers. But once she realized that I was playing by the rules, was polite to her, and disappointed in other’s behavior she sweetened up to me quickly. Maybe you should host a show that follows EC, like Talk Soup, where you recap EC and point out the does & don’ts. Anyway, thanks for doing this and know that it is greatly appreciated!

    • Oh, I have seen the teams of women before, and it is just so discouraging seeing them blocking the aisles so they can clear the shelves. πŸ™

      • I can guarantee you there would be a big confrontation if someone tried to block me out of the isle to get my items. Its bad enough to clear the shelves but to actively block people out??? I would absolutely not tolerate that.

  10. Thats a wonderful idea. Will you be writting a little every day? I don’t want to miss it…

  11. I coupon in moderation and only use those that my family would actually use. Cutting my costs as much as possible in many different areas has led me to look at things in a treasure hunt sort of way. Lately I have been digging deep into the world of free samples and am LOVING it!

  12. Mary Lamphere says:

    Thank you for doing this great lesson. I am so happy to see that not only are you doing this but that you are receiving such great support and feedback. I feel like I am one of only two moral couponers in my circle and have often felt the odd girl out listening to them talk about their deals. They could teach the EC “stars” a few things. I admit that I have problems with the less straight forward issues, is it immoral to have more then one store card, CVS is my poison of choice, but my hubby keeps me on the straight and narrow. Thank you again and I look forward to seeing more of these posts.

  13. Unfortunately, the people who should read the upcoming articles probably won’t. I’ve quickly come to believe that the scenarios shown on EC are set up. Too often the shoppers say their store only doubles a few of the same coupon yet at the checkout they are buying a hundred. And do you notice that every show is the same? After clearing the shelves, they go to checkout and there is always a glitch in the cash register which creates suspense as to whether they will meet their goal and then they always do, to the applause of all the shoppers in the store. I am firmly convinced it is not real.

    • Yes, true that many won’t read these or if they did, they probably won’t care. And many of those shopping trips are staged – the stores override limits specifically for the show.

  14. Great point, Kathy. There isn’t a store around me that would allow me to get 100 free items by handing over 100 coupons. They either have limits or don’t stock that much. I have no doubt that the producers of the show pay the stores to put on a show where 1) there is lot of product sitting on the shelf just waiting for the extreme couponer to walk by (as if the city has no other couponers who would be at work) and 2) the store has no problem accepting all those coupons.

    I too am looking forward to this guide. All the greedy, hoarding behavior hurts us all as it creates a stigma against us that will create more mean cashiers and more stingy manufacturers.

  15. My husband has watched the show with me a couple times and we always have a discussion afterwards. Even if you can get it free or really cheap, why do you need all that hot sauce or mustard? He works for a major grocery store and is a stickler for expiration dates. How can you use that much stuff before it expires? I’m all for getting a good deal, but people shouldn’t abuse the system, it ruins it for everyone else. Thanks for all the helpful tips!!

  16. This is going to be a great series and I think it is going to create a lot of what I hope is constructive discussion. I am looking forward to it.

  17. I am a new coupon girl. I am even taking a class this weekend and feel that this will be a very beneficial series of discussions. I find myself only clipping the coupons of things that my family already uses or would like to try. I have never seen EC but just from the horrific behaviors that have been mentioned I probably won’t.

  18. Unspoken rules to couponing? What, it’s now a secret society? I can see it now, the secret coupon handshake, the secret coupon oath, the secret coupon agreement to follow the “moral” path. It’s been my experience that, without exception, those who rant about being moral aren’t.

    What’s wrong with clearing a shelf of every item on it? That is what the store is in business to do – move the products off the shelf. Stop whining; if you don’t want to see an empty shelf get there earlier, or don’t look. That shelf will be full again in less than an hour. Don’t want to wait 60 minutes? You could just ask an employee to go to the back and bring you the number of items you want. [EDITED FOR CONTENT] Better yet, get a real life.

    As for extreme couponing, I’m going to try it one of these days soon. The food bank in my community could use the over flow, and if I can be as successful as some of the folk on the TV show, the food bank will have a steady flow of useful items.

    Drop the unspoken rules rhetoric. If you want to feel good and follow rules, follow the store’s rules. No others are needed or wanted.

    • There is no need to be so sarcastic toward people who simply want their Fair Share. ( I use that term because it seems to be the president’s favorite phrase these days.) And you are very demeaning in telling others to “get a real life”. I’m sure everyone here has a real life and that life is quite possibly the reason they don’t have time to wait around for an hour for shelves to be restocked or to return another day. The point being made in this forum is that on the television show….it is quite apparent that the store’s rules are NOT being followed.

      • I completely agree, it is so frustrating to walk into a store wanting a few items, but can’t because someone clears shelves and than wants to use the ruise of ” doing it for charity” what about the hard working people just trying to make ends meet and take care of their families. I also believe that the negative outlook this show has made on couponers is why the values of many of the coupons have begun to drop. I have also been told many of these shelf clearers are not donating, but rather selling the items they get for free. Now where is the morality in that????

    • Hi Mike, these are not “secret” rules, I’m merely touching on the gray areas. I welcome discussion and even disagreement but I’m going to have to ask you to refrain from using inappropriate language.

      As for why it’s wrong? I plan to address that in my next post. πŸ™‚

      • I’m glad you’re going to address it because I am unclear as to the illegalities that you’ve mentioned. Shelf clearing ticks me off but I haven’t been able to figure out how its illegal. πŸ˜€

      • It’s not illegal, Trisha. Just flat out inconsiderate and rude. I’ve been couponing for 20 years because I have a large family, and I had a binder probably before anyone else did. πŸ™‚ I’m not out to save 99% – that is unrealistic, and frankly, I don’t have the time or the patience. If I can save $30.00 on a shopping trip, I’m a happy girl. “Extreme Couponing” is all about hoarding, plain and simple. How many bottles of ketchup and hot sauce does one family need? And why would you buy 80+ packets of cat treats when you don’t even own a cat?!?

        As for “getting a real life” Mike, I have a full-time job working 45-50 hours a week, take care of my house, cook, clean, keep things organized, help care for my granddaughter, make sure my daughters and my husband are at the right place and the right time. Wow, if that isn’t real, I don’t know what is.

  19. Remember too that the extreme couponing has caused stores to change some of their policies and I suspect more to come making it harder on everyone. Our local Albertson’s rarely puts out double coupons and when they do it’s only via the Sunday paper. I’ve also noticed that many of my local stores are slow to restock the great deal items. And I’ve had an experience where a local all in one store will actually tack on the price of the free gift card to your purchase before giving it to you, “free.” I did ask a group of couponing women and I wasn’t the only one or the only town that has had this happen. Lets hope there becomes a show called, “Sensible Couponing.

  20. addie robbins says:

    im sooo glad other people are like me. my biggest “hoard is toothpaste,shampoo,paper towels and toliet paper, but i do it the legit way two or three at at time. i hate!!! at shelf clearer . i agree that these stores dont stock that much to start with noone needs to be that darn greedy! i recently donated some of my hoard to a collection box for joplin, mo including shampoo samples juice boxes, and toothpaste . the shampoo samples i almost took all had at a store that had marked them down to 77 and had several coupons for $3 off of two and $1 off one but i still left a few ! my biggest peeve is going to cvs right after they open with new sale and someone already came and cleaned them out of glade or airwick or toliet paper and i have to rethink by plans!


    • addie i am the same way about cvs. what they have out is what they have out. period. they dont go to the back and get it. i have been on a sat. night to get a razor that had ecbs and i had a $4or5 coupon for. i got there and there were none, asked, no they didnt have any but then i went sunday for something else and whaddayaknow there are 3 peg hooks full of that razor. however, at my local store they have a sign by the register that says you may reserve items for the upcoming sale starting on thurs when the ad is in the newspaper. i usually dont get that far ahead of myself so i havent tried that route. just sayin since “get a life” person is ranting on and about having someone go to the stockroom then saying she/he has never used coupons. anyways just sayin, i know what you mean, you plan out~i buy this with this coupon and get ecbs~…then repeat. then u get there and they dont have something it just messes up your whole plan. i usually shop with a 4 and 5 yr old so i cant easily stand there coming up with a new plan while they destroy the store. lol.

    • Goodfor you, Addie, for donating to the Joplin cause. That was a very worthwhile cause and I applaud you for it.

  21. Please mention too they are always showing stores doubling and tripling HIGH VALUE coupons . I have been doing this for more years than I want to mention and I have never had a store double $1.00 coupons…. Unless they found a great store it is normally triple up to .39 and double from .40 to .50. After that it is face value. They also stated you can use store card loaded coupons and the paper. You cannot at Kroger probably not others either because you are loading mfr coupons. They do not double or triple store card loaded coupons at least they don’t at Kroger. Now Kroger in DFW only takes them for face value.

    The other items others have mentioned the cost of buying lots of papers or getting them from services. I do it the old fashion way it works just great.

    • I completely agree Laura. The only store in my town that doubles is the highest priced store to begin with. And they won’t double coupons over $1.00. I’d love to double a high value coupon but it just doesn’t happen.

  22. I couldn’t agree more! We watched it for a few hours on a weekend while we were all feeling kinda icky. We laughed ourselves silly. First, I don’t have 40 hours a week to coupon and you guys are right, they’d have to pay for them somehow to get that many. Second, I agree that I think it is a setup. My local grocery store started posting HUGE signs near all the registers after the showed starting airing to warn customers of their policies- it certainly felt like a warning. They were posted near sale items, registers, entrances etc. I asked and they said they’d never allow someone to get 100 of the same item with a coupon; and that they never had. We have 4 kids so stockpiling is a way of life but we keep it contained to one shelf system in the basement. Seriously, I run the risk of expiring food as it is – which is why we stopped shopping at Sam’s and starting couponing; within reason. There were so many things on that show that I wouldn’t feed my family if it were free. All the preservatives! I felt bad for the kids whose mom said, “we have over 40 boxes of cereal, and I don’t care if they don’t like it.” I saw a great description of these couponers – Hoarding with OCD!. I’d be embarrassed to have rolls of toilet paper spilling out of every nook and cranny. Poor kids need a place of their own. I’ve been using coupons a long time, though not as much as I should but they are seriously giving the rest of us a bad rap. I look forward to learning coupon etiquette and making sure I leave plenty for the next person looking for the deal πŸ˜‰

  23. buffalocouponer says:

    I’m new to couponing and I look for to all you have to tach me……Go Cowboys!!!!

  24. addie robbins says:

    i forgot to to mention that i try to get afew things every time i go to grocery stores that are marked down or on sale for food bank barrel i like alot of people learned about couponing from my mom back in the day when not too many people where doing it . i do still go to sams but only for certain things and i noticed the last i went prices when up alot on the stuff i wanted. my hoard as my family calls is limited to my pantry, linen closet, my walkin closet and one shelf in second bedroom closet for extra tp and paper towels. i have small but never stashed stuff under peoples beds you re right kids need their space more than athousand rolls of tp! i noticed also how they amassed tons of papers! if coupons are really good ibuy two papers and my daughter will get 1 or 2 , but be sure to check cause will steal inserts out of them! their is a convience store in town that lets me have unsold sinday papers on mon or tues for nothing but ask before you take or it called stealing!

  25. I think this is an amazing idea! As a beginner coupon user I could really use this. I think you do an amazing job by the way, I read your blog everyday. Thank you for all the advice you have on your site, it has helped me a lot already :] I look forward to reading about coupon etiquette.

  26. You go girl! I refuse to watch the show in the hopes that they cancel it. They ‘re making a bad name for couponers who HONEST and CONSIDERATE!

  27. We have NO stores (if we do I haven’t found it) that double or triple coupons in my area. And if you read on the coupons, the majority of the ones in the newspaper say “Do not double or triple” because a lot of them now days are save $1 on two. Even if the extremers are not spending a lot of money to get their coupons, they are spending countless hours. Time is worth more to me than actual money. I feel it is possible to clip coupons and save money without neglecting your family or your finances.

    • Hello everyone!

      I am also very new to couponing. I will give credit to the show for getting me interested in using coupons, but, really, I’ve NEVER seen the sorts of rules at ANY store I’ve ever shopped that would allow the excess the show depicts.

      Susan, you must be a Floridian! As am I… none of my local stores double ANY coupons! I guess they figure all our retirees are wealthy and don’t bother…

      I’m not even trying for the magic beans to allow me to spend $400 or $500 dollars and $.50 for the entire order… bit I’m very glad Google lead me here because I have alot to learn and I think I can certainly improve my shopping skills.


  29. I am so glad you are doing something like this! I have been couponing for over a year now and have gotten a pretty good stock pile on the stuff my family uses the most. I have really gotten discouraged lately by my local CVS and Walgreens because it seems people go in there first thing Sunday morning and buy them out of everything that is on sale that week and then they either never restock or I don’t have time during the work week to go back. I have 3-4 local stores I can drive to and I keep trying a different one each week to see if I can find the deals. It is frustrating to get your list, find all the coupons and then go to the store only to find them sold out of everything.
    Those hoarders need the lesson about how everything goes on sale in cycles and it will come around again! There are even ads on Craigslist for people selling groceries from their “stores”.

    • i went to a yard sale where several ppl had their own little spot set up. there was one with ppl who obviously had gotten all these things free or close to it and are trying to resell it. I wouldnt and i dont know anyone else who would buy toothpaste or other hygiene items out in the hot sun under a tent for the same price they typically are at the store before coupons. they had at least 30 tubes of toothpaste, and probably 50 or more palmolive dish soap. i think if you are going to buy more than your family will use it should be donated… btw everyone also there is the OVERSEAS COUPON PROGRAM where you can donate the coupons you dont use to a military base. you pay the postage but it is very well worth it. they even take expired coupons but they must use them within 3 months of expiration.

      • I see this as well in my area – many garage sales with tables and tables of the same products that were free at stores. And most of the time the prices aren’t that great!

  30. There is actually a whole analysis of all the ways that TLC’s Extreme Couponing is not like a normal shopping experience at this link: Several of the stores admit to waiving their normal policies and several of the shoppers are spotted perpetuating coupon fraud.

  31. addie robbins says:

    hiagain! i live near baton rouge, la and only store i have found that doubles coupons is freds pharmcy only on sat and aonly up to and including 70. also only on one like thing . used to double 1.00 coupons but that was awhile back. i get meds there so i usually stop and get afew things with my coupons while im there using low cent coupons say to get single rolls of paper towels or peanut butter. last time i went i scored ajar of peter pan minus a 50 coupon doubled for 85 plus tax but likr i say i could get one at time and most stores around here not going to do more than one transaction . sometimes my hubby or my daughter will do a few things for me but thats it. i tried doing one at pharmcy counter and one at regular checkout but pharmacy counter somehow didnt take coupons even though you could checkout there!

  32. addie robbins says:

    oh yeah by the way i have “broken” more than one register just saving more than 25% of total so how do they on ec make those registers work with more than 85% savings?

  33. I totally agree with all of ya!!!!
    I stopped at the Commissary here on F E Warren AFB, Wyoming and was saddened by the news that they had a ton of fake coupons that people pawned off as real. I bet that these people don’t care that they will ruin it for the rest of us. I found myself standing there talking to the self-check out person showing her how to tell the fake ones and real ones. Also, te commissary doesn’t allow stacking or Walgreen’s Register Rewards here in Cheyenne. I know that the base has a class this week and I might attend to see if they are speaking the truth and ensure that the commissary has the proper info so they all know!!!

  34. Thank you! I live in San Gabriel Valley and people are getting completely out of hand around here. Cleaning out shelves, etc. I don’t appreciate the show too much.

  35. I think this is a good idea. Anytime I start anything new I like to sift through input from more experienced people to streamline my process. Quit being such a crab, Mike, maybe you need a snack.

  36. OMG..this is so exciting that you will be writing on “Coupon Etiquette”. I have never watched the show before and I never will as it is so UNREAL. I have seen a small excerpt on you tube and I thought it was ridiculous as they are not teaching the true and honest way to coupon…again that’s why it’s called a SHOW! Looking forward to “Coupon Etiquette”


  37. I think EXTREME couponing is ridiculous. I have developed a system of clipping every coupon and matching them with the ads each week. I know what is a good deal, and what I NEED. The sad thing is that these EXTREME couponers are going to ruin it for everyone else. Companies and stores won’t want to do coupons anymore, and those of us who are just trying to save some money (not trying to see how much we can hoard!) will lose out. Couponing has helped me to save at least $50 a week on my grocery bill – that is a tank of gas! I don’t believe you can save more than that on just what you NEED—buy out of NEED, not GREED!

  38. addie robbins says:

    yeah i have some distant relatives in joplin area my sister has done volunteer work up there withelks club she lives in mo she forwards expired coupons to troups for me i lost the addresses. many vets in my family my deceased #1 hubby had me as a military wife i used coupons then in the #80s! any way do you think that ec has caused krogers to stop their doubling policy? my son moved to tx and when i cross the border i would go there dont make much sense now.

  39. Thank you! Hopefully people will listen. I’ve been couponing for 2 years but never RUN out to the stores on Sunday morning to get a deal. I go when I have time and get what I can. Yet, by doing it this way I’ve still been able to build a small stockpile of essentials. You don’t have to go crazy – doing just a little will go a long way. Unfortunately, my method is getting harder with all these new couponers being thought to run out first thing in the morning.

    Also, I agree with some of the posts above – I hate when people say they will clear the shelf to give to charity. Sure, that’s great! but there are a lot of hard working people who could also benefit from getting that item on sale.
    I believe that there definitely needs to be some “unspoken rules” laid out. Simple common sense seems to escape some people.

  40. addie robbins says:

    there is an old saying charity begins at home . yes i give to others thats why i save up but also im on asmall income so naturally i buy for me and mine. has anyon e done this? seen someone in store and educate them on bogos or given them acoupon i do this but people look at me like im crazy!

    • I give my coupons all the time. Mostly the store coupons. For example, if I go to Gap and have 2 store coupons but will only use one – I’ll hand the other to someone waiting in line. I’ve given $5/25 at staples to a mom and she was SO excited! πŸ™‚ Made me feel great!

  41. This is going to be great…I have never cleared a shelf nor do I plan in it. I stock up but I’ve always done that and I share with my family and friends. I too give away coupons all the time …I have the time to look through coupons because I stay home..but part of the reason I get to stay home is the money we have saved over the past few years.
    Recently one of our stores had shampoo and conditioner on sale for $.69 I bought 10 one of each kind because I wasn’t sure which kinds we would like …that is the 1stmoney time I have ever done that and I felt guilty however..the cashier told me I was being silly and that she was impressed because of my coupon book and that I handed the lady behind me over $5.00 in coupons because I wasn’t using them. I buy bodywash but normally only on sale and only when I have a b1g1 or they have a good sale.

    I look forward to reading this everyday..its awesome and helps me decide where I might go. I never buy on the day the ad comes out because I feel that is a knee jerk I look at the ads and coupons when they come out but normally don’t shop until the following Thursday or Friday …I find this helps me decide do we really need this it really a good deal.

    • That’s so great! Being able to save enough money to stay home with your kids is such a wonderful benefit of couponing!

      And I don’t think you should feel guilty over stockpiling – there is a difference between stockpiling and overbuying just because of the thrill of the bargain. πŸ™‚

  42. Buying newspapers? I work for a newspaper and they are not BUYing the papers. Some extreme couponers are stealing the newspapers. They buy one out of the single copy rack and take all of them. They actually put their children in our dumpsters to steal the extra coupons that we did not insert. Newspapers are contractually obligated to destroy inserts they do not use. When asked to leave, many of these couponers yell at our staff. Amazing.

  43. Stockpiling seems like a good idea if you have the space, for now though, I’m glad I can finally afford my groceries. Thank you so much for all of this information!

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