Going “Extreme Couponing” With Coupon Mom

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — There’s couponing and then there’s something called “extreme couponing,” when people save amazing amounts of money and are obsessed with getting things for free at the grocery store.

So, what does it take to be an “extreme couponer?”

KDKA’s David Highfield recently traveled to Atlanta to learn the secrets from the Coupon Mom.

You might say the Coupon Mom is the original “extreme couponer,” but the idea really ignited after a show on cable television premiered two months ago.

It profiles people willing to do almost anything to save big; however, you don’t have to go to extremes to get extreme savings.

The show “Extreme Couponing” on TLC profiled four shoppers who are coupon obsessed. One woman jumps in dumpsters to find coupons, another man found so many deals – he needed store help.

“’Extreme couponing’ is the whole idea of – being able to go into the grocery store [and] get all kinds of great stuff free,” said Stephanie Nelson, the Coupon Mom.

On her shopping trip with KDKA, Nelson got plenty of stuff for free, vitamins, vitamin water, tuna fish, pain reliever, noodle soup, hot chocolate, and what she didn’t get free, almost was.

“You don’t have to dive in dumpsters, you don’t have to get thousands of items; the key is, you can be an extreme coupon saver on a regular size cart of groceries,” said Nelson.

Let’s start with hair conditioner, which is normally $1.59.

“This price tag says 10 for $10. It’s really one for $1,” said Nelson. “You don’t have to get 10.”

She combines the store sale with a manufacturer’s coupon for 50 cents, which the store doubles.

“I end up getting it free,” she says. “This toothpaste is normally a $1.79. It’s on sale for 98 cents. I have coupons for 35 cents the store doubles, so I can get this for 28 cents.”

She has 11 coupons. So, at that price, she gets extreme and gets 11.

As for pasta, which is normally a $1.99, the store has it marked down to $1.29; and she coupons that take a dollar off.

“I can use that and I’ll pay 29 cents for a pasta that’s normally a $1.99. So, don’t you think I should get more than one box. I’m [going to] get 15,” said Nelson.

1. Stock Up
“An extreme coupon shopper knows that you just don’t get two. You want to stock up,” advises the Coupon Mom.

She says the free deals change each week, so soon you’ll have a variety in your pantry and you won’t be in the position of buying just what you need each week regardless of price.

2. Stacking
Nelson says make sure you combine store sales with other coupons.

“Stacking the savings – that’s how you get free deals,” she says.

On her website, in a section devoted to extreme coupon deals, Nelson charts out how stacking can get you items for free at national chains.

3. Write to Companies
Nelson says write to companies and ask them to send you coupons.

4. Electronic Coupons
Take advantage of electronic coupons. For instance, at Giant Eagles’ website, you click on them, they’re automatically put on your Advantage Card and the coupons are deducted when it’s scanned.

5. Date the Circulars
Rather than clipping every coupon, just write dates on the Sunday coupon circulars. Nelson’s site will tell you which ones to go to for the deals you want.

6. Printable Coupons
Go to sites where you can print coupons at home.

In the check out line on KDKA’s shopping trip, the first total that pops up is a whopper, but don’t think the Coupon Mom is going to pay that.

The total was $223 dollars, but after scanning her store loyalty card, it goes down to $142, and then comes the stack of coupons.

Finally, the end result, $223 worth of groceries for just $32.52.

“Which is a savings of 87 percent, “said Nelson. “I was going for 90 percent, but there’s always next week. She says the most important tip is to plan things out.

In fact, if you go to the Extreme Coupon section of her website, she’s figured out how to get 11 items totally free.


  • Gayle-Marie Bender-Tarowsky

    Extreme couponing is great for the people that buy all that packaged stuff. What about the people who buy organic vegetables and gluten free items? I rarely see coupons for the gluten free stuff except for Chex cereals. Even the Betty Crocker gluten free cake mixes are not even on sale.
    I would like to see the Coupon Mom try to use my grocery list and see if she could save me money on my shopping.
    I mean, a loaf of gluten free frozen bread can run $8.00 at the store.

    • Kelly

      There is a great website called http://www.mambosprouts.com that sends out monthly coupons via email for gluten free and organic items. They actually have some really good coupons on there. You should check it out!

      • http://makingcentstogether.wordpress.com makingcentstogether

        If you have a specific diet and don’t find the food coupons appropriate, why not at least save money on the non-food items? Toothpaste, toilet paper, soaps, etc. That way you will have more money to buy your special food items that don’t have coupon matchups. Don’t throw in the hat just because you can’t apply coupon savings to your food items.

      • FixPGH

        Gayle – try to find websites for the brands of organic and gluten free products you buy. They may have coupons on there, or sign up for their dreaded newsletters and maybe they’ll send out coupons there too. And if you don’t have a printer at home, you can always go to the library or a FedEx Office location and use self-serve computers and print them out.

    • Lyndi Reed

      The Udi Company has GREAT gluten free bread and other baked good items. They have $1.00 off coupons. This is the BEST gluten free bread Ihave ever tasted. I have used the Betty Crocker coupons for the gluten free mixes. Also Bisquick makes an excellent gluten free mix.

  • Jeremy

    I agree with Gayle, if you want to eat junk, you can save tons of money, but people who try to eat organic, healthier (and high quality) items, could never get their groceries for 90% off.

  • Holly

    In the couponmom’s book she has an entire chapter devoted to organic couponning. I would also suggest you write to the companies who make your favorite products.

  • Amy

    You are wrong if you think you can only save when you buy junk.
    I have been saving for more then 2 years and bring home healthy, high quality items. I save a lot of money on paper items, soap, cleaning items atc.and with the money I save I can buy any healthy groceries I want. BTW you can find a lot of coupons in the paper and online for organic and healthy items. It is not all or nothing! You save on some things, so you can use your money for other items you like and may cost a lot. For some people this is the only way to put food on the table, with the high cost of groceries. If you canot save 90%, go for 30%. If you do not want to save,good for you. Just dont say that others who save eat junk.

  • Gayle-Marie Bender-Tarowsky

    I was meaning gluten free products. I’ve tried writing companies for coupons, but certain companies won’t put out coupons due to the high cost of the manufacturing.
    I never see news stories about people using coupons on gluten free, organic, healthy products. I laughed at the TLC program because all I had seen on the telly was pre-packaged, preservative laced goods.

    • FixPGH

      Cost of manufacturing is bull, they only charge a bunch and refuse to give deals because they know people will buy their stuff in this “health-crazed” society we live in.

  • Amy

    It may be harder to find gluten free item coupons, but if you use coupons and sales for lotion, meds, soap, toilet paper, toothbrush and paste, pads, diapers and so on, it is money you can use for what you need or want.
    I did not pay for toothpaste, dish soap, pads,shave items,gum, cold meds,lip balm and many more items for over 2 years. And I donate a lot to others.Any money you save is more money you can use for your family needs.

  • Amy

    Where are the 11 free deals mentioned in the last line of the story? KDKA’s link was merely to the couponmom.com website and not the direct link to the 11 freebies.

    • Amy

      Hello Amy,
      Sign in to couponmom.com and you need to click on Extreme coupon deals for all national stores.
      She has a list and in it 11 free items.
      You will need coupons and store cards to get them for free at rite aid and cvs. She also lists deals for each store every week. Good site and many more blogs with help if you want to save.

  • C

    I worked at Giant Eagle last year, and all my regular coupon customers could easily save at least half of their bill each time. They got me into doing it, but I know where to stop. When people start having shouting matches because they can’t save 40 cents or when they curse you out because THEIR coupon is expired, then you know it’s time to chill out. I also noticed that while they could save big money on canned goods, frozen things, and prepackaged food, they would never buy fresh meats of vegetables. They couldn’t find a coupon for anything fresh, so they never bought it. Now that’s not helping your family, that’s being coupon obsessed. I like fresh things, and if I have to pay for them, so be it. That’s better than a diet of ramen noodles and Hamburger Helper. Also, I work full time now, so I don’t have all this free time to clip coupons or write letters; I stock up on the ones they give you at the register. Coupon shopping is an excellent way to save money, but you can’t get obsessed. Just like anything else, it’s good in moderation.

    • Amy

      I agree with you, no need to go crazy. I save about 30%-50% at giant eagle and still get meat and vegetables. It takes time and some planing in order to save. The nice thing is you can do as much as you want and whenever you want.

    • Nicole

      You might not have seen them buy meat or other fresh foods, because they always buy them at another store. I live in CA, and shop at four stores only. Vons has amazing deals on certain items, but they can’t touch Fresh & Easy’s ground beef prices. Chicken is sometimes cheaper at Costco, and veggies I get at the farmer’s market or Food 4 Less. Just because you don’t SEE them buying healthy foods, doesn’t mean they aren’t actually buying them. I often hit all four stores each week, and between the four, find many healthy options for my family, AND save a bundle. :D

    • FixPGH

      Yeah, C. I have tried to do the coupon thing but I don’t really need anything they have coupons for! That Red Plum circular has nice name brand coupons, but I can find an off brand of something that is cheaper than the name brand with the coupon discount. And same with food – it’s all for stuff I don’t want to eat because I am on Weight Watchers, so I really don’t get to save because they never have coupons on fruits and veggies. Those go on sale from time to time, but not always. If I had my own garden space I’d just grow my own stuff!

  • Holly

    Yes, I too find it hard to find coupons on “fresh” items. However, you can just purchase them when they have a regular sale on them using the tons of money you save from your coupons on other items. Also, RE speciality items, perhaps search ebay for coupons for the items your looking for. Many people sell their unwanted coupons for pennies and if you can save .50 or more on your specialty item why not pay .10 for a coupon for it. You still end up ahead. :)

  • Mary

    You can get books of coupons for organic and gluten free items at the East End Food Co-Op. Also I don’t know if couponmom does Whole Foods but I know the Grocery Game website does and they show savings of 30-50%. They have a 4 week free trial and then there’s a charge to get their lists. If anything it will give you ideas of where to get coupons from.

  • Jessica

    I live in an apartment and do not have tons of storage, and only 1 standard fridge/freezer….but I still stock up. The fresh items, like meats and chicken, you need to stock up on when they go on sale super cheap. Last summer I went to the grocery store for a few things I needed, and happened upon hamburger at $0.99/lb…and stocked up on 20lbs of it, wrapped it and froze it. Do the same thing with chicken, wrap each breast individually and freeze (it is easier to stash here and there in the freezer that way). Frozen veggies (without sauce) are also a very good deal a lot of times with sales and coupons, and you can save a ton of money on cleaning products and personal care and paper products. If you get that stuff for next to nothing, it can easily balance out what you spend on specialty items that you don’t ever/often find coupons for…… I think the main idea is, save as much as you can wherever you can.

  • Jane

    Right now you can get printable coupon for B1G1 of organic baby yogurt. Also, coupons for 7th generation products are always available and various coupons and sales for organic milk, veges, and personal products. I know because I have child & husband who need organic and specialty foods & products due to health and allergy issues. You have to spend the time to look for the savings but they are there. Just got Laura’s 96% Lean Beef marked down earlier this week and still had 2 days to go. It’s in the freezer. I’m in a SERIOUSLY rural area with very limited stores to pick from. Also, if I have coupons that allow me to get something for free that we can’t use, I donate it to local charity groups. And in case you think I have a large budget, think food stamps and limited support from family. Our days of large budgets have been gone with family illnesses. And no, I RARELY buy prepared foods.

  • Karen

    Wow…here we go again with the processed food debate. I don’t understand why people always have to complain that all of the coupons are for processed food. There are coupons out there for healthy food and honestly, there is nothing wrong with processed food if you eat it in moderation along with fruits and vegetables.

    No one complains about you eating organic food all the time. So why complain about the people who don’t? You aren’t living my life and I’m not going to give up my Oreo cookies because someone tells me they {{{GASP}}} a processed food.

  • Kathryn

    My key to saving on fresh produce is to shop them in season. No need to buy strawberries in the middle of the winter as regularly as I would in the June/July months. Hopefully next year I won’t have to shop for them at all, if my hanging plant produces a few this year. I also shop the marked down organic/nutrition section. It’s easier for me because I work at a grocery store, so I’m there 5 days a week, but combined with a few coupons I’ve seen here and there, I’ve gotten a few cheap items.
    by the way, the lady on TLC in the dumpster was in a recycle bin and she only got in b/c the television station wanted her too.
    Also remember that purchasing coupons is illegal…make sure if you choose to “sell” them, that you specify that the buyer is not purchasing the coupon, but the cost of cutting and shipping.

  • Kathryn

    And it frustrates me to hear them say something along the lines of “they aren’t making any money off her shopping” when they are STILL making the $1.29 for the pasta, $0.50 on the shampoo, etc. Manufacturers reimburse them for those coupons. The only loss is when they do the doubling -that’s the store taking the extra $0.50 when they double a $0.50 coupon. In fact, depending on the store’s way of processing the coupons, they may make the face value of the coupon PLUS an extra 8 cents. The store is only frustrated when you clear the shelves without ordering large orders ahead of time or when you cause an impolite ruckus.

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  • Karla

    Great job David, your reports are always so much fun to watch!! I can tell you had a good time covering this story,

  • Slyfox

    Or, you all could just go to WalMart or Aldi and walk out with a cart full for $50! Giant Eagle and SNS are chain store rip offs. I find that a lot of Great Value items at WalMart are better than name brands. You can use coupons at WalMart as well! When you go to Giant Eagle or SNS, you pay for the name.

  • missyinpa

    Right now I have coupons for Earthbound Farm organic products, Organic Valley products, Natures Basket fresh chicken at Giant Eagle, Cascadian Farm organic products, Muir Glen, and lots of coupons for yogurt, nuts, frozen veggies, whole wheat pasta, eggs, and juice. You can use coupons and eat healthy. The savings may not be as big, but you’re still saving.

  • Dwayne

    The problem with this report (and others like it) is it follows a shopper through a coupon friendly store. The reporter assumes that the shopper is doing everything by the book because the store happily accepts all the coupons. Those that are experienced know that coupon acceptance varies from store to store, location to location. Stephanie correctly tells David that you don’t have to dumpster dive to do extreme couponing. What she doesn’t discuss is that the ten coupons she used on the one deal came from a blinkie machine that typically states “take one.” Those of you not familiar with the machines, there is often a delay in the next coupon being dispensed to help deter people from taking more than one. I am not looking to get into an ethical debate on coupon use. However, those that are not experienced coupon shoppers should know that Stephanie pushes the limit on some of her deals. What might fly for her in Atlanta, might not fly for you in your local store.

  • healthy eater

    I see coupons for fresh products – If you shop at giant eagle once every 2 months they run a coupon for their Nature’s Basket fresh chicken which is a $1.00 off coupon and that fresh chicken goes on sale as well. If you go to the “e-saver” coupons on gianteagle.com they also have fresh products last month they had fresh broc bag coupons! You just have to be smart and look for these things. Healthy items like frozen veggies always have coupons in the circulars! I am a healthy eater as well as an extreme couponer – Saved 75% on grocery bills since I started couponing!

  • Teresa

    I purchase all my toiletries, cleaning supplies, personal items etc with coupons. I haven’t paid for dishwashing detergent, toothpaste, shampoo, laundry detergent etc in two years. I order organic meat in bulk sizes. It takes some prep work prior to freezing the meat but the cost is well worth it…$1.47 @ pound for organic chicken! I live in Arizona so we have farmer’s markets all year round. I hit the farmers market at the end of the day and end up with a ton of veggies/fruits for almost nothing!! The stuff that freezes well, I freeze. I buy milk when it’s on sale and freeze it so i don’t have to buy it when it’s $3 plus a gallon! (we use 1% milk – less fat and it unthaws better than whole milk). I stock up on eggs when they go on sale – I crack them into a ice tray and freeze them! They unthaw beautifully. Do I buy processed food…sure I do! I love the TGIF frozen dinners. When we have unexpected company, I can get one of those together in less than 20 minutes! And don’t get me started about Sara Lee pies and Breyer’s ice cream…LOL. But on the whole we eat very healthy. I cook breakfast every morning…no cereal, no sugar etc. We don’t eat stuff like hamburger helper etc. (if it’s on sale for “free with coupon” I’ll buy it and donate it to the food bank – I do that to a lot of food. And it’s a tax writeoff) We’re a normal family using coupons in an effective manner. My grocery bill for my husband, myself and our son is about $35 to $45 a week (This includes my newspaper subscription – I get 6 sunday newspapers). And some weeks I don’t even have to go to the grocery store! When I first started couponing, I spent more and I went to the store more because I didn’t have any stock built up. But after about 5 – 6 months, I was spending substantially less and going to the store less. Now I can afford to wait for the free or next to nothing items. I do go to farmers market regularly so I can keep fresh fruit/veggies in the house but it feels great to know we don’t NEED any supplies! And that I am saving a tremendout amout of money!
    Sorry to write such a long post, but I’m so passionate about couponing. It’s saved me a ton of money and I’ve taught severly of my friends how to do it effectively. I’ve learned that people will do what they choose to do and have opinions that sometimes nothing will change. You can use coupons to reduce your grocery bill but you also have to seek alternatives for fresh foods. Farms, farmers markets, bread outlets, gardening etc. When I hear “you can’t eat healthy with coupons” I just shake my head and think…if you only knew…LOL

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  • `cristina

    im a new bee on couponing and im liking it but i get fustrated from time to time cause im still new im so excited to learn more on couponing and espeacially getting free items with coupons and thanks coupon mom=)

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