Season 2 of TLC's "Extreme Couponing" hit with controversy again

It's no secret that TLC's previous season of Extreme Couponing caused a lot of controversy in the couponing community. From shoppers being allowed to use coupons for products that they didn't buy, to stores with policies not to double coupons suddenly doubling coupons for the show, Extreme Couponing garnered a reputation for depicting shopping trips that few, if anyone, could replicate. When a store bends the rules for a shopper because cameras are rolling, the sky's pretty much the limit on how much that person can "save" at the register.

With couponing blogs, messageboards and online petitions calling for more realism on this "reality" show, you'd think Extreme Couponing might have considered changing its ways. Not so.

Last night, season two of "Extreme Couponing" premiered without much fanfare. The episodes were actually more subdued than the previous season, with one shopper couponing to feed her church's luncheon, and another shopper couponing to provide and prepare food for her sister's wedding. Yet, once again, eagle-eyed shoppers spotted inconsistencies in the shopping trips featured on the show.

The first episode opened with couponer April Blum from Erie, Pennsylvania. She was couponing to provide the food for 200 people at a church luncheon. April stated that she purchases most of her coupons from a California clipping service, but that isn't what has couponers online pointing fingers at her shopping trip.

April shopped at Bello's Market, a family-owned grocery store that has been in operation for over 45 years in Erie. On the show, April demonstrated how her .50 Ronzoni pasta coupons would double to $1, as well as how to decode a Dole bagged salad coupon to know whether or not it will double, explaining that if it has a 5 as the first digit, its value will double, but if it has a 9, it won't.

The problem is... Bello's Market doesn't even double coupons. But they doubled April's coupons for the show.

Last season, readers at were diligent about documenting the rampant rule-breaking depicted in each episode of Extreme Couponing. This morning, SlickDeals reader Bavonv posted the following:

I live in Erie, PA, and believe me Bello's Market is a mom and pop store that has NEVER doubled coupons. I started watching the show and just became so furious with the FAKE shopping trip, that I had to stop the tape and make a call to Bello's. My first question to them was, of course, was to ask if they double coupons... this guy came back and told me NO they don't double coupons and if I was talking about the TLC was a special promotion. I guess a polite way to put my reaction is this: I WENT BALLISTIC. I told him that it was NOT a promotion it was a FRAUD. link

Having never shopped at Bellos's myself, I wondered... did another store really double coupons "just for the show?" This afternoon, I spoke with Jim Bello, owner of Bello's Market, via telephone to get the his side of the story. I asked, is it Bello's policy to double coupons?

Jim said "It was not the policy to do this. We normally don't double, but we had one item that we did double for them because it was for the church. We doubled the salad. I've gotten a couple of really nasty phonecalls about this asking 'do you double now.' We're independent, we can't afford to. Grocery stores here really don't double. We did help her out and double it up on that though. Other than that, everything she did was normal."

Jim added, "She worked some local people too for different stuff to get free coupons for items. Around here Smith Provision is big, she contacted them and told them she was going to be on the show, so they gave her so many coupons for free bologna. She had won a gift certificate too for a $50 filet, which she used. They shot for 8 hours, she prestaged all of her stuff. The amount of couponing that she did was unbelievable."

I told Jim that during last season, Fry's Supermarket (Kroger) got in trouble with shoppers for doubling all coupons for "promotional purposes" on the show, when it wasn't their policy to do so for other shoppers, and I explained that viewers are watching to see if the trips on the show are depicted realistically.

"I can't believe how many people have called," Jim said, adding "I had an older lady today just verbally abuse me. 'Well, that's not fair,' and she started screaming at me. It was a goodwill gesture for a church. I don't mind donating for a church cause like that."

While during our call, Jim stated that they doubled the salad coupons for April, they actually doubled others as well. During the episode, April stocks up on one hundred boxes of Ronzoni pasta, stating "It's on sale 5-for-$5. I have a .50 coupon, which they're going to allow me to double up, so this box is going to be totally free... 100 boxes of pasta, totally free!" ...

In retrospect, April's statement that "they're going to allow me to double up" was a clue that the store doesn't normally double coupons. Here's a screenshot showing her Ronzoni coupons doubling to $1:

Of course, there were two episodes of Extreme Couponing on last night, and the second episode that aired is causing a Facebook frenzy today. Erin Cook of Sackets Harbor, New York shopped at a Price Chopper supermarket with the goal of purchasing enough food to cater her sister's wedding with. But Price Chopper's customers took to the company's Facebook wall after the show aired, stating that Erin's trip could not be replicated with the current coupon policy in place at Price Chopper.

Price Chopper's current policy is to double only the first 4 like coupons per transaction. But Erin was shown buying at least 40 candy bars with coupons that doubled to make them free. After shoppers began questioning what they saw on the show, Price Chopper responded on Facebook that the "4 like coupon" doubling provision was added to its policy after this episode of Extreme Couponing was filmed. Shoppers continue to disagree, stating that this policy was indeed in place for them long before this summer's taping took place. Erin was also allowed to split her groceries into sixteen separate transactions to skirt this 4-like-coupons-doubled policy.

But Price Chopper has another provision in its policy that's a little more difficult to explain -- a shopper's total double coupon savings cannot exceed 50% of the total at the register. Erin's $886.12 shopping trip would only be able to be reduced to about $443 after coupons... certainly not down to $95.91.

From Price Chopper's Facebook wall:

Linda Zehr Matuszak: ...the Price Choppers I shop at here in the Capital District DO NOT allow me, as one person, to go in and split my groceries into multiple transactions to maximize my coupon savings...and they never have. I've tried. SO...Price Chopper, what about it? While I'm happy to see Erin saving so much, I'm wondering why she was allowed to break all these policies at Price Chopper that the rest of us have to live by? Was it so Price Chopper could get the publicity? Because anyone who shops at Price Chopper could clearly tell by both the store surroundings and the price tags shown on the shelf that this was filmed at a Price Chopper. I personally would love to get all these savings at Price Chopper---I have the coupons and the saavy to do so--but the policies enforced at my local stores prevent me from doing so.

I'd like to know why you allowed these policies to be broken by one person but not by others? To me, although I love this show and I do shop at Price Chopper, this was a grossly inaccurate depiction of what one can do with coupons at a Price Chopper. I would love a response from Price Chopper on this.

Price Chopper responded,"...we agreed to participate with the show to help out a good customer who has shopped us for many years."

Translation: It made for good TV, so we did it. But we won't do it for you.

During my conversation with Jim Bello of Bello's Market, we also talked about the day Extreme Couponing came to his store to film. He said something else that I found interesting:

"The other thing that didn't come through as much as I would have liked it to on TV was they wanted to go to independent stores with owners, but they never really showed that we were the owners. They said 'Last year we used all big stores, so this year we wanted independent stores.' They showed me as 'Manager Jim' on TV, not that I cared. But when they were here taping, they were playing the angle that this was an independent store. On the show you'll see that's my daughter cashiering. At one part she yelled, 'Hey Dad,' but they cut that. When they were here though, the guy said to me 'that will be great for TV,' but they never put it on and just showed me me coming out of the office," Jim said.

This season, TLC's focused on smaller, local stores. Is that because the larger supermarkets learned their lessons after last season?

The problem is, most coupon shoppers know that the best sales and promotions typically are found at the big-chain supermarkets. Smaller, local stores can be great places to shop, but they don't always have the best coupon deals.

But that's okay. They can just fake it for TV.

Want to learn more about stores bending, lifting, and breaking rules for TLC's Extreme Couponing? Recommended reading:

Something's brewing with Kroger this season

We're midway through the new season of Extreme Couponing, and it's pretty well-documented at this point how much stores are bending the rules to show these "killer trips," and then simultaneously tightening their own rules & saying they want to discourage Extreme Couponing.

Kroger has said the same thing in the media, yet Kroger actually seems to be going out of their way to be ON the show this season and help create these crazy trips. They're the only major chain that's been featured multiple times this second season, and they've been on quite a few times, even when the shoppers didn't live remotely near a Kroger location.

Last week's EC shopper, Nicole, is from Jacksonville, Florida. A SlickDeals member saw the episode pointed out there are no Krogers within a fifty-mile radius of Jacksonville. In fact, the nearest Kroger store is over 80 miles away in Waycross, Georgia!

The week before that, Perry, the girl who was saving for a tattoo, shopped on EC. She is from Springfield, Virginia. Her closest Kroger? Mechanicsville, Virginia -- 76 miles away.

Who drives an hour and a half in each direction every week to go grocery shopping? No one. They're just more "staged for TV" trips.

Why would they even do this unless Kroger is actively vying to be a part of Extreme Couponing on a regular basis? I've been musing over that off and on throughout this season. And here's an even stranger thing - when one of the newspapers I work with (Yuma Sun) was working on promoting my Arizona Super-Couponing workshop over the past couple of months, they approached Fry's (Kroger in Arizona) as they're the dominant supermarket chain in the area to see if they'd want to co-sponsor or offer giveaways for the class. Kroger corporate told the newspaper no, because they are "actively trying to discourage Extreme Couponing in their stores and working on tightening up coupon policies."

Yet Fry's (Kroger) lifted their entire coupon policy for the show when it was filmed there - usually, they double the first three coupons, but for the show, they doubled everything. And apparently, these shoppers are driving for hours or crossing state lines to shop at Kroger stores for Extreme Couponing? Something doesn't wash. They seem to want the free publicity from the show, but not the after-effects...

NY Show Big M Changed Policy for Show

I live in Rural Western NY, and when Melissa was on the show, the Big M store in Warsaw NY ALSO "changed their policy" after the show. They only double 4 coupons up to $.99, the rest are at face value. I have gone rounds with them over the years because their coupon policy is on a huge sign when you walk into the store.
After the Show a friend emailed Big M and asked them the policy, and they stated that there was no limit on double coupons.
Another point... on the All Stars show Melissa shopped at another Big M, that is 3 hours away in Adams Center~! How fake is that?

It's suspicious

It is bizarre how they've had some of the shoppers going to stores nowhere near them. Unless the local stores simply won't let them film. The Tampa Tribune has a story today about the show - near the bottom it names some of the chains that have refused to let EC film there.

Again, the consumer decides...

whether we will put up with Kroger. There are soooooooo many other grocery stores....

On a different note, it appears that in one of the recent episodes of EC, the "extreme" trip consisted of buying ... feminine pads and ... analgesic cream! I mean, I once had a terrible accident which resulted in multiple ankle fractures, which means that sometimes, when the weather changes like it did recently, my ankle's killing me very seriously. Yet, I cannot imagine using so many analgesics in a lifetime!!

Saw that

What baffled me about that was she bought 40 tubes of Tyenol Pain Relief cream, like you said. It was $5.99, and she used 40 $5 coupons.

She also bought protein bars that were free with doubled coupons, and a bunch of pantiliners that were .09 after doubled coupons - like 30 packages.

Her total at the register was only $30 and change though. Huh? The Tylenol alone was $39.60 after coupons, and (I'm estimating, as I would have to go back and watch) 30 pantiliners at .09 each would add $2.70, so it would be over $42. How do you end up at $30? I guessed overage, but none was shown, and like you said - her whole trip was pain cream, pantiliners, and protein bars. The math didn't even come close to adding up unless some of her coupons were scanned more than once.

Hope this helps you with the math. LOL

I know this thread is old, but I wanted to let you know what actually happened "behind the scene". (And no, you are not crazy! Your math is almost spot on!! LoL) Well, I was friends with her and went to the store with her at the time of filming. TLC or Extreme Couponing told her she had to get close to $500 dollars and her savings at 95% or better. The manager was supposed to place an order for items that were on sale and she had coupons for. Supposedly, the items never came in. Kroger has/had a promotion going on, for every prescription you have transferred to their pharmacy from another pharmacy, you get $25. I personally transferred 3 of my own prescriptions and received a $75 gift card. Now, the show didn't air this part but technically she didn't have any overage to cover what her total amount due was. I was kind enough to let her use the gift card as a form of payment. Extreme Couponing included that as a "coupon" when it clearly was not. Knowing the person she is now, I wish I didn't give her the card to use and let her make a complete @ss of herself. But you live and learn. She lied to TLC about how she acquires her inserts (she found out where the Local Newspaper recycle dumpster is and dumpster dives to get them, and yes she has sold them on eBay for a profit). If you find her on Twitter she also says she donates coupons to the military (not true) and she donates some of her stockpile (also not true). She does have stockpile garage/yard sales and also rents booths at one of the local Flea Markets and sells her stockpile. The only time she has come close to donating anything, was to First Coast No More Homeless Pets, but the business she took it to, gives her store credit for the stuff. Also, her daughter's grandparents paid for her dance lessons. She should have given credit where credit was due. Hope this information helps you better understand how it works and she works. Oh, and one last thing, TLC didn't know about the majority of this information, as they took her word for it, instead of investigating.

Thanks for the reply

Even though so much time has passed, I appreciate the reply. The math just didn't add up at all - but if they allowed her to use a gift card and count it as a coupon -- heck, any one of us could go get a $75 gift card and have an "Extreme Couponing" trip..! :)

Believe it or not...

I noticed that right away too. LOL

"Reality shows" = Lies!

I am sick to death of all the "reality shows" that are nothing more that lies. If this is their reality I pass. I have noticed that in my area, Wichita, Kansas, the coupon inserts have become thinner and thinner and the non-food coupons are predominant in our fliers. It is disgusting and I have to believe that we are paying the price because of the THEFT that is televised on that show. Shopping for groceries is harder now than ever before especially if you are using coupons. Our stores are getting pretty nasty about taking them and when you give them your coupons you can see the judgement on their face, as if all couponers are cheats and thieves.

I am very happy to know that our bloggers are reporting this and happy that we are confronting the retailers about their policies and fraud. Couponing used to be fun, not so much anymore.

:-( Jan

Just thought of something else

April's church was featured pretty prominently in her episode. How active she is in church, she's couponing for the church, and the Father praising the Lord, over the top from the front of the church at the end for her couponing.

As a good Catholic, how does she justify buying coupons that say "void if sold" on them? That violates the terms of the coupons but she's okay with that, I guess?

And how does she justify allowing a store to stage a shopping trip with her as the focus knowing that it is faked for the media and that store has never doubled coupons before, and never will again? Seems pretty dishonest to me.

Speaking of product placement...Febreze anyone?

Since it was mentioned. Did anyone noticed in the episode where the best friends tried to out coupon each other - when they showed her stockpile all the items were turned around EXCEPT Febreze products? My husband pickup on it immediately. There was even a close-up of the new set and refresh product.

I have to ask. Why do these "extreme couponers" always have a huge amount of candy? Is it just to say they "saved 90%" of their total bill? I don't need 80 pounds of candy ever.

Probably paid or cleared it

I assumed the things that were turned around were products that they couldn't get clearnce from the manufacturer to show, or didn't want to give free advertising to? But Febreze was okay with it I guess.

When I go to a store and use my coupons, I often hear...

"Do you watch that Extreme Couponing show?" I politely respond and say,"I don't watch it because many of those people and stores are doing things un-ethically and against coupon policies set by the coupon manufacturers. Shows like that are going to ruin couponing for people like me who need to do it because my parents are unemployed. I am buying groceries for my family of four and my parents because I am their only child and there isn't anyone else to help them". That usually shuts them up pretty well. I have not seen 1 episode of this show and I do not intend to. I just know of them from reading the blogs. If people continue to watch them then they will continue to produce them.

I will, however, continue to do what I learned from my father and Jill and I will use my coupons ethically and correctly. I will not try to fraud the store I am shopping at. I will be polite to the cashiers who don't know their own store's coupon policy when I show it to them.

That's just who I am. :) Hugs all!!!!


It almost seems to me that stores are doing this so they get the 'press' and then they hope that more people will come in the door. Of course, they don't anticipate how angry shoppers will be when they come in expecting double coupons and the store doesn't do them.

I get asked about the show all the time

Since I have taken Jill's class and have been couponing, I get asked many times if I have seen the show. Although I have not watched any episodes, I, in turn, tell them it is fake and fraud. People wouldn't believe the following the show has, and how many people are hooked on watching it, whether or not, they coupon themselves. TLC has many reality shows that are not couth in my books. I agree that the majority of the viewers are the typical cage wrestling, WWF, Maury Povich, & Judge Judy type. They go in for the 'HYPE' not the reality. Get off your butts and stop watching that junk. Get a life so your kids and family can too. Become your own reality not media's depiction. If we turn it off, it goes off the air. Simple as that. Ratings need to fall in order for the media to get the message. Also, we need to boycott the advertisers or write to them. They are the ones supporting the show.

I guess I just don't get the 'extreme' backlash ...

I've never watched. In today's tv jargon, the term 'reality' is anything but. There are so many of these shows on that I've gotten a thick hide as to what's real and what isn't. Most of the time, nothing is. However, I'm not sure what the stores are doing is fraudulent.

I think folks just need to take most of this with a grain of salt. Take out what you can get from it, and move on. Now, using coupons on wrong products ... that I don't agree with.

Along with this disclaimer above, I foresee stores that were in the show putting something up at customer service or the registers or the windows indicating 'WELCOME COUPONERS. Please note: Events depicted on a popular tv show were CREATED for your television viewing pleasure. Please don't expect or demand to recreate the same couponing scenarios or deep discounts. If you'd like a copy of our current couponing policy, please visit the customer service desk. Thank you for your patronage.'

Personally, I don't see this show continuing on past this season ... I'd be surprised if it did. In the meantime, just don't watch the show. Why get your blood pressure up? Maybe I'm just totally surprised by those who thought they could duplicate the effort. Think of it as the WWF of shopping, fun to watch but, really folks, not real.

The thing is...

Remember who I work with on a daily basis - new coupon shoppers. :) When I show up to teach a Super-Couponing class, on many nights half the room wants to know how to duplicate what they see on that show. You may have a good sense of what is real and what is not in "reality" TV, but for many people, the fact that it is on television means that "it must be real."

I wasn't even sure if it was worth writing about this again - I thought the first two episodes were pretty mild without much coupon-craziness, actually. But then when you start reading what shoppers of these stores are saying... it's like, here we go again. And it was worth a call to Mr. Bello too to verify what happened, as was kind enough to speak with me at length about his experiences with the show.

To the general non-couponing public, the idea that anything is staged/created for TV seems unlikely... and so they believe, it piques their interest, and they want to know how to duplicate it.

On a brighter note, I loved your shopping disclaimer!

'WELCOME COUPONERS. Please note: Events depicted on a popular tv show were CREATED for your television viewing pleasure. Please don't expect or demand to recreate the same couponing scenarios or deep discounts. If you'd like a copy of our current couponing policy, please visit the customer service desk. Thank you for your patronage.'

Yes, I agree that you help/educate new couponers ...

... however, those facebook postings and other sites spewing with sarcasm and vitriol ... I believe those personalities NOT to be naive, 1st time couponers just trying to save a buck. For the most part, I believe them to be acting out of greed and great expectations and then getting p!ssy when the circus doesn't come to their town. Yeah, I've missed more than my share of deals. Walgreens is basically dead to me. I wonder if a good portion of these folks are flea market sellers, garage salers or shelf clearers. THAT would explain a lot of the bad manners and EXTREME self-interest! Oh yeah, and let's not forget those who 'donate' {wink wink} -- no reference to you, however. They know who they are ... or maybe not. And, that's the problem.

Major Fail!!

I do not buy the owner's comments and all the back-stepping of these retailers. It makes you wonder did TLC EC also front the stockpiles for these stars? I asked Buddig last season did they pay for brand placement in the show and their reply was no.

TLC Extreme Couponing reality TV show is nothing but a low budget commercial of the stores heavily promoting the show. Disclaimers and apologies do not counteract the backlash of coupon policy changes and inability to buy affordable groceries. The stars that appear in this show compromise their well-being and self-worth and have contributed to the end to couponing as we know it. Boycott the show and the retailers that sponsor the show. Boycott TLC's Extreme Couponing Show on facebook - Bring Back


So again stores are getting rid of their rules so people can have these super TLC trips! So fake!

How long before TLC stops even botherint to ask the store to break the rules and instead sets up a "TLC Supermarket" for these shoppers to shop in with no policy and everything doubles up? It's already not far from that when you have stores going along with TLC asking them to double coupons but they don't double any other time for anybody else. Id love to walk in Jewel and ask them if they'd double some coupons for me as a nice gesture LOL.


The sad thing is, if you use coupons legitimately you can still save so much money. Is saving 50 or 66 percent not enough to make you say wow?

TLC: Well if we only got rid of this rule, and this one, and this one, then she could save 90% and your store would look great on TV

Store: Okay lets go for it.

Thanks Jill!

This is very interesting information. I personally don't subscribe to a TV service mostly because I do not want to pay for crap :-) lol... when I can get plenty of it online... lol... I oppose main stream media in general because it is the advertisers, agendas and others that control the news and other programming, so it is very refreshing to see this exposed and it is comical how folks go or call the stores thinking that this really is what they will get. As if... everything on TV is true... lol. I hope this opens the eyes of some. They should change their disclaimer to "Don't try this at home, or even the same stores." Very cool how you made the calls and followed up with this.