Even though the shopping trips you see on the show are most likely unrealistic and unattainable, there are a few positive lessons to be learned from the show's participants.
1. Dumpster Diving
Several episodes feature people fishing through dumpsters and recycling bins to collect coupons. I've done that! No, I don't wade into the dumpster and roll around with the garbage. I just hit up the newspaper recycling boxes when they start to get full. I make sure to bring my own Sunday paper, too. I usually recycle this in our bin at home, but I put it in the public box to take the place of any coupon inserts I take.
One of my biggest frustrations with the show is that it depicts people buying mostly prepackaged, not-very-healthy foods. I often find myself wondering if those moms even feed their children fresh produce. One episode I saw recently was pleasantly surprising, though; the participant used overages from her other purchases to buy produce for very little.
How does this work? An overage happens when you use a coupon that has a higher value than the product you're purchasing. For instance, the Dial Body Wash I wrote about yesterday: the body wash cost $.97, but my coupon was for $2. By using the coupon, I got the body wash for free and I also got $1.03 off my entire purchase.
This is where it's important to know your store's coupon policy. Some stores, like Target, adjust the price of the coupon so that you don't receive an overage. Other stores, like Walmart, will allow overages. Having the coupon policy with you can help avoid any conflict at the register.
3. Be Vigilant
The women (and men) on Extreme Couponing monitor the computer screen at the checkout as if their lives depend on the accuracy of the numbers. While their attention to detail may be slightly over the top, the idea is good. Always watch the register to make sure each product scans for the correct amount, especially if you're purchasing clearance items.
Will you be watching Extreme Couponing tonight? I probably will. Just remember as you watch that much of what you see is exaggerated and, at times, completely twisted for the benefit of the television audience. There are things that can be learned from the participants of the show, but at the end of the day, TLC's goal is still to entertain.