Why “extreme couponing” ISN’T taking off in the UK

Miss Thrifty38 November 22, 2011

extreme coupon uk “Families are reducing their weekly shopping bills by more than a third after the American craze of ‘extreme couponing’ crossed the Atlantic” – The Sunday Times.

“American craze for ‘extreme couponing’ hits Britain… and it could slash the cost of your weekly shop by a third” – Daily Mail.

The calls I get from journalists and TV researchers tend to come in waves that coincide, roughly, with the level of hysteria about the UK economic outlook. When it’s your common-or-garden, everyday hysteria about our financial crisis, the level of calls is fairly low. When it’s wet-your-pants hysteria, as it has been over the past couple of weeks, the phone begins to ring and ring…

I don’t want to come across as a total grumblebum – although I probably will – but I’m beginning to get the impression that now we have spent a few years teetering on the financial brink etc., fresh hooks and angles for stories about money-saving are running low. Last week I was contacted by a Sunday Times reporter who was writing a story about how American-style extreme couponing was taking off in the UK. I explained the reasons why, um, it wasn’t. (Worst. Interviewee. Ever.)

Needless to say, my comments didn’t make it into print; however the story did. Since then it’s been picked up by the Mail and others, and I’ve been taking various calls about it, so I’m beginning to think that a debunk is in order.

For the uninitiated, extreme couponing is the preserve of a few, single-minded Americans who are dedicated to collecting as many store coupons and saving as much on your shopping as possible. Think this is about clipping a Kellogg’s voucher out of Family Circle magazine? Think again. Here’s a taster, from the awesome (and terrifying) show Extreme Couponing, which I wrote about earlier in the year:

Having lived in the USA for a time, I have first-hand experience of this kind of shopping. Sadly, I wasn’t a participant – if only! – but after moving there, I spent plenty of time standing in checkout queues, trying to work out what on earth was going on as women in front of me proceeded to whip out ring binders stuffed to bursting with coupons for various products and from various sources, and shoved sheaves of them in the cashier’s direction.

So, even though I don’t doubt that more of us are clipping coupons and looking for other ways to save at the supermarket, here are five reasons why extreme couponing doesn’t happen in the UK:

1. For starters, there are fewer coupons available over here. Those glossy, junk mail leaflets from supermarkets can be a treasure trove of bargains and BOGOFs, but in America there are coupon clubs, subscription-only coupon websites, coupon magazines… you get the idea.

2. In America it isn’t unusual for stores to honour their competitors’ coupons. Can you imagine doing that over here? Taking your Tesco vouchers to ASDA and expecting ASDA to accept them? They’d look at you like you were daft.

3. As in the clip above, some stores will also “double up” your coupons if you belong to their loyalty scheme or membership club.

4. Fewer restrictions on how many coupons you can use per purchase. Stores will also honour the full discounts on goods, even if those goods have since been discounted below the initial discounted price. So, for example, if you go to buy a $3 product with a $2 coupon, but the product has since been reduced to $1, you’ll still get the full $2 credited to your receipt.

5. Average living space! A lot of the people featured in the Extreme Couponing have been able to devote entire rooms – and, in many cases, basements – to stashing their spoils. Like this chap, who needs somewhere to stash his 1,500 sticks of deodorant:

Unlike in America, where there is more space to go around, those of us in Britain who have this amount of room to spare don’t generally need to go extreme couponing…

It beats a BOGOF on Ben & Jerry’s, doesn’t it? But if you’re feeling even a little jealous of our coupon-craving American cousins, don’t feel hard done by. The absence of an extreme couponing culture in the UK isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Here are the reasons why, even once I had got my head around extreme couponing in America, I couldn’t wait to set foot in a UK supermarket once again. Please note that these were my experiences in one state (Arizona) and I don’t know how representative they are of American supermarkets in general, but here goes:

1. RUBBISH CHEESE. Big slabs of that lurid orange, squeaky Kraft stuff that comes in processed slices here in the UK. Balls of shrink-wrapped, hyper-pasteurised “mozzarella” that were so hard and rubbery, they bounced like tennis balls. Proper cheddar came in sliver-sized packets and cost the Earth. After my first visit to an American supermarket cheese counter, I cried. (Admittedly this was something of an over-reaction and I was also jetlagged at the time, but still…)

2. Surprisingly pricey fresh produce. Sprinkler systems in the fruit and veg aisles that were activated every few minutes (usually with a little “thunderclap”), dousing the fresh produce with water. This was supposed to keep the fruit and veg fresher for longer, but in my experience, it didn’t last as long post-purchase as fruit and veg does over here. Conversely, the milk would stay “fresh” for a month after opening – nothing wrong with that, per se, but it was slightly disconcerting!

3. I found that in general, UK supermarkets offer a lot more buy-one-get-one-free deals, and also offer more frequent discounts and deals on “core” products from the meat, freezer and dairy sections. Whereas a lot of the American deals were for more obscure, niche-focused products that I had never heard of before. (Again though, this may have been just me with my old-fashioned English ways…)

4. As I have mentioned before, certain American supermarket chains have “members’ clubs” and have two prices for every product: a “members’ price” (i.e. normal price) and a non-members’ price, which is a little more. I much prefer the simpler pricing system in the UK, with one price per product for all customers. Equal pricing for all!

5. In UK supermarkets, I don’t get stopped every other visit by random people asking me to join their random churches. Charming at first, but after a while it grates…

Image credit: Cindy Funk.

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38 Responses to “Why “extreme couponing” ISN’T taking off in the UK

Johnny Debt says:

I too had a call from the Times, also nothing I said made it to print either! Mind you I was in a rush as he called at the wrong time.

I wonder why these people store the products, surely selling some of it on at a discount makes more sense?

November 22, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Miss Thrifty says:

Ha ha – looks like I wasn’t the only one then!

November 22, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Ellie says:

Supermarkets in the UK DO take competitor coupons!

November 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Miss Thrifty says:

Sounds good to me! Which ones? Details, please…

November 22, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Ellie says:

Asda are fiends for it, as are Morrisons (you usually just have to look for the signs outside saying ‘we accept xxxx vouchers’, or alternatively check the Moneysavingexpert forum, those guys are insatiable

November 22, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Miss Thrifty says:

Whatwhatwhat? My local Morrisons & Asda never have those signs outside! I feel hard done by now…

November 22, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Tesco always used to have a sign outside saying they accepted Sainsbury’s vouchers. Not sure if they still do but it wouldn’t surprise me.

November 22, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Anna Foxall says:

Well you live and learn!! Personally I don’t like the American system, whilst it certainly looks amazing on the video of the woman saving over $200 what exactly did she buy & was any of it what I would want? Don’t get me started on American food & produce. However, over here in the UK we could do better with our vouchers & saving systems. In reality I don’t like vouchers that have expiry dates usually because I miss them!! I think that’s called sour grapes. Thank you as always for the highly useful information. Maybe the bod from the paper was thinking of Groupon which has rocketed, however I heard the sellers have to pay an extortionate amount to Groupon!

November 24, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Yep had a call from the Mail yesterday. Fluffed it completely but I tried to make the same arguments as you. There are a zillion more cost-effective and time-effective ways of saving on your groceries. Extreme couponing is worrying and no I don’t think it’ll be heading this way.

November 25, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Miss Thrifty says:

@Sparklzandshine Clearly I am living in the Yorkshire Coupon Drought Triangle. This is a dark day. :(

@Anna My thoughts exactly! I didn’t see any fresh produce/vitamins on that conveyor belt…

@Harri Yay – come join my Worst. Interviewee. Ever. club!

November 25, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Amanda says:

I think you are all spot on with most of these arguments, however as a couponer from America recently moved to London I’m still going to try to make it work! I think a lot of the same principles apply when it comes to using ‘stacking’ coupons on deal days, buying in season produce, and using online forums to help find deals. The couponers on TLC’s show saving 95% in one trip is overly dramatized. These people are saving up ‘catalinas’ (like a money off store voucher) and using them all in one trip to appease the cameras. Sometimes even committing coupon fraud to get a ridiculous bottom line. An average trip for most extreme couponers is about a 70% savings.

Anyways… wish me luck in becoming an Extreme UK Couponer and I hope everyone can learn how to save a little here and there too!

November 27, 2011 at 11:58 pm

jay says:

I recently binge watched the extreme couponing series in awe, then realised i dont buy cereal, sports drinks or butterfingers, and wondered how much they spent on petrol.

Then I was confused as to why some things were seen as a deal, I think the supermarket value/basics etc ranges spoil us for some things, $1 sounded high for pasta, how much for pasta sauce???

Though I would love to get free brand name deodorant and not pay for loo roll.

And yes if I had that sort of spare room at home I’d have a lodger, or 20.

November 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Extreme couponing and the drama of such exorbitant savings are overrated! Creating a budget and sticking to it – while working toward making good spending choices can be just as effective… and the long-term results are good personal finance habits. Great post – lots of good insights!

November 30, 2011 at 8:55 pm

sharon says:

I have listened to your comments and would like to respond. In the uk couponing is different but u can still get good deals. i recently bought impulse body spray for £1.00 on offer in store, i purchased 4 which had a 50p coupon on them for my next purchase so i bought another 4 for 50p each and again and again. i now have a years supply of body spray. Another example, Tesco have coupons in there lastest mag i took five and went on my supermarket.com compared offers and got £12.00 of a weekly shop doing seperate transactions. i will be reapting this next week as the offer finishes on the 6th Dec. I also go on coupon websites which give you money off say 50p, might not seem alot but when you look at say a co-op deal i got for £1.00 off £10.00 on my next spend. I saw a deal for Charmin loo roll £5.00 for 16 third off the rrp price, i thought i have 2 coupons for 50p of charmin, buy 2 rolls for a tenner use both coupons and the co-op coupon i got the toilet roll for 9.00 plus because i had to spend a tenner got some choclate for a pound for free. thats about 4 months of toilets roll for less than 25p a roll cheaper than supermarkets own brand. what i am trying to say is the deals might not be as amazing as america but you can still save. I worked out if i could save £5.00 a week with coupons that would give me a saving of £260.00 a year not bad for paying with coupons.

December 4, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Pam from US says:

I’ve read your tirade about American supermarkets and, in particular, your hatred of the foods you found in there. Thank GOD you’re back in the UK. And good riddance! Just another arrogant Brit…

December 6, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Miss Thrifty says:

@Amanda – Absolutely! Good luck – and I would love to know how you get on, so I hope you will chronicle your progress on your blog…

@Jay – I feel exactly the same. Mind you, $1 for pasta isn’t bad – to my chagrin, pasta prices have SHOT up over the past couple of years.

@Lisa – Thanks. I’m crazy about budgeting too: it takes less time than couponing and, in my household anyway, saves more money too!

@Sharon – Thanks so much for your comment – you raise some great examples of when couponing works well, and it’s good to have an opposing view.

@Pam from US – Stop stirring, woman – I can see from your IP address that you are based in BURNLEY, UK.

December 6, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Mark says:

Lol pam got burned. but on a serious note i have never seen any money off coupns to the extream that they have them in the usa. plus space would deffenatly be an issue the best bulk saving i have had are from places like costco or makro.

December 13, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Lili says:

I watched the extreme couponing program and found it a bit crazy, Stockpiling on items that would not be used in their lifetime. Also alot of rubbish such as piles of candy bars that could feed hundreds of sweet toothed brits and some products that by the time they eat them will be so old that at the best would have deteriorated in flavour. However I am looking, due to change in circumstances to try to save money and have researched on line coupons and sample sites. I have not really found much in UK. I would like to do this on a small scale and only use those for items I actually use. I have to drastically cut down on my outgoings and every little bit will help. Can anyone here give me some tips as as I said I have not found much at all in UK.

March 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Soph says:

I have visited the US also and grocery prices there are shockingly high, I remember watching a local news broadcast and it was saying how wonderful it was that you could get 4 peaches for $3.99 in the farmer’s market when for the same 4 it would be more than $5 in the supermarket, either way it’s far more expensive than here. Some of the walmarts I went in didn’t sell any fresh fruit and veg at all either. As for the TV show it’s mostly faked for the cameras and there have been some cases of coupon fraud on there, which the body representing manufacturers in the US when it comes to coupons are extremely angry about. Contrary to how it appears, in many states no store doubles any coupon, and coupons in the US are usually one per item and restricted to specific sizes and varieties of a product-often its the case that those on the TV show have been allowed to use a coupon for a different size item or different item altogether but this isn’t something ordinarily allowed. there is also a massive problem with counterfeit coupons in the US and there has been controversy over these clearly being used on the TLC show too.

In many respects coupon policies of stores in the UK have more leeway than those in the US. It is also possible to get a shop either for free or with a very high percentage saves but it’s not going to be an all round family weekly shop. Having said that I do generally save at least 50% off RRP with most shops that I do and it has been over 90% on occasion. To the previous commenter, I find the forum money saving expert best for this as they have a thread in their forum with all the available money saving coupons available in the UK at the moment. In the UK most coupons are printables as opposed to being from magazines etc, some have a print limit but in most cases you can legitimately print more if you use a different email address, but in some cases the print limit is per computer. Make sure you check terms and conditions as a few coupons really are strictly one per person or household though.

March 13, 2012 at 4:42 am

Lili says:

Soph thank you for your reply. Had a look at your suggested site and it looks good. Also see many other useful tips there so between this site and that one hopefully I shall be able to save a little money. Should be fun trying too.

March 14, 2012 at 1:11 am

Soph says:

No problem. Was writing my reply on my phone so just realised it was a bit of an essay lol! I’m really glad I started couponing because it does save just that bit extra on a shop and it really adds up. It has expired now but until the end of February there was a lovely PDF coupon around that could be used on a certain brand of laundry detergent and the a particular fabric conditioner made by unilever, being a PDF it was allowed to print as many as you liked. Several times in the past few months there were rock bottom offers on both products so the saving with the coupon on top was huge and I now have a cupboard full. That’s another advantage we have here, PDF coupons are incredibly rare in the US but here they are quite commonplace. I don’t stockpile like people on the US show as we don’t have the space and we don’t get things we don’t need but we do have a big hallway cupboard full of laundry products, hair care, toilet rolls, toothpaste etc and it’s a good job too as the big companies have all recently jacked up their prices by quite a bit so the saving is even more if you take the new prices into consideration, a bottle of persil non bio that cost me £7 with a coupon and an offer a mere 3 weeks ago costs £20 now.

March 14, 2012 at 2:48 am

maggie says:

Hello! As a Brit living in the USA:( I find extreme couponing is a huge joke! I get coupons each week out of the Sunday newspaper and hardly find a need for any of them. Also I agree that British supermarkets are so superior in the quality of the food and also the price. Food is so expensive over here – why won’t my sister believe this??
I love going home not only to see the family but also to visit my fav stores – Sainsbury’s; Marks and Spencer and Morrisons!!! I had to pay excess baggage on my last visit lol!
I do find that coupons are not the best way of saving money – an extreme couponer – I don’t think so!

April 17, 2012 at 9:57 pm

maggie says:

ps dear Pam from US – in case you think I too am an “arrogant Brit” – if you ever visit the UK you will know what i am talking about when comparing the quality of supermarket food – they don’t even KNOW what creme fraiche is where i live in N.W. Indiana!

April 17, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Working Girl says:

I’d make more use of coupons if they were on products I actually bought. 50p off a litre of cola isn’t any good when I don’t drink it etc. And quite often when I do find a coupon I’d like to use I’m typically a day or two late as they expire quickly so I miss out.

May 17, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Soph says:

Its like that in the US also, most coupons for non-food items or junk food. There are notable exceptions though and many coupons have an expiry date of 3, 6 even 12 months sometimes. Anyway I’m off to Tesco to get a shop that originally was £173 for £79, cheerio!

May 17, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Miss Thrifty says:

Sounds great, Soph – come back and tell us how you did it!

May 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Soph says:

I carefully planned my shop on My Supermarket around my coupons (mix of PDFs and smart coupons) and also the tesco price drop leaflet coupons which this fortnight have been particularly decent, there is a bit of overlap on some of the categories for each coupon so don’t have to buy the full amount needed for each one before you get the discount. I also had some club card vouchers and a tesco gift card that I had won from unilever. So those added to the savings. I did have a wheelchair-bound lady huffing and puffing behind me in annoyance although she saw how much shopping I was getting before coming to the same till as me, and she still did despite Tesco being unusually quiet. I just smiled and then ignored her, it only took the till lady 20 seconds more to scan all my coupons including the club card ones and gift card, so it was hardly a huge hold up. It was pretty fun. I did forget to get two of the items and another two were out of stock but that’s nothing too major. The chips I forgot to get wouldn’t have fitted in my freezer in the end anyway.

May 17, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Miss Thrifty says:

Wow – it sounds like quite a haul. Well done Soph! The MySupermarket site is certainly useful…

May 17, 2012 at 10:28 pm

ryan says:

you should have had wisconsins cheese. we are known best by our dairy products. best cheese in the usa in my opinion.

October 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm

jennifer says:

I print off coupons every week but stick to stuff i would have bought anyway such as laundry and toilet roll ect. i save on average £10-20 a week on my shopping which is nice. I mainly shop at Tesco and their reward scheme this year has netted me £40 in vouchers, doubled to £80 worth of free food including frozen veg and meat as well as most of my christmas pressies. Dont see them doing that on extreeme couponing.

November 3, 2012 at 10:47 am

Joshua Rachman says:

I’m an American man living in the UK so have some insights:

(a) Food is cheaper in the UK, esp fruit and vegetables

(b) Cheese selection isn’t bad in the US supermarkets, unless you go to a bad supermarket (like trying to get good cheese at Iceland)

(c) Churchiness only happens in small creepy towns in the US, and is definitely not the norm. I’ve never heard of a church group approaching people in the US, though Brits are far less religious than the Americans (which is a GREAT thing).

Thats it!

January 1, 2013 at 10:21 pm

M says:

Even though it’s a couple years old, still a good post! I’m a former American who has lived in Britain for 10 yrs. Growing up in NYC we did use coupons sometimes, but my mother was an old fashioned thrifty shopper and delighted in store and ‘no name’ brands. She now lives in Florida and adores Costco. I’ve recently watched the series from America and I think it shows the worst in consumerist compulsion. These people appear to save money, have large stock piles of stuff, but I always ask myself the same questions. 1-why stock pile goods you don’t actually use e.g. the guy with loads of feminine hygiene products but no apparent woman in his life to give them to, or the woman who had shed loads of diapers but no children. So, maybe you can go to the shop and buy $600 worth of stuff for about $40, but if it’s not stuff you eat or use what is the point other than to say that you did it? I always think if that were me, I would sell the stuff I don’t buy on Ebay or some other way. There are a few who give their excess to charity which is of course laudable, but they still have even more stuff packed away they don’t use so why aren’t they donating that as well? Or at least letting their friends and family shop in their stash? That’s what I would do. Like someone else said they may have loads more coupons over in the USA but the shop prices are actually quite outrageous. Growing up and even today I find that a lot of coupons are often for things and brands I don’t need or want. I don’t have children and my husband and I try to be flexible on brands/products. There are a few that we are loyal to because we like them and know they work for us, but otherwise I use mysupermarket.com mainly as they have really good shop comparison now, additionally they show you all the deals and specials in a store and how long they last and even compare if the deal is better than something else in store. You can even get cash back now. It isn’t tons, but hey if I end up with a free £20 at the end of the year that’s a few drinks down the pub at least! I find most printable vouchers are for in-store which doesn’t help me as I tend to do the bulk of our shop once a month online and top up during the month with the fresh stuff like veg, milk and bread. It would be lovely to get my £190 monthly shop for only £50 but I don’t think that’s realistic. Annoyingly after my last shop Nectar sent me vouchers only good in-store for £9 off a £60 spend. They are only good in May and have to be used each week to get the extra nectar pts at the end. Since I’ve already spent the main part of our food budget I’m hardly going to spend another £300 over the course of the month.

May 7, 2013 at 11:34 am

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