I've been watching that new show Extreme Couponing on TLC and it's interesting. It's amazing to see people pay less than $10 for $500 or $600 - or more! - worth of groceries. Some grocery tills can't even handle the number of items that these people are buying. Getting those savings doesn't seem to be quite as simple as just giving coupons; you have to collect them, organize them, and cross-reference them against store sales. Apparently there are websites that can help do that as well.
I don't think these kinds of savings are possible here in Canada because we don't have the same double and triple coupon deals that they have in the US. Our rules seem to be a bit stricter here, too - in the US (in some places) it's somehow possible to use a coupon worth more than the value of the item and to get the difference as an overage to be applied to other items. These items aren't just free: the purchasers are getting paid for them, and these overages are used to "pay" for other items.
It's also possible to combine discounts in the US, and I don't know if that's possible here in Canada. For example: if a regularly-priced item is $5.49 goes on sale 2 for 1 and you have coupons for $3 off the item (and these coupons can be applied to each item in the pair), then for every two of these items you buy, you have an overage of $0.51 that can be applied to your purchase of meat or bananas. It's like cash. The trick is that you have to buy a lot of those pairs to get a lot of those overages to pay for non-coupon items.
If you have to purchase a lot of those items, then you end up stockpiling them. Having a stockpile isn't all bad - stockpiling items like toilet paper, laundry detergent, ziploc bags, and other non-food, non-expiring items makes sense. Having a three-, six-, or twelve-month food stockpile isn't bad, either, because then you're more prepared for economic changes. For some people, there's a sense of security in having a full pantry or cupboard. Or stockpile.
Some people take stockpiling and the thrill of couponing a bit too far and they start buying and stockpiling things they don't need. Like the woman who bought 62 things of yellow mustard when her husband doesn't like mustard. Or the guy who bought 1000 tubes of toothpaste. Or the woman who collected diapers for when she has a baby. Or the woman who bought cat food but she doesn't have a cat. Or anyone who buys more perishable goods (including cereal) than they can eat before those goods expire or go stale.
Another problem is that when you use coupons, you can buy only the things for which you have a coupon. If you're loyal only to a few brands, you might not get the same kinds of savings that a person who will use any brand will see. As well, most coupons are for processed foods, not fresh products. If someone only ever uses coupons they might not be eating a healthy diet.
I like the idea of extreme couponing but it's definitely not for everyone in every location. There's a thrill to getting that much stuff for free, especially in our consumer culture. Of course the people featured on the tv are more likely to appear a bit nuttier than the rest of us, but I do see the benefits in this sport. So what if their kids have stockpiled goods in their closet and under the bed? The beds themselves are clear. And no one will starve of be dirty.