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Extreme Coupons, Couponers and Couponing: A Serious Mental Illness.

Psychiatrists in the USA are seeing an increase in people who call themselves, “Extreme Couponers.”    These are people who comb through every newspaper and store circular and online coupon site for the best deals on supermarket items.   A recent show on TLC showcases these individuals who had previously lived in a kind of secret society — but it’s a society of one and that “one” could very well be suffering from serious mental illness.

Pictures of extreme couponers here —–> Direct photo

Many extreme couponers say that they do this out of financial need and in some cases this may be true, but more often we see people — mostly women — who are readily diagnosed as food hoarders and angry, obsessed, anti-social gatherers,” said psychiatrist Dr. Sheldon Hartunis.

“These people spend hours and hours calculating how to get thousands of dollars of groceries for free, and while many of us would like to get free groceries, we lack the time or the obsessive, and perhaps subconciously vindictive,  angry  nature to do so.” 

There is also a large amount of selfishness and callous disregard for others inherent to the average extreme couponer.   Why buy 50 squeeze bottles of mustard — the entire store stock — when a family of four could not use that mustard before more than half of that quantity has a freshness expiration or becomes dangerous to eat?    Many psychiatrists, myself included, are starting to see extreme couponing as a form of anti-social behavior and perhaps a bridge to more serious mental illnesses  somewhere down the road.”

TheDamienZone watched a few of these TLC shows and we came to the conclusion that while many of the couponers blame financial hardship, they all seem to have large homes and all the accouterments one would need to store four years worth of Cheerios and Vitamin A&D Ointment.  Of the three women we watched, each seemed a little off-kilter and we figure that if they weren’t cutting coupons they’d probably have acquired some other kind of sub-clinical disregard for others – some other anti-social behaviour.

They are very intelligent about one thing only, and that’s how to use coupons and store promotions to get huge quantities of food for virtually no charge.  The trouble is that about 90% of their purchases are useless.  The average couponer seemed to us to be either fat or sloppy or a combination of both.   The only thing that is neat about them is how beautifully they store their stuff.    Their basements and storerooms and garages look like miniature grocery stores where everything is perfectly aligned on shelves.  It’s sick to watch actually.

Who needs 50 Xtra-large jars of 500 Maalox antacid chewable tablets?    A hospital full of ulcer patients would take a year to use all of that — and the shopper left none of the product on the shelf for a shopper who might really need that kind of product — an elderly person on a fixed income who might need just one bottle for their stomach ailment.  The extreme couponer doesn’t seem to care about that possibly.   They just take and take and take, and then they revel in the fact that they bought 50 jars of Maalox tablets for 50 cents and saved $700.00.   It seemed really selfish and uncaring.

“Extreme couponers are often very callous and uncaring people,” said Dr. Hartunis

“In my experience, I would estimate that nearly 90% do not care that the products they sweep off the shelves and into their basement stockpiles are often things that regular folks need to live.  They tend to be very house-proud and their interest in their children’s lives is often lacking depth.  They may claim to love their children, but they cannot love them as much as they love coupons.  That is the nature or the sociopathology inherent to extreme couponing.

I treated a patient with stomach cancer who was seeing me for depression and her deepest resentment was not aimed at her illness but the extreme couponers who constantly emptied the shelves of the products she liked or needed. 

Most often, during the course of her treatment ( which ended in her death) she complained that she could never seem to buy a certain stomach acid product because the extreme couponers would come at 5am and wipe it off the shelves.  My patient was in desperate financial straits on top of being terminally ill but was forced to pay double the price by buying what she needed at convenience stores where the markup is extreme. 

In one instance my patient watched in shock as an extreme couponer pulled an entire shelf of that product into a cart and would not let my patient have just one even though she explained her health issues to the extreme couponer.  My patient was very upset and found it hard to understand the couponers, but later she seemed to have a very profound understanding of them.  Often, a person who has come to terms with death and dying sees unkind or malicious behavior in others a whole lot more clearly than would an ordinary healthy person.

“This is anti-social and possibly, dare I say,  psychotic behavior, and it was my stomach cancer patient who opened my eyes to the psychosis of extreme couponing.”

Hartunis continued:

“The extreme couponer has issues that dig deeper than any financial need since financial need is almost never the cause for the couponing.  They may have been deprived of food as children or perhaps their mothers and fathers were extreme bargain hunters.  Basically, however, we do not see a genetic link other than a genetic predisposotion to mental illness — usually obsessive-compulsive and pre-bipolar states, and most of them should seek help while there is still a chance to work around these deeper issues.” 

“Another doctor, a colleague, who has looked into this told about a case where a 40-year-old woman with a family of five, found caskets on sale for 85% off at a major casket manufacturer.  The caskets were scratched or damaged and were being sold as props for movies or plays.  This woman purchased five caskets and stores them in her garage — the car stays in the driveway.  Most cemeteries will not allow the use of damaged or defective caskets but this woman found loopholes in the laws of a neighboring state where a damaged casket can be used. ” 

The patient promptly signed an agreement to lease with this cemetery and then went through government channels to get a 75%  Federal rebate on these grave plots that was briefly granted during cemetery rennovations being done as part of that State’s historic sites and landmarks.  All this — caskets and a cemetery 600 miles from home–   despite the fact that everyone in her family is healthy — at least physically.  This is psychotic behavior and I see no difference between trying to get a bargain on caskets you don’t need and buying 200 jars of ketchup that will rot before they can be used.  There’s a curious irony about that.”

TheDamienZone agrees with Dr. Hartunis and from what we observed, the extreme couponer seems to be more of a selfish, uncaring hoarder than a thrifty or savvy shopper.  They are crazy people — a term that Dr. Hartunis steered clear of using but we knew he wanted to.  He is attempting to to get funding to do further study on this complex problem and perhaps develop treatment plans that will allow Extreme Couponing to be viewed as an entirely new mental abnormality.

29 Comments
  1. Dear Damien, as a fan of science fiction as well as how stupid people really are, I find your opinions hilarious. I love my CVS coupon addiction…if I can get cat litter for .53 cents…then fuck everyone! Your fan,
    crazy cat lady,
    Michelle

  2. hmmmmmmm

  3. I think you are wrong, yes I do see some potential hoarding in some of those people, but for the most part I don’t think so. I think your angry

  4. Stockpiling vs. Hoarding – In an overview properly utilizing coupons to stockpile items is not only a positive but the correct way couponing should be implemented, hoarding is an alarming and negative idea that normally disguises a underlying trauma, depression, or mental illness. Those who stockpile use items daily in the purposes intended, easily justify purchases even in bulk. Hoarders buy compulsively and fail to be able to use items due to attachment; usually the monetary savings. Lastly, those who stockpile save money and meet shopping objectives; hoarders often are lost in their purchases while in the end spend far more due to the ‘savings high’ or for other reasons. Please note hoarding is an addiction which requires proper mental health treatment.

  5. Melissa, I am not the psychiatrist who is theorizing this — I am simply reporting and making jokey comments long the way. I don’t care if you clip coupons until the cows come home. With that said, there are psychological variants to a lot of mental illnesses. You have to read and denote the difference between my comments and the doctor’s opinion.

    The good doctor says: “Some people are depressed but seem on the exterior to be anxious and overwrought. Initially these patients are diagnosed with Anxiety and/or Generalized Anxiety Disorder until a deeper insight shows a clinical depression as the root cause — ergo the illness is then called Clinical Depression with comorbid Generalized Anxiety Disorder. For every mental illness there is a variant form. People who buy 100 bottles of aspirin because they have a coupon are perhaps cashing in on a bargain, but when they store those bottles in their homes — regardless of if they use them or not — they are venturing into a variant of Obsessive Compulsion Behaviour with comorbid Hoarding. That is to say that they have a variant of either or both illnesses. When the couponer clears the supermarket shelf at 5am so as to get all the product before anyone else does is exhibiting what is called Variant Anti-Social Behaviour. It is my opinion that extreme couponing is a variant form of Hoarding and/or Anti-Social Behaviour States.”

  6. Damien you are now my favorite extra terrestrial. I love it. These people go crazy and leave nothing for anyone else. Beware of women with large binders filled with plastic photo album picture holders. That would be them.

  7. Thanks, Maureen. You know, I was watching the show and I was thinking the same thing the doctor said in the interview. There was something sick about these people and even sicker when the dopey husband gets dragged into it — what a wuss.

    I’m not really an extraterrestrial, but I am so cynical and so jaded that I am forced to distance myself from people and this is the only way I know how to do it . With that said, you are now my official “fan” — sorry it’s not much of a club but maybe someday people will realize that I often make a lot of sense.

    thank you
    damien <--- that's my real name.

  8. Keep the faith, my Internet friend, You are a first-class writer and deserve to be heard.

  9. My husband and I were aghast at the audicity of these extreme couponers to clear the shelves of items on sale. We agree that their behaviour border on the neurotic and narcissistic (sp)!
    They don’t think of the real poor and elderly on fixed income that look forward to sales.
    Hey Extreme Couponers.. you’re teaching your kids to steal, like the IRS cheaters!!
    Heaven forbid should the food and drug companies decide to do something to compensate on loss sales due to extreme couponing. Guess what?? Yep, you and I the normal shopper will pay for it.

    Thank you Damien for being normal!

  10. Hiya, I’m really glad I’ve found this info. Nowadays bloggers publish just about gossips and net and this is actually frustrating. A good web site with interesting content, that’s what I need. Thanks for keeping this web site, I will be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Cant find it.

  11. It sure looked sick to me, JBB. Thanks for the feedback.

    Damien

  12. Maureen I have a binder but the max I pick up of an item is 4 and half of that goes in my giving stash. I figure the next person to come along for that deal may be an elderly person on a fixed income who really needs that deal and I don’t believe in emptying shelves, even if the item can make me money to help pay for something else.

  13. Hi Maureen — I just watched a show about extreme couponing where a guy proudly displays his 1,000 tubes of toothpaste and I thought, “Why doesn’t he give most of that away to the poor or homeless? I am glad there are people like you because I have had a subsequent conversation with the doctor I interviewed for that article and he thinks that the problem is even more severe than he thought.

    thanks for writing
    damien

  14. What a bunch of bull****. I agree that there were a few people on this show that have an issue of some kind, but most people who use coupons in this manner do not go to that extreme. FYI, the guy with the 1000 tubes of toothpaste DID give it all away. Go to his website and read the details. Do you not realize that this show is produced by TLC (the same people that bring you “Toddlers and Tiaras)? The participants are payed to produce shocking results and that is what they do. I have a 5” binder and use coupons on a regular basis but I buy only what I plan to use. I do have a stockpile and plan to keep it. If you don’t want to put in the time and effort required that is up to you, but you really shouldn’t judge those of us who do. If you really need what the person in front of you has cleared out, then talk to the management. They have the right to limit quantities and most of the major supermarkets get trucks in nightly. What a bunch of bit**ing over nothing. Get over yourselves.

  15. The first sign of mental illness, Vince, is lashing out and thinking that everyone else is crazy. Be that as it may, I am only presenting the opinions of medical professionals who certainly know a lot more than you do. For every guy with 1000 tubes of toothpaste who gives it away, there is a guy or gal with 2000 tubes who does NOT give it away. If you are not guilty of greed and avarice, why do you get angry at psychiatrists who see this as a growing problem — maybe someday when your 5-inch binder becomes a 20-inch binder, you might be needing their help. Think about that.

    Damien

  16. I coupon, and I do take offense to some of the comments made in this article and on this site. #1, I never clear shelves unless there is one or two left, and if someone walked up and needed it RIGHT THEN, I certainly would hand it over, along WITH the coupon so they could save money. I have made many friends in the supermarket aisles where my 2 3′ binders attract attention and questions. #2 I do have a stockpile, it is extremely organized. However, I only stockpile what my family can use. If I can’t use an item but it is free or a money maker, I pick it up and donate it to women’s shelters, food pantries, and people I meet that can use the product. #3. We are NOT thieves, and I REALLY resent that comment. I am a VERY honest person, and follow all store coupon policies to a “T”. The stores are paid back from the manufacturer for the coupons. Therefore the store is actually making a bit more from my coupon than from your dollar bill, since coupons typically pay 6-12 cents OVER their face value. All I am is a smart shopper. One that knows how to combine store sales with manufacturer coupons and store coupons to walk out with the most money still in my pocket. One that you may talk about behind my back in a store. But this couponer will go out of my way to offer a coupon to someone for an item I see them looking at. I will talk to others in line with me at the store and mention sales to help others save money. With the economy the way it is, I would hope that we would all help each other save a buck while trying to help the economy rebound. But instead, people call us hoarders and say we’re fat and sloppy except about our stockpile. I’ll tell you this now, after reading this, if we ever come to a WWIII or some type of disaster, don’t come knock on my door for help. My family, friends, and neighbors will be in my basement with the items we need. Have a great day.

  17. They say that long letters are the hallmark of the insane — you’re letter was the longest I ever got on any subject, and as the letter progressed, your anger and assertion grew more and more apparent. You might be a smart shopper, — that doesn’t mean you’re not a mental case.

  18. Just because you have the attention span of a 2 year old doesn’t mean I have a mental issue. There were multiple items to be addressed. I don’t feel angry, just think people need to stop stereotyping and move into the real world. It’s a television show, people. Stores don’t allow you to do stuff like that on a regular basis. Most stores nowadays don’t even double coupons.

  19. Listen — all I did was quote the doctor. It’s his study — take it up with him — and it’s okay to have a mental problem — lots of people do. Look at me. I have the attention span of a 2-year-old and I’m doing very well. My 2-year-old mentality notwithstanding, you gave yourself away when you said, “When WW3 comes along” — so you see, you are giving away your true neurosis. If there is a WW3, the living will envy the dead — and it won’t matter how much food you have. I’ll be dead ashes and you’ll be munchin Cheerios while your skin peels off and your bone marrow starts seeping out from your ears.

  20. I think you are just jealous that we get to save money by clipping coupons.

  21. I am so agains the hoarders. Do they use everything that they buy? It is pure selfishness and they need to have a reason to brag. I have seen my own friend grab 10 trays of ground meat because each try was for $2 – she mentioned that she has no place in her huge freezer but because it was at that price, she was taking it all. Did she offer to even share one with me? NO. Extreme couponers are selfish and mean. I have actually walked around the store and in the line ups observe, what people are buying and if I have a coupon that they can use, I will offer it to them. If they refuse to accept it then that is their choice. But please extreme couponers don’t take more than you need. There are others who are less fortunate.

  22. @Blackcurrent — that is why the doctor calls extreme couponing a mental disorder and a variant of another mental illness. It is indeed a form of hoarding with a degree of sociopathetic and OCD thrown in for good measure.

    Damien

  23. @Michele — I am about as jealous of your kind as I am of people in straight jackets who roam the halls of an insane asylum. You are sick sick sick sick people. Ordinary folks who really need the items you hoard, sadly can’t afford the time you have as a fat and/or lazy bargain hunting psychopath, while your husband is out screwing other women and telling them how much money his wife saves him on groceries.

    Damien

  24. well I been hearing both sides extrema coupon and the Dr. first thing I have learned when dealing with disorders is come to terms with it don’t make up excuse because then you are in denial. now to all you people who uses coupons and are making excuse for why you use coupon, so in you own way you are saying i have a problem but i am not going to deal with it right now. Like a drunk who is an alcoholic or a gambler who has just lost all of their money. so in that case I do use coupons and I do look to get the best deal I do clip ever coupon and I do have a binder, but I am going to ask my self one question that every person asks at an AA group or a gambling rehab ask how does it affect your family and friends in my case my husband helps because we are on a fixed income and only shop once or twice a month. Out of the month we try to get the best deal at that time so is not a problem for us. Do I need to go and see a Dr because of it NO good luck to all of you that extrema coupon because soon we are going to see on a different kind of reality TV show ie hordes or intervention because it will soon be come a problem that will effect your family and friends and they will want you to get help.

  25. Now this is inetersting that your research seemed to consist of a couple of episodes of the extreme couponing show. As a reporter, and a Dr. you both should know that it takes more than that. Although I do believe that some of these people have some mental issues, to lump them on average would be extreme. But the one thing you have failed to understand is that it is not just there own families they are buying these things for. Many couponers would not be able to help local churches, soup kitchens, halfway houses or friends , family and neighbours if not for extreme couponing. As for living in larger holms well that does not mean they have money. As an adult working for a living, you should realize that the economy is in the craper. Since you seemed to not know a piece of vital information, that 98% of the population is living paycheck to paycheck. Oh yes and let us not forget living on credit. So to sum this article up, I must say that if you want to voice your opinion, that is your right. If you want to report news or post an article that has a so called expert, we as readers would appreciate a little Professionalism, research and well a little intelligence.

  26. Wow, so many compulsive coupon a**holes come out of the woodwork, i love it.

    First off, i have no problems with coupons. If i see a coupon for a bottle of ketchup and i need some, ill use it. But anyone who is trying to buy up hoards of this stuff, fighting with store clerks, cashiersban other patrons are seriously mess up in the head. If you go to a store, and you have a binder, good luck convincing any sane person you aren’t a douchebag.

  27. I think its hilarious when they hit a panic state when their couponing isn’t adding up right and heaven for bid they have to pay out just 25$ for 400$ worth of merchandise and not get it for the 50 cents they hoped for. It shouldn’t affect you negatively or make you worry that you let yourself down or some void couldn’t been filled because that plain mental. Its unreal all the preparation time is put into it and obsessing over the need for grabbing up all the deals and freebies they don’t even use (over a years worth)or have the need for. Couples on the show achieve a RUSH or burst out in happiness and actually do a victory dance. Possibly another reason why they do it…hmmmmm gotta love that high?. All that time and energy could be spent with family, working out….take a walk maybe to help shed off all that cake mix lolol. I can see someone doing it solely for helping out people in need, charity and donating 90 percent of the stock (make a business out of it), but for those that lost jobs and are back on their feet and making this the new job…c’mon. You could feed four families why the need for all that for one, disgusts me. Someone stated on another forum they do it incase of an epidemic breaks out and want to be prepared…well hopefully no one will know about their stock pile because most likely they will have some unwelcoming visitors raiding em lol. If the markets don’t get on the limit on coupons any time soon this is going to get more ridiculous. I just wonder what they’ll fill their obsession with next if that was to happen, pure selfishness. Maybe they could look for coupons on work out machines or a personal trainer because 3/5 of the major couponers looked obese or unkept.

  28. I realize my comment is about 3 years since the last one, but I was flipping channels today and ran across that Extreme Couponing show. It really made me mad! So I found this site after Googling “extreme couponers + selfish”. One thing that irks me to no end is the justification they use that they are “helping” people. I don’t mean the ones who give out coupons to people in the store (though it seems a bit odd, I guess it’s a nice thing to do), I mean the ones who donate to food pantries and so on. From the perspective of a 50+ disabled woman on a fixed income, let me tell you why this rings hollow with me…
    I do not have a car (many of us don’t). I pay a senior van service shared-ride program $6 round trip to go to the grocery store once a month. I use coupons, too – a FEW for things I NORMALLY buy. Anyway, my point is, when you extreme couponers clear the shelf and use the excuse that you donate it to the food pantry, tell me how this helps someone like me? I can’t afford to come back when they restock. I can’t afford to pay another $6 to visit a food pantry in the hopes that they have whatever it is you cleared out the store of. (And if it’s meat or produce, quit lying – most food pantries do not take fresh stuff like that) What if I need toothpaste? Aspirin? Food stamps don’t cover things like that, and people on fixed incomes need to budget really carefully. I don’t have the luxury of going to another store.
    They’re not helping anyone, they’re being…weird. Selfish. And the ones who really make a lot of money with this are the ones who teach this insanity to others for money. They didn’t go from welfare to middle-class by couponing.
    I suppose that some of them will progress to ‘extreme cheapskate’ status, another tv show that makes me ill to watch (people literally eating out of dumpsters to save money, yuck). As a former therapist, I am so glad I never had to treat anyone like this. There is a limit to my empathy.

  29. Victoria — fret not about the time gap between comments. Most of the hate mail still trickles in daily via my email — I look forward to people like you — people with brains.

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