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Confessions of an Ex-Extreme Couponer: Better Ways to Save

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ABC News' Paula Faris and Natasha Singh:

Clipping coupons has turned into an extreme sport over the years, popularized by TV shows like TLC's " Extreme Couponing" and more. Throngs of dedicated bargain shoppers clip coupons religiously and swear by nothing else to score big savings. Christy Rakoczy was one of them.

"It's amazing to walk out [of a store] with two carts of stuff and get paid to do so," said Christy Rakoczy, a former extreme couponer from Tampa, Fla., who often left stores with free merchandise earned through coupons. "It was a little bit of a high."

For Rakoczy, couponing her way to the best deals was like an addiction. She used to spend seven or eight hours on big sale days like Black Friday hitting up stores like CVS and Walgreens to stock up on household basics she already had, just to get the deal. That's when she hit a breaking point.

Rakoczy put down her scissors after a three-year run and quit extreme couponing cold turkey.

"I think that I was a little more addicted than I should have been. I definitely did spend a lot of time doing it, and I would say it was a priority to do it," she said. "Now I can walk past a drug store without needing to go. I think I've broken the addiction."

After kicking the couponing habit, the ex-"couponaholic," who is now a contributor for the website Moneycrashers.com, is telling all about the craze that she says wasn't really worth all of her time, and can lead to other problems like hoarding and making unhealthy food choices.

Confession No. 1: Those freebies aren't so desirable … and can lead to hoarding or 'stockpiling.'

"You save money but you save money buying things that you wouldn't otherwise buy, and buying things you don't need and can't use," she said. "You have your 200 tubes of toothpaste, jars of pasta, jars you have to use."

Confession No. 2: Extreme couponing often leads to an unhealthy diet.

"You really can't eat very healthily. You can't get fresh organic produce, you can't get fresh local meats, that stuff never goes on sale," she said.

Confession No. 3: It is a time-consuming obsession.

"If you're going to spend five to 10 hours a week doing something, get a part-time job, don't spend it doing extreme couponing and buying a lot of stuff you don't need," she advises. "For the amount of time you invest, you can find lots of other ways to get a return on your investment than extreme couponing."

Couponing Myths and Facts

Though Rakoczy quit, there are benefits to couponing. For those who revel in the sport of clipping for that deal, Rakoczy has some tips to save in a less extreme way. Read her tips and tricks below.

Myth: You can easily save hundreds of dollars by using coupons. Fact: To achieve the significant "hundreds of dollars" in savings, you often need to buy hundreds of dollars worth of products you don't really need and won't use.

Myth: You can get healthy foods and vegetables by using coupons. Fact: While occasionally lunch meat or produce will go on sale, it is very rare for healthy, wholesome items to offer coupons. Most of the coupons available are for unhealthy snacks, and even when lunch meat coupons are available, it is usually for processed lunch meats. This major downside is one of the key reasons that I stopped extreme couponing.

Myth: Stockpiling saves you a lot of money. Fact: Most items go on sale every six weeks, so there is no need to buy hundreds of items.

Myth: Extreme couponing is an easy way to save money. Fact: To get maximum savings through extreme couponing, you need to have multiple coupons, which take time to organize and you often need to visit several stores. The process is time consuming.

Myth: Extreme couponing lets you save money on products you would use anyway. Fact: While you can sometimes buy the brands you like, extreme couponing - as opposed to normal couponing - is about saving as much as you can, which means your shopping list is dictated by what is on sale.

READ MORE: Top 5 Couponing Mistakes People Make

1. Use coupons to buy beauty and cleaning products, rather than food items. You can save on these products and sometimes even get them for free, leaving more room in your food budget to shop locally and buy fresh, wholesome organic foods.

2. Understand the sale cycles. Most items go on sale every six weeks, so buy enough only to last you until the next sale.

3. Use coupons only for things you would buy anyway. Make your shopping list first, and THEN see if there are any coupons that match up with items you need. Not following this golden rule is one of the many extreme couponing strategies that shouldn't be overlooked.

4. Explore your local stores. By shopping locally at small stores and farm markets, you may be able to save money on your grocery bill without using coupons and get higher quality products.

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