To find out what’s behind the coupon craze and how to get started, I spent some time with some couponing gurus and even attended a coupon class. What I learned may just inspire you to start clipping and printing coupons yourself.
By the way, one of the first things I discovered was that, yes, those televised couponing shows are indeed staged. It’s also highly unrealistic for the average person to stockpile hundreds, if not thousands, of items, no matter how stunning the savings.
Like many others who have become adept at couponing, Caroline Carpenter of Summerfield was first attracted by the success of others.
“I read an article about a woman who bought $200 worth of groceries and only spent about $20,” recalls Caroline. “I wondered if that was really possible. I’m a financial person, so I did the research and realized you really could do this.”
Caroline and her grown daughter had both experienced financial challenges with the economic recession, so they decided to give couponing a try. Within a short time, they discovered how to save substantially with savvy coupon use. Soon, friends were encouraging Caroline to hold classes and teach her couponing skills to others; she held her first class in November 2009.
“Some people call me the coupon comedian because the class is entertaining and lively,” says Caroline. “It’s three hours long, but it’s like a girls’ night out; we even have child care.”
Although saving money is what interests most people, Caroline says there’s much more to couponing.
“My mission in life is to be a blessing to other people. Sharing my knowledge with people inspires hope in them and gives them the ability to move forward,” she explains. “When you’ve experienced the struggle and then turned it around, you can become a giver, and that really changes your mindset.”
Melissa Williams of Lakeland first heard about couponing from a friend two years ago.
“At first I thought, ‘good for you, have fun.’ A few months later she was telling me about all the stuff she got for free, and I’d just bought the same things, so I started researching to learn more,” Melissa says.
Excited by what she learned, Melissa began couponing herself. As the savings mounted, she was motivated to share what she’d learned. Melissa held her first “Crazy for Coupons” workshop in the fall of 2009. About two dozen women attended; now, her workshops average 75 to 100 people, and she conducts two to four workshops every week at businesses, churches and community meetings.
One of the biggest misconceptions people have is thinking there aren’t coupons for the things they’re already buying.
“There’s something in couponing that everyone can use,” says Melissa. “I haven’t paid for toiletries in a year.”
“If a family averages $100 a week on groceries, that’s $5,200 per year. By couponing, they could easily save 60 percent, which is $3,120, and that’s on the conservative side,” says Melissa, who typically saves about 90 percent on her total bill when grocery shopping. She believes most people—once they learn the secrets of couponing—can easily save 75 percent.
People new to couponing might get discouraged if they only save 30 percent on their first trip,” she says. “I tell them, ‘Anything you can save is money to put towards something else.’”
Ready to start saving? Here’s the good news on couponing: You’ll have plenty of help!
“Why reinvent the wheel? Use websites to give you lists of stores, tell you what’s on sale and where to get the coupons,” says Elisa Worsham, who, along with Alexa Jalbert, teaches a free couponing class at The Cherished Bride in Ocala every Friday morning at 9am. “There are so many websites that essentially do all the work for you except for collecting the coupons,” Melissa explains. “They post all the sales and tell you where the coupons are located. All you have to do is cut out (or print out) the coupons and go to the store. You want a local website because couponing rules can vary from state to state. For example, Florida doesn’t accept double coupons, but other states do.”
On their websites, both Caroline and Melissa offer “sneak peeks” at upcoming ads from local stores. They list a coupon match-up, which includes every coupon available for an item, and explains how to use them for the lowest out-of-pocket expense.
Here’s an example from a recent week: Dial body wash was BOGO (that’s buy one, get one free) at Publix. Regular price was $3.99, but there were $2 off coupons in the Sunday paper insert. If you bought two and used two $2 off coupons, both products ended up being free.
You’ll find plenty of coupons in the inserts included with your Sunday newspaper. If you want to dramatically increase your savings potential, you can subscribe to several Sunday papers.
“The Sunday newspaper is the best source for finding good coupons,” says Melissa, who personally subscribes to a whopping 24 Sunday papers. She says the average couponer gets six Sunday papers. (Most papers offer Sunday-only subscriptions.)
“If there are products you buy and haven’t seen coupons for, go to the manufacturer’s website,” says Melissa. “You can email them and ask for coupons, and they’ll usually send some.”
Tracking down the coupons can take a few hours each week in the beginning, but as you get more practiced, experts say it shouldn’t take more than an hour or so weekly. The more time you put into it, however, the more potential for savings.
Elisa and Alexa frequent websites such as southernsavers.com and also advocate using Facebook.
“Most manufacturers have realized the power of social media, and they’re putting out coupons that are available only on some of the social media sites, like Facebook, and these are high-dollar coupons,” Caroline notes. “Most people are brand specific. If they try a product and like it, they’ll be locked into that product. Manufacturers want you to try their products because if you like it, you’ll always use it. There are products I would never have tried if I hadn’t had coupons.”
Before you head to the store, you’ll need a system to keep all those coupons organized and easy to access. You may need to experiment to find a method that works for you. Elisa stores her coupons alphabetically in a small plastic file box, which she keeps in her vehicle so it’s handy. She only takes into the store the coupons she needs for that visit. Alexa uses a three ring binder filled with plastic baseball card holder sheets, and slips the coupons into the slots.
One of the best things about couponing? It isn’t just for large families. Anyone can do it.
“We have some single girlfriends who pool together and split their orders to take advantage of coupons and sales,” says Denise Sarko, owner of The Cherished Bride.
“We’ve disciplined ourselves so we don’t buy unless things are on sale. It’s made a difference and helped offset the increase in gas prices,” she adds. “My goal is that whatever I’m spending extra on gas each week, I try to save that on my groceries with couponing.”
Florida is not a “double coupon” state, meaning that stores will not match the value of a coupon. But that doesn’t mean you can’t save big right here in Central Florida.
“Stacking” is the key! Stacking involves using one store coupon and one manufacturer’s coupon on one item or one manufacturer’s coupon and one competing store’s coupon (if the store accepts competitor’s coupons) on one item. You can really save if the item happens to also be a buy-one-get-one sale.
“A store coupon and a competitor coupon are considered the same thing, so you have to decide which you want to use (if you have both),” Caroline explains.
“It absolutely makes sense to shop at a store that accepts competitor’s coupons, and in our area, Publix is the only one that does,” adds Melissa.
In Marion County, both Publix and Winn-Dixie often feature buy-one-get-one-free sales. When you can combine coupons with these sales, you stand to take home the items for little or no money.
“The most under-rated stores for couponing in our area are Walgreen’s and CVS,” says Elisa, as she displays a small mountain of items she purchased on a recent visit to Walgreen’s.
Walgreen’s has a Register Rewards program, and CVS has their ExtraCare program. Both offer savings on a future purchase, not to mention what you already saved on your current order.
The secret to couponing success is to buy items you need when they are on sale and increase your savings by using coupons on those same items. Sales tend to run in 12-week cycles, so it makes the most sense to buy enough to last you until the item is on sale again.
“When you first get started, you’ll spend a lot more than you will later. Eventually, you build up a supply of the things you use, and as time goes by, you’re just buying to fill in the holes,” Caroline explains. “If you’re couponing effectively, you’re saving at least 75 to 80 percent on your grocery bill.”
If you don’t choose (or have room) to stockpile, you can share the bounty with family and friends (and hope they reciprocate) or donate products to area shelters or church pantries.
“We’ve held five or six coupon classes over the past eight months that Caroline has taught, and at the last one, we had 300 people! It was amazing,” says Summer LaBonte, women’s ministry leader at Village View Community Church in Summerfield. “Caroline has literally changed people’s lives by teaching them how to coupon. The families in our church have helped not only stock the church food pantry but also helped others in need by donating formula, diapers and even personal hygiene items for people on food stamps.”
“We want to promote good stewardship with coupons,” adds Elisa of the coupon group that meets at The Cherished Bride. “We teach people how to coupon properly and we try to give back to the community. People can bring their surplus items here, and they will be donated to area charities. We also send expired coupons to the troops overseas because they can use them in the commissary.” (Check out supportourtroops.org to learn how to send coupons to our military families stationed in other countries.)
People love to get a bargain. That’s the thrill behind couponing.
You don’t need to explain that to Michelle Carney. The Ocala resident, who just started couponing, recently bought her favorite deodorant at CVS. With the sale price and coupons, she paid $1 for a $4.99 product. “I bought ten for what I’d normally pay for two. I was so excited, I had goose bumps,” laughs Michelle. “This can be addicting!”
Almost like texting, couponing has its own abbreviated language. Once you understand the terminology, you can more easily navigate couponing websites.
WYB = when you buy
BOGO = buy one, get one free
FAR = free after rebate
IP = Internet printable coupon
MIR = mail-in rebate
OYNO = on your next order
OOP = out of pocket
RP = RedPlum insert in Sunday papers
SS = SmartSource insert in Sunday papers
P&G = Proctor & Gamble insert
Local couponing classes are gaining in popularity. Check out these sites to find out how you can get involved.
Crazy For Coupons Workshops
Find out about upcoming workshops at thecouponnavigator.com
Couponing Class I: Beginning the Coupon Craze
$15 in advance, $20 at the door
Visit mycouponexpert.com for class dates and details
Clippin’ Chix Ocala at The Manor
The Cherished Bride, Ocala, Friday mornings at 9am
Find out about couponing classes at thecherishedbride.com
Creative Cents Couponing
Beginners and advanced classes offered
Visit creativecentscouponing.com for details
Some Helpful Websites
Things You Should Never Pay Retail For:
Paper & Paper Towels
Shampoo & Conditioner
Household Cleaning Supplies