Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Couponing Tips - Turning Paper Into Food

Aleta Moretz knows how to turn paper into food. All it takes is a mini accordion folder, a little extra time and a pair of scissors.

Moretz, a Longmont mom, is a coupon clipper. She also organizes regular coupon swaps with a Longmont-area moms group. The women pile their extra and unneeded coupons in a massive pile and take whey they need.

It just felt wrong throwing them away, Moretz says; it's like throwing dollar bills into the cash.

Still, that's where many coupons go -- especially around here., which offers printable coupons and online shopping, says Boulder is the least frugal city in America when it comes to using coupons.

Apparently, we're missing the boat.

Sparked by shows like TLC's "Extreme Couponing," coupon use has seen a big spike. ShopAtHome alone says its users have grown from 19 million to 37 million in the past year.

Nationwide, 78 percent of shoppers used coupons last year, with an average of eight coupons per household every month, according to ShopAtHome.

Couponing has changed dramatically over the past few years, with the rise in digital coupons, according to ShotAtHome.

Experts say it can be simple. It's not just junk food. And some believe it says less about your income than it does about your ability to be a savvy shopper.

Laura Killen-Wing considers herself a "common-sense couponer" (not an extreme couponer with a stockpile of 12,000 cans of cream of mushroom soup). When she had her second child, she wanted to continue to have the same lifestyle, and she says food was the smartest place to cut back.

She says she has cut her grocery bill in half and spends about three hours a week -- including shopping.

That was four years ago. Today, Killen-Wing and her friend, Ashley Miller, teach free coupon classes to other families in Northern Colorado. Their next class is in January.

Killen-Wing says she doesn't buy anything unless it's on sale. She says, once her daughter asked her, "Are we poor?"

"I said, 'No baby, this is poor prevention,'" Killen-Wing says. "I'm living like this now so I can have more later."

Cutting costs on groceries can be an easy way to save money during the holidays, according to Teri Gault, who runs the LA-based website Making a few simple tweaks to your shopping habits can save you hundreds -- as much as 70 percent, she says.

Her website is designed to make it as easy as possible. Pull the ad inserts from the newspaper and file them by date, she says. Then log on to, select what you want (even comparison shopping between stores) and the website will tell you which specific coupons to cut, so you only clip what you want to use. Print out the list and hit the store.

A family of four saves, on average, $514 a month, Gault says. That's $6,000 a year.

"And these are people who don't have time to make a career out of coupons," she says.

The catch: The website costs $1.25 a week (after a free month trial).

Other websites, like and Colorado-based are free. Bargain Blessings says a realistic goal for a new couponer is to save 50 percent, but that depends on what you buy and how much you put into it.

Looking to save money during the holiday season and into the new year? Here are some couponing tips from the experts:

Coupons don't save you the real money; it's coupons combined with sales, Gault says. Hold on to your coupons and wait for that item to go on sale. (That's what these coupon websites tell you.)

Safeway and King Soopers double coupons up to $1 or the value of the product. If it's a coupon for 75 cents off, it's actually worth $1.25. Tip: If the first number on the coupon's bar code is a five, it will double. A nine will not.

Sales are cyclical. Most items go on sale every six weeks, and most coupons are good for three months. If you plan ahead, that means there's never an excuse to use a coupon without a sale, or visa versa.

You don't have to hoard . Just buy as much as you'll need for about six weeks, when the item goes on sale again. That way, you're always buying at rock bottom, and you won't run out when something's on the high price point. Supermarkets only have about 20 percent of their items on sale each week.

"The best way to save on groceries is to invest," Gault says. "Don't buy when you need something. Buy what's on sale."

Looking for low organic produce prices? Moretz says she hits up the farmers market after noon, when farmers cut prices and are more willing to negotiate so they don't have to haul everything back home.

Stock up on sale frozen produce to fill in the gaps in the winter, and plan your meals around seasonal produce on sale. Also, when you save money on other items, you won't feel as bad paying full price for produce that you really love, says Killen-Wing.

For other organic products: Most major manufacturers also have organic lines. Even though the coupon may only say Ragu sauce is on sale, it also applies to Ragu's organic products.

Check organic products' websites for coupons, and sign up for their mailing lists. They regularly send out free products and samples, Gault says.

Also, organic milk has twice the shelf life as regular . So when it's on sale, stock up for five weeks, which is how long it lasts, Gault says.

Use your freezer for to extend the shelf life of clearance bread, meats and even dairy products, according to Miller. Many new couponers take the money they save in the first month and put it toward a deep freezer.

Take baby steps . Start with small goals, and question what you see on TV. Some of it's not realistic, Killen-Wing says. Don't chase every deal, and accept that you will miss others.

Set price points . Know the highest price you are willing to pay for an object, based on the cheapest you've ever bought it for. Not sure what's a good price? Bargain Blessings rates deals on an A to F scale.

Buy the limit. If the store puts a limit on something, that means it's the best price around.

Smaller can be better . When you have a coupon, it usually takes off more per ounce or unit on the smaller package than larger, changing up the math (and Costco logic).

Dollar and discount stores aren't cheaper than smart couponing at supermarkets, studies have found. Grocery stores have a high-low marketing strategy, where their regular prices are higher than other places, but their sales prices get lower - including lower than Wal-Mart's "every day low prices," Gault says.

In fact, she says Wal-Mart doesn't actually match more than half of the deals (there's a lot of fine print).

"To save the most money, that's not where you shop," she says.

Take a coupon class. Jennie Sanford, of Denver, with, offers her next three-hour class Dec. 10 in Littleton for $5 per person. Check the website for more info.

Be patient and give yourself a little time to build up your coupon stockpile before you start seeing the bigger savings, Sanford says.

Have a plan, budget and list before you get into the store. Bring cash so your budget is limited.

Plan your meals based on what's on sale, not what you're hungry for.

Don't miss out on social deals and "Groupons." Sanford's favorite is Weekly Plus, because it offers weeklong deals.

Buy a few extras of a good deal and donate them to a food pantry, Sanford suggests. If you can get free Cheerios and you eat gluten-free, give them to someone in need.

Get a rain check for items that are out of stock.

Know the coupon policies for each store.

You can get stuff for free. Sanford says she never pays for toothpaste, toothbrushes, shaving cream, lotions or shavers, among other things.


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