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Save big with coupons
In these tough economic times, more people are clipping coupons and saving big
By Lashonda Stinson CurryStaff writer
Published: Sunday, July 12, 2009 at 6:01 a.m. Last Modified: Friday, July 10, 2009 at 9:42 a.m.
A good deal used to be hard to find. Not anymore.
Just ask Amanda Clanton. In the last few months, the Gainesville wife and mother of three has cut her grocery bill in half. Jamy Tan, a nurse at Shands, has spent less than $500 this year on groceries and household items. Ocala resident Marcy Melluci never leaves a store paying full price.
All these women do the same thing to save money: use coupons.
With a sinking economy and soaring unemployment rates, shoppers are clipping and clicking their way to deals and discounts.
Clanton, 28, runs the after-school program at Talbot Elementary School and her husband teaches second grade at Idylwild Elementary School. They are parents to a 4-year-old and 17-month-old twins. She began using coupons seriously in February after she got multiple packs of Juicy Juice boxes for next to nothing.
She spends an hour a week scouring sales ads and coupons and creating her shopping list. Clanton said when the Sunday paper is stuffed with lots of coupons she buys multiple copies. She also gets coupons on the Internet and from store coupon booklets, usually located near the front of the store next to the advertisements. Coupons are also available on Target.com by scrolling to the bottom of the home page and clicking on "Grocery Coupons."
Once a week she shops at Publix with her friends, who are also big coupon users. They turn the routine act of grocery shopping into a competition to see who can save the most money at the register. Two months ago, she got her best deal to date: $40 worth of groceries for $1.27.
Each time she shops, she said, her goal is to save more than she spends.
"I discovered with coupons, coupled with sales, a lot of times you can get free stuff," said Clanton, who uses 60 to 80 coupons on "a good week." "It really helps cut down on the grocery bill. ... When I realized how much money I saved doing it, it became a necessity."
Lenka Keston, senior product manager of CouponWinner.com and Promotionalcodes.com, said the Web sites have experienced a 120 percent spike in traffic in the past year. The sites offers printable grocery coupons, but also discounts for hundreds of stores and Web sites. The stigma or stereotypes associated with the kinds of people who use coupons has disappeared, she said. Keston said the company's demographics has expanded from just moms to students, singles and men and women of all ages.
"They're all looking to save money. People are more aware that coupons are out there and they're easy to use," she said. "People are searching for ways to save and cut expenses out of their budget. Nowadays, it's cool to use coupons."
Keston said shoppers are benefiting from the state of the retail industry, where competition is high in every sector.
"We have also seen more and more retailers starting to offer coupons and promotional codes to give incentive to consumers to come back to their stores and sites," she said. "We're seeing 25 percent and 40 percent, which we didn't see that much before."
Some shoppers, such as Jamy Tan, have turned couponing into a science. On an average grocery store trip, she buys $200 worth of groceries and spends less than $1. Tan, 47, scores the most deals when she shops buy one, get one free [BOGO] sales and combines that with manufacturer coupons and store coupons. As a result, she gets many items for free.
"A lot of people don't understand that you can use store coupons plus use the manufacturer coupons and that some stores take coupons from other grocery store and drug stores," said Tan, who shops mainly at Publix. "I spend a lot of time planning, and that's the important thing. It's amazing how many resources that are available. ... It's free money everywhere and people don't see it!"
Tan, married with a son, has challenged herself to spend just $1,000 in one year on groceries and household items, calling it the "$1,000 Frugal Challenge 2009." She said in the last six months she's spent $330. She also has a blog, http://www.seaykopitiam.com/, where she displays what's on sale at different stores and offers Web sites to find coupons for the sale items.
"For me it's not about saving money, but I kind of feel like I beat the system," she said.
Becoming a coupon user isn't hard, the women said. Tan compares "couponing," to trying to lose weight: You have to change your mentality and change your lifestyle. Dedicate time to it and the reward will be worth it.
Clanton said shoppers should match up the coupons with whatever is on sale and then stock up on the items they use the most. For example, thanks to a buy-one-get-one-free sale and using coupons, she got 20 boxes of pasta for about $2. She also said it's important to stay organized.
She calls her coupon holder the "Holy Grail." Her coupons are sorted and stored inside a large plastic container. A calculator and clipboard are glued to the top of the lid. She never leaves the house without it.
"It makes shopping fun. I hated going grocery shopping after I had my twins because it was such a chore. Now, this has given me an incentive to go grocery shopping," said Clanton, describing herself as a very competitive person. "I always try to save more than I spend."
For Melluci, who works at Maplewood Elementary School in Ocala, it's not about having fun or being competitive, she just wants to save money. It was from her frugal grandmother that she learned the value of discounts and deals. "She always said if it wasn't on sale, then you don't need it," said the single mom. "Anything I can use a coupon for, I use. With today's economy, a dollar only goes so far."
She's been a coupon clipper for more than 10 years and her best coupon source is the Sunday newspaper. She and her son cut coupons together every week. Coupons can also be found in magazines, such as Redbook, Good Housewives and Ladies Home Journal.
Melluci also finds coupons by going to the Web sites of the products she uses the most and the companies that own them, such as Procter and Gamble, Kraft and General Mills. Sometimes, they offer free product samples, too.
Melluci said the more you use coupons, the easier it gets. Last week she paid $41 for almost $100 worth of groceries.
"Everybody is trying to be more frugal, and if they want to save money, coupons are the way to go," she said. "People have to be willing to invest the time to save the money."
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