Coupon clippers find big savings
Published 12:00 am Friday, July 29, 2011
By Shavonne Potts
SALISBURY — There’s a whole world out there that consists of tracking, stockpiling and freebies. Confused? Welcome to couponing.
It’s a craze that has taken over and won’t soon go away. Couponing isn’t new; people have been cutting on those dotted lines since the late 1800s when a Coca-Cola mogul offered free soft drinks.
Today there are websites, classes, experts and novices, all trying to saving a buck.
More than a year ago, Kelly Hunsucker was trying to reduce costs in his home out of necessity. After taking a finance class offered through church, he “realized the bulk of my budget was through groceries.”
He discovered coupons as a way to save.
The first time he used them, though, “I saw very little savings,” he said.
Hunsucker, of Salisbury, learned through a couponing class he had to get organized.
Eventually, he cut the family’s spending by 50 percent using coupons.
“That freed up a lot of money to put toward my debt and put it toward savings,” he said.
Hunsucker subscribes to Sunday papers, where he gets five coupon inserts. On Sunday he and wife Wendy organize coupons while watching television or in between doing other tasks. The couple match and layer coupons so that when they are ready to clip, they can cut multiple coupons at once.
On a mission
Early on Sundays, Hunsucker can probably be seen at Walgreens or other drugstores — coupon binder and shopping list in hand — on a mission for the latest deals.
“I know how much I’m spending. My binder goes where I go,” he said.
Hunsucker’s binder is hefty and holds numerous plastic sleeves with pockets perfect for coupons.
He also places a copy of each store’s coupon policy inside the binder, which has come in handy a few times.
Most stores have their policy on their website, he said.
Search the website under coupon policy, Hunsucker suggests.
Research helps the family make the most of their time. They know when some items they buy often are on sale and when certain circulars or inserts are in the papers.
“P&G has coupons every month, the first of the month,” Wendy said.
He has stores’ schedules down, too. Every six to eight weeks, Harris Teeter has super double deals, where the supermarket doubles the value of any coupon $1.98 or less.
The best coupon tip? Have fun, Hunsucker said.
“Realize your goal is to reduce your grocery cost, your grocery budget,” he said.
Allow couponing to be a part of your life, but not overtake your life, Hunsucker advises.
“It takes me no more time at the grocery store than anybody else,” he said.
Couponing also allows his family to eat more dinners out, which they rarely did before.
And they don’t just benefit themselves. The Hunsuckers are able to help other families with their coupon purchases. They are currently stockpiling school supplies for their son’s class.
A stockpile for a serious couponer comes with the territory. It can spill into the garage, a child’s closet or basement. But for the Hunsuckers, who only buy what they need or can donate, the stockpile is modest.
“You don’t have to buy just because you have a coupon for it,” he said.
Hunsucker said he’s not extreme like people featured on shows like TLC’s Extreme Couponing, which features people who have thousands of stockpiled items, people who clear the store shelves and who steal papers for the coupons.
“The program is entertainment. That’s not realistically how a shopping trip can go,” Hunsucker said.
He mentioned one episode where a shopper bought 40 bottles of mustard.
“To me that’s excessive. Deals run every six weeks. There’s no need to have five years worth of toothpaste, unless you’re giving it away,” he said.
A few of the extreme couponers featured on the TLC series made large shopping trips to donate the goods.
Hunsucker said he believes couponing has increased in popularity, but not necessarily because of a television show.
“The economy plays more of a role,” he said.
He acknowledges couponing is done predominantly by women, but said he’s always done the shopping in the family and it doesn’t bother him.
“This is fun for me,” he said.
Couponing is something about which Hunsucker is passionate, but not obsessed, he said.
“I’ve seen success and I’ve been able to help others,” he said.
Never pay retail
The Hunsuckers don’t pay retail for anything.
The couple has even used store deals for furniture and electronics. All stores have items that have been opened, including electronics.
“There’s nothing wrong with it, the box has been opened,” he said.
Wendy and Kelly suggest searching online for “open box deals” at a favorite store that may offer items at a lower cost.
A couple of Hunsucker’s most successful shopping trips ended with his spending $21 at a drugstore for $140 worth of items and spending $15 for $141 worth of groceries through double and triple savings.
Hunsucker doesn’t just want to keep this knowledge to himself. He’s taught friends, family and, as part of a fundraiser, others.
Hunsucker will teach a free couponing class from 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 6 at High Rock Community Church’s East Campus, 7800 Bringle Ferry Road.
Couponing is a world unto itself and having a binder means you’re part of a club. Kannapolis resident Cathy Hilton is also in the club.
Hilton began couponing after she left her job and the family went from two incomes to one.
“My husband said, ‘You have got to find the best way you can to save money,’ ” Hilton said.
She searched online how to save, and couponing came up.
In the beginning, it took Hilton hours to clip coupons. Now she has a system.
She goes online and searches her favorite sites where many bloggers have already done the work for her.
Hilton has been couponing for a little more than two years.
Before couponing, Hilton spent $600 a month on groceries and now spends $150 a month.
Like Hunsucker, Hilton also learned some tips from taking a coupon class. Hilton admits at first she became addicted to couponing.
“I would spend hours couponing. I would get mad if I didn’t get to do it,” she said.
Hilton soon realized couponing was taking over.
She has since reduced her time to minutes. She clips multiple coupons at once. Hilton also has her binder divided into sections for snacks or meat or vegetables.
Her family also “shops” at the Hilton house if they can’t get to the store and need a few items.
She not only gets coupons from newspapers, but Hilton also signs up for free promotions and gets clothing coupons from family.
She recently paid $40 for clothes for her daughter that were valued at $161. Also using coupons and store deals, Hilton just bought cereal for 10 cents a box.
Hilton also uses register rewards from drugstores and the grocery store. A register reward is basically a manufacturer’s coupon that can be used anywhere at a store that will redeem them.
“Register rewards can be used with other coupons,” Hilton said.
She never pays for toothpaste, paper towels and razors. Hilton also isn’t brand loyal.
“I can switch brands. You’re not going to always find a Crest toothpaste coupon,” she said.
She and her husband also used restaurant coupons on a date night.
Hilton has taught classes in the past and looks forward to teaching others.
Hilton said she isn’t a fan of the Extreme Couponing show because she feels as if it paints an unrealistic image of couponing.
Most stores won’t let a single shopper use coupons on as many items as the show depicts, she said. Many stores have a 20-coupon limit on a particular item.
Also, many of the couponers featured on the Extreme Coupon show pre-ordered their items. So when they cleared the shelves, the items were essentially theirs to take anyway, she explained.
Because of such programs many stores have changed their coupon policies, she said.
She suspects and “expert” coupon bloggers say manufacturers will likely begin changing their coupons.
One thing most people don’t know is that stores will offer savings to customers who bring their own bags like Lowes Foods, Target and Bi-Lo, Hilton said.
To contact Hilton, email her at email@example.com.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.