Despite the slightly negative perception that most people have of coupons, various statistical databases report that 70 to 85 percent of people will use at least one coupon in their shopping this year. Some people, however, have made a habit of using coupons for every grocery store transaction.
Sonya Mangrum started using coupons three years ago when a friend called her and started talking about how much money she was saving by using coupons at the grocery store. While Mangrum was working at Bi-Lo, she met Frieda Moses, who turned to couponing as a way to save money and not have to return to working 40 hours every week.
“We would talk about couponing and some of the things we did,” Mangrum said. “We’ve become really close through that.”
Mangrum and Moses now work as partners in the couponing world. The two ladies shop together and split the items that they buy based on need.
“It’s very addictive. Yes, you can get carried away and let it go too far, but for me it’s more of a relaxation,” Mangrum said. “It’s more of a challenge; it’s like a puzzle to try to put all the deals together.”
Because the common practice is to buy at least a six-week supply of whatever is on sale, Mangrum and Moses’s carts often seem superfluously full.
“I know people see us at the grocery store all the time thinking ‘Lord, they’re hoarders. Where are they putting all that?’” Mangrum said. “Yes we have stuff in our basement, but it’s organized, all in date, and and if we have a family in need, we provide for them.”
Mangrum and Moses give away the extra food they get basically for free to families who need help with their groceries, food banks and churches that use the food to serve shut-ins and others in need of help.
“We have helped a tremendous amount of families in need right here in Bradley County,” Moses said, noting that with just $70 the pair of women can fill an entire barrel with supplies for a food drive.
Mangrum and Moses start the week by purchasing Sunday newspapers and organizing the coupons. The partners buy at least five newspapers for the coupons, but when certain coupons are in the advertisements, they can buy as many as twenty papers from up to three different publications. They also print online coupons from various websites.
“The way we organize our coupons, to me, is the best way. A lot of people use binders,” Moses said. “We chose not to.”
The ladies organize their coupons based on product into labeled pencil pouches. Then, they evaluate the sales papers for that week and decide what they will be buying with the coupons they have collected. Stacking coupons with sales is the optimal way to save on household and non-perishable items, Mangrum said.
All of the coupons, freshly organized by product and then by store, are placed in the ladies’ large “Coupon Queen” bags from Thirty One. Keys, wallet and calculators all fit in the exterior pockets of the bag, so the ladies have everything in one bag when they go to the grocery store.
Grocery Shopping Queens
Next, the ladies hit the grocery store. Publix and Bi-Lo are weekly stops, but Mangrum and Moses will go to other stores if they see a better deal at another store.
Mangrum and Moses explain that they choose to grocery shop at Bi-Lo and Publix because of their coupon policies. Bi-Lo tends to double coupons, Mangrum said, and they do accept competitor coupons.
“You always want to be on the up-and-up,” Moses said. “Learn the coupon policies of each store because every store is different.”
Moses also emphasized the importance of making sure coupons are still in-date and verifying that any coupons you plan to stack are for the exact same item.
Once in the store, the ladies use their pre-made lists to navigate the store and get the products that they planned to buy with their coupons.
“We’ll still go down through the aisles,” Mangrum said. “If there’s stuff we didn’t see in the ads or stuff that is on closeout, then we still have our bag to go through and pull anything extra that we didn’t know was going to be on sale.”
Mangrum and Moses typically buy enough of the products on sale to last at least six weeks, though they often buy extra to give away to others. Sale cycles are usually six to twelve weeks long, so this guarantees that they will not have to buy the product at regular price because they have enough to last until the next sale.
“Whether we need it or not, if it’s free we get it because someone out there needs this stuff,” Moses said. “We get it and we donate it to them.”
If a sale item is out of stock, Mangrum said the ladies try to get rainchecks so that they can still get the discounted price if the item is not back on the shelf before the sale ends.
Using coupons as a reference point for shopping also allows Mangrum and Moses to pick up foods that they normally would not try because of expense, such as frozen meals and different snacks.
When Mangrum and Moses head to the check-out lines, they already have all of the coupons they will be using ready to go. Because of the way they arrange coupons to match sales, the savings add up quickly.
“At the least, we like to save 50 percent,” Mangrum said. “Generally we stay between 75 and 85 percent.”
Because their checkout does normally take longer than the average shopper, Mangrum and Moses try to be courteous and let others behind them know that it might be faster to switch to another line.
“People get behind you at checkout, and we try to warn them that we’re using coupons,” Moses said. “A lot of them stand there and wait just to see how much we saved.”
Some people even ask for tips on how to effectively use coupons after seeing the results Mangrum and Moses can achieve.
“We’ve almost had a coupon class in Bi-Lo,” Moses said, laughing.
Sometimes the savings add up so much because of stacking that the shoppers are left with a negative balance that they then can use to pay for meat and fresh produce or special treats for the kids.
“I’ve walked out of there paying 29 cents for $129 worth of groceries,” Moses said. “And I had to buy a candy bar to pay the 29 cents.”
Becoming a Coupon Queen
“The best place to start [is] buy a Sunday paper, get your coupons there,” Mangrum said, also suggesting that new couponers find blogs and websites to help organize their first experiences with couponing.
Mangrum and Moses also recommend using couponing blogs and websites to ask questions and get help in learning to organize a shopping list according to weekly sales and coupons.
Websites like Southern Savers (www.southernsavers.com) allow couponers to view weekly sales by store and build a printable grocery list based on available coupons and sale prices. Southern Savers is based in the Carolinas, so sometimes the weekly sales are slightly different, but the information is still helpful in starting to plan shopping trips with coupons.
Mangrum also recommends The Krazy Coupon Lady (www.krazycouponlady.com) for printable coupons from a variety of stores and manufacturers.
“It’s overwhelming at first, and it’s helpful if you know someone who has done couponing for a while that knows how to do it,” Mangrum said. “Definitely ask questions.”
Asking questions at the stores’ customer service desk is also a good way to learn the different rules of that particular store, Mangrum said.
The first time in the store may not be as big in savings as some may want, but Mangrum encouraged new couponers to stick with it for at least two months.
“You save so much money. It makes it crazy not to do it,” Mangrum said.
Local Coupon Support
One local website that Mangrum and Moses both recommend is Time 2 $ave (www.time2saveworkshops.com).
Founder Kasey Trenum started couponing five years ago because she needed to cut down her family’s budget. She had tried to coupon before unsuccessfully, so she did research on how to most effectively use her coupons. Trenum does not consider herself an extreme couponer and admits to not even liking coupons. She spends about an hour before each grocery trip organizing her coupons and typically manages to provide for her family of four for around $30 each trip, and she goes to the grocery store on average three times a month.
Three years ago, she was invited to speak to a small group of moms. When that meeting turned into a group of more than 200 people, Trenum saw the need to teach others about using coupons to save money, and Time 2 $ave was born.
“I’m a regular homeschooling mom,” Trenum said, adding that she never thought about writing a book or managing a business for coupons.
The website is full of tips for beginners as well as daily deals and ideas on how to make daily and seasonal things more cost-effective for families as well as sales information for local stores.
Trenum has taught thousands of workshops, has a weekly television spot and writes a weekly column based on her money-saving experiences and the information she provides on her website. She emphasizes that couponing looks different for every person, so it is important not to compare yourself to other couponers because “you’re still saving your family money.”
Once someone is willing to change the mindset used in the grocery store, Trenum said, it is easier to shop more cost-effectively.
“Typically when we grocery shop, we buy what we need,” Trenum said. “You have to learn to shop by what you use.”
Trenum also wrote the book “Couponing for the Rest of Us: The Not-So-Extreme Guide to Saving More,” to be released on May 1, 2013. She also regularly teaches classes in the Cleveland area. For more information on her book or upcoming classes, visit the Time 2 $ave website.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about the coupons,” Trenum said. “It’s about bringing hope to people’s finances.”