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Shoppers find big savings with coupons

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By Nick Schrager

 

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In an economy when times can be tough, there’s nothing like saving money. That’s what has driven the recent coupon craze across the country, and Washington Countians are no stranger to it, either.
Amy Willis clips coupons and saves money for her family budget, and she said she sees some drastic savings with her trips to the grocery store.


“The savings vary. It’s been as much as 62 percent I’ve saved at the store, and I average about 40 percent,” Willis said. “I have seen a huge decrease in our grocery budget. I put $50 on a Kroger gift card a couple of weeks ago, and I shopped for two weeks on that gift card.”
Not bad when you consider Willis is shopping for a family that includes her and her husband, Chad, and their four children.
“The kids think it’s fun, but they sometimes think I’m crazy, too. They like to ask how much I saved,” she added.
When she got started, Willis said she occasionally used coupons, but nothing like she does today. Gradually, the habit has grown.
“When I got started, I used a coupon here and there. Then I watched that Extreme Couponing show a few times, and the kids thought it was neat. I also had some friends on Facebook who were couponing a lot, and then our church offered a class in couponing and I went. It took off from there,” she said.
When she went to the class, she found that she already knew the teacher. The class was one of many in the area offered by Rebecca Patterson of Harrodsburg, who was already a friend of hers.
She doesn’t claim to be an expert, but Willis said her couponing has come a long way since she got started. She also said with her experience, she has spent less time clipping and arranging coupons.
“The time varies, but at first it took quite a bit of time because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing,” she said. “Now that I have them (coupons) all in my binder, I’ll sit down on Sundays and clip the new ones I get, and I’ll spend maybe 15 minutes to file them. One Saturday before, I spent two or three hours putting them together.”
Kim Mackin, a friend of Willis who also coupons, said she spends a little more time looking for bargains.
“The time varies, but on average, I spend about two hours a week clipping and searching on the Internet,” she said. “The more time you put in, the better the savings, but some weeks I can devote more time than others.”
Mackin has been couponing for about four months, and she also attended the class at River of Life with Willis.
Although most of her coupons come from newspapers, Willis said Facebook is also a great source.
“If you are couponing, Facebook is your friend. People will post coupons they’re finding online, and they will post information on other coupons. You can go straight to the computer and print them off,” she said.
Some shoppers may have a coupon and buy a product even if they don’t need it. Willis doesn’t do that. Instead, she shares coupons with other shoppers who could put them to good use. She said she recently had some coupons for products she didn’t need, and after seeing a woman on Facebook looking to send care packages to soldiers, Willis gave her a hand.
“There are a lot of people who trade coupons or share coupons. I sent a girl an envelope full of coupons for Huggies diapers because I use Pampers. I also found someone who was looking for toothpaste and deodorant coupons to send items to soldiers in care packages. I had an overabundance of toothpaste and toothbrush coupons, and I sent her a big stack of those. It’s really neat to be able to do things like that,” she said.
If there are any unwritten rules of coupons, one of them must be “do not let coupons expire,” and another would be “don’t forget a coupon for a necessary purchase.”
“You hate pulling out those coupons that have expired. I was pulling some recently that had expired, and I try to stay on top of that,” Willis said. “The worst thing is to realize you had a coupon for something and didn’t use it, like on diapers. I got home recently and realized I had two coupons for $1.50 off, so I was like, ‘Oh, man!’”
Not only does she use coupons, Willis can speak the language. She uses terms like “shelf cleaners,” which refers to people who buy a large number of items because they have a large number of coupons for the item. She doesn’t practice the habit, but she has found herself the victim of those who do it.
“If they have 20 coupons for something, they’re going to take all they can, and that makes some items hard to find. It took me two weeks and four visits to Kroger to finally find this popcorn because they were always out,” Willis explained.
She doesn’t clean the shelves of an item at one time, but since her couponing started, Willis has built quite a stockpile of items around the house. She has 13 tubes of toothpaste, numerous toothbrushes, boxes of cereal, pasta, and much more.
“My family eats a lot of pasta. I have about 20 different boxes of pasta, and every bit of it was free. It just happened to be on sale where the coupons doubled, and I got it for free. I’ve also stocked up on cereal, and I find deals where you buy four boxes of General Mills cereals on sale, and with the coupons, you can get two gallons of milk for free. Plus we have more body wash and razors than we’ve ever had before, but I’ve been able to get them with coupons and watching sales, and I had never really paid attention to that stuff before.”
Mackin added that pasta was also a big item for her.
“I counted that I had 30 boxes of different types of pasta, but it was a great deal,” she said.
For the first time in as long as she can remember, Willis said she recently went to the store to prepare her kids for church camp, and she didn’t have a coupon for anything she bought.
She doesn’t see herself growing tired of couponing and saving money, but she said she does spend less time on it.
“I think I could get to that point. This summer, I’ve been into it, but I think it’s all about knowing how to do it, and then it gets easier, and you can spend less time on it, but still save plenty,” she said. “I’ve actually been saving more, but spending less time on couponing.”