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Tiffany Cutts was destined to become a couponer.
The 26-year-old Richmond woman grew up in a family
"When I was in elementary school, my mother would put checkmarks in the coupon inserts beside the ones she wanted, and my job was to clip them," she said.
As she grew older, Cutts' mother would send her into the store with a list and the coupons. If she bought anything not on the list, or forgot to use a coupon, she had to go back.
"In high school, the only way I was allowed to drive the car was if I went grocery shopping on Sundays," she said.
Cutts' mother must be proud now. In November 2009, Cutts started Young and Frugal in Virginia, a couponing blog.
The VCU grad, with a degree in criminal justice, works in pre-trial supervision. But she also was on the cutting edge--or maybe the clipping edge--of the coupon craze, teaching consumers about couponing before it was the trendy thing to do.
Now there are blogs and websites that teach savings tactics, and a program on TLC called "Extreme Couponing" shows exactly what it promises--people whose habits are truly unconventional.
But couponing doesn't have to be extreme to be worthwhile, Cutts said. And couponing can help others.
For example, Cutts doesn't eat pasta, but there are often pasta coupons and sales on pasta in grocery stores. When deals line up so that she can use a coupon and a sale to get pasta for free, she "buys" it and donates it to a local food bank.
Couponer Jessica Velez of Stafford County invited Cutts to the Fredericksburg area recently to put on a coupon class for some local residents. Velez started couponing in May, and has found significant savings on groceries, dining out and even school supplies for her two children, who are also in on the couponing.
"My 8-year-old's job is to pull out the expired coupons," she said.
Some sites say consumers can cut their grocery bills up to 90 percent by using coupons.
Cutts has had some huge successes. Her best was a Kroger "mega-sale," which offered $5 off for buying 10 of certain items. She got a $193 grocery bill down to $6 with the sale plus coupons.
One of Velez's first big successes was buying soap. A lot of soap. With a coupon and Ivory soap on sale, she bought 30 three-packs, and actually made 3 cents on each.
Then she bought 60 boxes of pasta at two different Bloom stores. Every box was free when doubled coupons were combined with a sale. On Oct. 2, when Bloom doubled even high-face-value coupons, she whittled
But Velez doesn't just keep the savings for herself. If she has a coupon that's nearing its expiration date and she doesn't need the item, she'll leave the coupon on the shelf near the product for someone else to use.
"I like to look at myself as the coupon fairy," she said with a smile.
Getting stuff for free usually involves "stacking," in which a store-specific coupon (such as one for Target or Bloom) is combined with a manufacturer's coupon (clipped from the paper or printed from a website) and a sale on the item.
Those deals aren't hard to find if you use Cutts' website or others that do the "matchups" for you. Matchups tell you what coupons to pair with what sales to get the best deals.
Because Cutts is based in Richmond, her site doesn't cover all the Fredericksburg-area stores, but sites such as coupondivas.com and afullcup.com do matchups for local chains.
Cutts said to also be on the lookout for unadvertised sales once you get in the stores, as well as coupon dispensers in the aisles. Rebate coupons are often found in the beer and wine section, and you don't even have to buy the alcohol sometimes.
She also advises shoppers to keep "catalinas," which are the coupons issued at the checkout based on the items you purchase.
One key to successful couponing is organization. Cutts and Velez use zippered three-ring binders filled with baseball-card display pages. Couponers can organize by product type, expiration date and even where the item will go in the home once purchased. Whatever makes sense to you will work.
Velez organizes by product type, with A-Z page dividers. Some of her categories are unique to her.
"'Makeup' wouldn't really fit because M was too crowded," she said, "so I moved it to V, for 'very beautiful.'"
In addition to organization, knowing what you can and can't do is vital. Most stores' coupon policies are available on their websites, or in the stores.
Many stores double coupons up to 99 cents every day. Some have special days where even the higher-value coupons are doubled. Some stores limit the number of coupons per transaction, or the number of items you can purchase on doubled coupons.
So be aware, carry the policy with you and check back often, because policies can change frequently.
The couponers also recommend buying and using reusable bags. Not only is it better for the environment than all those plastic bags, but most stores give up to a 5-cents-per-bag rebate.
"It may not seem like much, but it really does add up," Velez said.
Cutts said you have to be proactive to get your coupons.
"I buy two papers every Sunday," she said. Some recommend buying one paper for each member of the family. And buying more than one publication can be beneficial, too. Different newspapers get different coupon and advertising inserts.
Free Lance-Star Marketing Manager Stacy Rounds said there is an average of $209 in coupon savings weekly in the newspaper. And weekends aren't the only time readers can find savings. There's a coupon every day on page A2 that offers a free item from a local business.
In some cases, couponing isn't the only thing that has been extreme. So has theft.
Media outlets around Texas reported the June arrest of 37-year-old Sybil Hudson, who was charged with stealing coupon inserts from a newspaper rack outside a fast-food restaurant. She denied the charge, but faces a $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail if she is convicted.
"It has not been as extreme here as in some other cities," said Sue Baker, The Free Lance-Star's circulation service manager, but the newspaper has seen some. "It certainly isn't worth going to jail for a newspaper and some coupons."
Extra copies of the Sunday Free Lance-Star can be purchased in the newspaper's lobby at 616 Amelia St. during regular business hours. There also is a sales rack outside the main entrance that stays stocked with Sunday papers.
Wawa, Sheetz, Fas Mart and 7-Eleven stores also stock Sunday papers throughout the week, according to Baker.
Some blame the "Extreme Couponing" show for the thefts. The TV program shows extreme couponers using hundreds of coupons to buy a store's entire inventory of an item.
Cutts said the show is unrealistic. Most coupon policies limit the number of coupons that can be used per transaction, but some companies suspend those policies to get the publicity of appearing on the program.
And like stores' policies, newspapers' policies regarding coupons are clear and strict.
"You have to buy the paper," Baker said. "You can't buy coupons separately, and we can't give away recycled coupons. It's part of the pledge we make to advertisers, and it's the policy of all newspapers."
Be aware that those store or newspaper rack papers aren't guaranteed to have coupons. Only home-delivery papers are guaranteed to have the coupon inserts and sales ads, Baker said.
"Depending on how many inserts we get from the advertiser, we may run out," she said. "If we run out, the single-copy-sales papers are the ones that go out without the inserts."
Baker also cautioned that most national coupon companies do not print inserts for holiday-weekend papers. Her department often receives calls on those holiday weekends from subscribers who think their inserts are missing, when in fact there weren't any to be inserted.
In addition to buying newspapers, Cutts advised checking the websites of stores you frequent, and signing up for email and text-message coupons and savings alerts.
Facebook members should "like" favorite companies or brands, because great deals or high-value coupons are often offered there, she added.
"I 'like' something like 800 companies," Cutts said, "so I get lots of information and deals."
Other online resources include sites such as Swagbucks, where you earn "bucks" for completing surveys, watching videos, or linking store loyalty cards to the site. Regular purchases made at participating stores also earn bucks, which can be redeemed for items such as gift cards.
At mypoints.com, users can click to get deals and sometimes free merchandise. And at sites such as savingstar.com, you don't even have to clip coupons. You link your store loyalty cards, load coupons to them, and each time you redeem a coupon on an item loaded to the card, savingstar.com records the purchase.
"A lot of people say they have no time for couponing, or they don't really save that much," Cutts said. "But my point is, why pay full price for something you can get for less, or even free?"youngandfrugalinvirginia.blogspot .com
Amount couponers saved in the first six months of 2011
Average face value of a coupon in the first half
Percentage of consumers who say their grocery bills have increased up to $50 weekly; 41 percent have
Percentage of consumers who say they would still use coupons if they struck it big in the lottery
Percentage of consumers who consider the Internet their primary advertising source, but used newspaper inserts in the last 30 days.
Buy multiple copies of your local Sunday newspapers. Yep, that's newspapers, plural. Readers in areas served by more than one paper will sometimes find different coupon and advertising inserts in different papers.
Ask friends, neighbors and co-workers to give you any coupon inserts they aren't using. Or, if all your friends are couponers, too, organize a coupon swap at work, the neighborhood community center or even local libraries, where you can exchange coupons you won't use for ones you will. If you have pets, but no babies, bring in all those diaper coupons and swap them for pet food and treat coupons.
Know a store's coupon policy before you go in. Most are available on store websites. Keep a copy of that policy in your binder, in case sales clerks are not familiar with it. But be aware that the policies change frequently, so make sure you have the most up-to-date information.
Be organized. You can arrange your coupons in a number of ways, such as by expiration date or product category. Cutts keeps a zippered three-ring binder filled with baseball-card-holder inserts. She also keeps an accordion file with the unclipped coupons, in case she sees an ad for a great deal on a product in a previous week's insert that she happened to have missed.
Think about using some of your savings for giving. If there's a deal that will mean you pay only cents for an item or, better yet, can get it free, buy it and donate it to an area homeless shelter, pet shelter or food bank.