The first time Dena Anderson of Wheeling armed herself with a binder full of coupons and hit the grocery store, she came home with $128 of groceries and her wallet was only $27 lighter.
She was hooked on couponing.
"I actually went and woke up my husband and said, 'We can really do this! I can make this work!'" said Anderson, a former human relations director who decided to quit and stay home after the birth of her fifth child three years ago.
Dena Anderson of Wheeling and her 3-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, clip coupons at the kitchen table. Anderson began couponing after Caitlyn was born and estimates she saved $10,000 in the first year.
Photo by Betsy Bethel
Her husband works as a special education teacher in Pittsburgh. The large loss of income spurred the family to find ways to save money, including owning only one car and clipping coupons.
In the first year, Anderson estimates couponing saved her family $10,000 in groceries, toiletries, household items and even clothing.
Like the Andersons, many families with young children find that couponing has become a necessity. Scrimping and saving has become the new norm, considering the state of the economy, unemployment rates and the fact that the price of food went up by 4 percent to 5 percent in 2011 and will continue to increase, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Q: A savvy shopper can save lots of money couponing. How do you do it?
A: Couponing takes a commitment and also a keen eye on the advertisements in the Sunday newspaper. You also need to sign up for store loyalty cards and keep an eye on your receipts for special offers.
Clever couponing can be used to combat those statistics.
Anderson may have a stash of toothpaste and deodorant to last another year, but she doesn't horde her couponing knowledge. She shares it on her blog at www.sensationalsaver.com, where she offers couponing tips and often shares the week's best deals from local stores. For this article, she agreed to share some of her expertise.
The first thing a coupon maven should do, she said, is sign up for store loyalty cards - those cards the retailers use for market research but that ring up savings for customers at the checkout. Some stores also offer their cardholders the option of loading additional coupons electronically from the corporation's website. In addition, popular drug store chains periodically offer customers register receipt coupons that can be used like cash on a future purchase.
"When you do all that, and you couple that with manufacturer's coupons, you can achieve a really high level of savings," Anderson said.
Next, start a stockpile of coupons.
"The Sunday paper is the best source for getting coupons," Anderson said.
In addition to buying the local newspaper, shoppers can order coupon inserts from other states that offer additional coupons. These can be found through online clipping services. Anderson orders a stack of coupon inserts weekly from a woman in Florida, for which she is automatically billed $16.
"But I save far more than that at the grocery store, so it's a good purchase for me," she said.
Other sources of coupons are the manufacturers themselves.
"When you contact them with a complaint or even a compliment, they may send you coupons for their products or even free products," Anderson said.
Many also offer coupons on their websites or Facebook pages. "That's a good way to find coupons you won't find anywhere else," she said.
Electronic coupons are available from several online sources, and there is even a program called Upromise that offers e-coupons through store loyalty cards and then puts the consumer's savings into a college fund for his or her children.
Another way to save, Anderson said, is to plan the week's meals based on sales advertised in the store circulars found in the Sunday newspaper. When a consumer couples the store sales with coupons from his or her stockpile, the savings can add up.
It's important to know that some grocery stores regularly double the value of the coupons, Anderson said.
She said even meat and produce companies are now offering coupons. In addition, grocery stores send coupons in the mail that are based on what she has purchased, so she may receive a $2 off of a $10 meat department purchase, for instance. The savings multiply when she purchases meat already on sale.
Anderson used to keep her coupons in a binder that she took with her on shopping trips.
Now, she organizes entire coupon inserts from the newspaper by date. When ready to shop, she goes to an online coupon database, searches for a product she wants, and the database tells her in what insert she can find a coupon. She finds the inserts, clips her coupons and puts them in an envelope. It takes her about an hour to prepare for a shopping trip.
"(My coupons) are pretty much my shopping list because I rarely buy anything without a coupon," she said.
Nonetheless, Anderson said her couponing has slowed down somewhat, in part because the family wasn't using some of the products she brought home. Also, some items she stockpiled, such as over-the-counter medicines, expired before they were opened. Her stockpile is dwindling slowly but surely.
"I still (coupon) by choice, though, because I don't like to feel like we're wasting money, and I can make my husband's salary go further."
Anderson is available to speak to small groups about couponing strategies.
To contact her, visit www.sensationalsaver.com and click on the "PR information" tab at the top of the home page.