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These days, when Dale Walker goes shopping, you can count on there being a notebook full of manufacturer’s coupons open on the baby seat in the top of her shopping cart.
“It’s all about saving money,” Walker said. “You’ll do anything you can to save money these days.”
A rough economy has reversed a 14-year decline in coupon redemption in the United States.
Walker isn’t the only cash-crunched consumer who’s taking advantage of the coupon craze that’s sweeping the nation and continues to grow.
She has taken a class on couponing, subscribes to two newspapers and regularly surfs the net in seach of discounts that will stretch the Walker family budget as far as possible.
She expecially likes the Southern Savers website.
“They look at the grocery ads each week and then match it up to the coupons, doing all the work for you,” she said.
“Some of the websites even offer tutorials, which are a big help. I’m pretty new at it, but so far I’m doing pretty good.”
Walker said she spends almost as much time getting ready to shop as she does shopping.
“I probably spend about two or three hours a week at it,” she said. “For me, the real key is being organized.
“That, and a three-ring binder with baseball card holders in it,” Walker said.
But thanks to coupons and buying in bulk, her trips to the grocery store are less frequent.
She prefers to shop at Bi-lo and Harris Teeter, which double coupons, as well as CVS.
“David hates to go to the grocery store with me now because it takes me about four hours,” Walker said of her husband.
However, the Walkers’ daughter, Sarah, doesn’t mind it one bit.
“Coupons give Mama more money to spend on me,” the 11 year old said, laughing.
Hartley a coupon pro
Several years ago, while Janet Hartley was in the grocery store, she noticed a woman who had a box filled with coupons in her shopping cart.
“It was evident this lady knew what she was doing. I knew I needed to get to know her and we started talking,” Hartley said.
That chance conversation made her a firm believer in couponing.
And given the times that many families face, she said she is glad she took it up.
It especially came in handy when she and her husband, David, had to get their daughter, Jessica, ready for college at Bob Jones University in Greenville.
“You quickly learn that you need two of everything when you have a child leave for college,” she said, laughing. “Jessica is doing it, too, though. When she comes home with a shopping list, the first thing she does is check the notebook for coupons.”
Hartley has become so adept at couponing that she recently led a class at Friendship Bible Church.
“Times are tough and you have to save money where you can,” Hartley said. “David and I are lucky because both of us are still working, but several years ago, my pay got cut. I even have my brother, Robbie Bowers, doing it.
“With a daughter in college, you have to do what you have to do,” she said.
Hartly spends about 90 minutes getting coupons together each week, but grocery shops less and buys in bulk.
“We don’t run out of most things except bread, fresh produce and milk,” she said. “You can’t stock up on perishables.”
When it comes to bargains, Hartley said nothing beats the freebies that sometimes happen when chain stores double coupons or offer other consumer incentives.
“Ater shopping at different stores, you know in the back of your mind what the prices are and if something is a good deal,” she said. “That comes with experience. If I can get it for free, that’s great. If not, I try to work it out.”
Hartley still remembers one Harris Teeter shopping spree where she made money.
“They had to pay me 8 cents,” she said laughing. “The cashier called the manager over and said, ‘the register says we owe her.’ He said, ‘if that’s what it shows, then give it to her.’
“Most stores won’t give you the overage. They’ll just adjust the coupon down,” Hartley said. “I didn’t argue about it, though.”
One of the characteristics of extreme couponers is a lack of brand loyalty. That is something Hartley never gets caught up in.
“I don’t have anything against store brands or generics, but if I can get a brand name cheaper, then that’s what I’m going to do,” she said.
By the numbers
– In 1992, consumers saved $7.7 billion by using coupons. By 2006, that amount had fallen to $2.6 billion. That year, the numbers started to climb after falling for 14 years. In 2010, consumers saved $3.7 billion using coupons.
– More than 88 million adults in the United States will redeem an online coupon or code for use either online or offline at least once in 2011.
– Today, the average value is approximately $1.25 per coupon.
– Savings studies show that shoppers who spend 20 minutes per week clipping and organizing their coupons can save up to $1,000 per year.(With an average annual family grocery bill of $5,000 that means 20 minutes could result in a 20 percent savings from coupons).
– The typical family saves between $5.20 and $9.60 per week using coupons. Those who spend 10 minutes or less per week clipping and organizing their coupons (46 percent of shoppers) still achieve an average $7 weekly savings on grocery bills.