Money savings may be just a snip away — or in today's digital world, a click away. For many people, couponing has been a way of life, and for others, they are being drawn to frugalness, thanks to the national reality television show, “Extreme Coupon-ing.”
On the show, people walk away from stores with hundreds of dollars worth of items at little or no cost, due to a well-planned coupon system that takes a lot of time to execute.
For Cricket Penny, of Tyler, the thirtysomething mother of two has taken advantage of couponing as well as other cost-saving rules, providing her family a comfortable lifestyle on one income.
At a Tyler store, Ms. Penny did some shopping for her home. Unlike some of the extreme scenarios on the reality show, she doesn't walk around with large binders. Instead, the petite mom is armed with a small pink zip pouch with a handful of coupons and a list of what she needs that day.
The check-out took an extra few minutes but was worth the wait. In three transactions, she spent a total of $19.57 and still had a $3 coupon left to use. Her total without the coupons would have been $128.99.
“It's a good feeling to know that I didn't spend all this money to get the products my family needs,” Ms. Penny said. “That's how we're really able to live on one income.”
In fact, her thriftiness has allowed the family to take vacations, and they plan to go to Disney World next year. In 2011, Ms. Penny saved $13,000, according to her coupon tracking records. That does not include other savings.
“Because of the economy, even though people are saying it is getting better, the economy has made us more conscience of being careful because our dollars are more limited,” she said.
With tax-free weekend sales happening now, people are seeking shopping tips from the BBB to get the biggest bang for their buck. Mrs. Mills notes that parents may make use of items they already have.
“You just need to plan ahead, watch the impulse spending and if you can recycle some things, that's what we're encouraging people to do,” she said.
A Penny Saved
She said interest in her tips is more needed during the summer, probably because electric bills are higher and children are home from school, sparking the need to pinch pennies.
About 30 percent of her followers online are from Texas, and the rest reach out to her from around the country.
On her website, there is a coupon database to search for a printable or insert coupon for an item to buy in case it's not included in her “matchups.” She matches coupons from local stores to items and displays the savings.
She also writes shopping scenarios for Walgreens and CVS each week to show people what to buy, which coupons to use and how to split the process into two to four transactions to maximize savings.
Ms. Penny offers classes in Tyler and in Marshall, with her next class being offered Sept. 18 at Green Acres Baptist Church. The classes are free because she only wants to help others by sharing her knowledge.
She has been an active couponer for 16 years, starting in high school. It was a tradition passed onto her by her mother, a stay-at-home mom. She taught her all she needed to know about living simply.
“I would go with my mom to Kroger, and she'd give me an envelope with coupons,” she said. “We'd maximize with double coupons. If she didn't, who knows where I'd be today with my spending? We may have been a family in tons of debt. It's really important to teach your kids to live within their means”.
Her children have already picked up cues for becoming financially responsible, with words such as coupon and rain check in her 4-year-old son's still-developing vocabulary.
Her family has a “bare bones” budget. They spend about $400 monthly for groceries, clothes, personal care, household items, gifts and diapers.
“For most of my friends, that's how much they spend on groceries,” Ms. Penny noted.
Being frugal or thrifty can have a negative connotation. People perceive it to be too time-consuming, and some shoppers can become irritated waiting behind a couponer in line, Ms. Penny said.
But mostly, she said, shoppers admire what she's able to do and only wish they could do the same.
As for her thoughts on the hot reality show that depicts serious couponers, it has its pros and cons.
“You don't have to be extreme to get what your family needs,” Ms. Penny said. “It's real, but it's unrealistic. You can buy two or three things in advance of what your family needs. You don't have to buy a year's worth of product because a sale is going to come again at a good price in the next six to 12 weeks.”
She added, “It's good because it shows people that it's possible to save money. It's not just 50 cents here and there, but it's caused a lot of trouble with people coming in, and they feel like they need to get 30 bottles of mustard. They don't understand that that was for the show to make it extreme.”
Mrs. Mills reiterated that point, stating that if done incorrectly, couponing could cost time and money.
“The biggest mistake people make is they get things they don't necessarily need,” she said. “You may not have space for this stuff. However, you can always do something good with the things you don't need. Time is money nowadays as well. You have to ask yourself, 'is it worth the time to invest? Will it really save you that much?'”
“Whether they're planning on spending a lot of money or a little bit, you'll really always need to do your homework,” Mrs. Mills said. “Always read the fine print.”