Extreme couponing is the practice of using as many coupons as possible to get groceries for free or nearly free. From dumpster diving for coupons to stockpiling years worth of supplies, the goal of an extreme couponer is to pay as little money as possible for groceries.
The idea behind extreme couponing is that shoppers clip and save hundreds upon hundreds of coupons and use them strategically to rack up on savings at the grocery store. Some shoppers have been known to take home hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for only a few bucks.
But to get the greatest amount of savings, super couponers (as some call themselves) must clip and save more coupons in one month than the average shopper sees in a lifetime.
Stephanie Hall said she has always used coupons. But four months ago she began extreme couponing.
“I coupon daily,” she said. “I clip them from newspapers and other publications but I also get coupons online. Many of the online coupons are only available for the day, so I print them out.”
Hall subscribes to five websites that send her coupons daily. She said the most she has ever saved on groceries was 60 percent of her total bill, which happened a few weeks ago, but on average she saves between 37 and 44 percent on her weekly grocery bill.
“It takes time to get together a stockpile (of coupons),” Hall said. “And it takes time to know the coupon policy at the stores you shop at. Just be patient and wait for the great sale for the coupons you have in hand.”
Why the excessive stockpiling? The super-couponer mentality goes something like this: They time the purchase of a certain grocery item so they’re buying it only when it’s on sale. In addition, they combine that sale with a coupon that can be doubled in value. Or they shop during the sale and stack a manufacturer’s coupon with a store coupon.
In many cases, the combined discounts will result in a free product. Super couponers will haul as many of those freebies home as they can carry so they won’t need to buy that item again for three to 12 months.
Since grocery-store sales tend to be cyclical, with many items being discounted at least once every three months or so, it doesn’t take too long for a super couponer’s inventory to begin resembling that of — well, a grocery store.
How you can become a super couponer
Experts suggest clipping all the coupons from your weekly circulars and Sunday newspaper. It’s always a good policy to clip all coupons, they say, because an item may go on sale in the future and you can trade your coupons with other couponers for the ones you do want.
Locally, the newspaper seems to be one of the most popular sources of coupons for extreme couponers. So far this year, subscribers to the Rome News-Tribune had access to $3,481 in coupons from national coupon companies such as Red Plum, Smart Source and P&G brandsaver. At $138.03 for a year’s subscription to the paper, or $101.65 for a weekend only subscription, savings through coupons are more than worth the cost of a subscription for many local shoppers.
Experts also suggest studying the weekly supermarket sales and comparing that to your coupon inventory.
Another important point in the extreme couponers guide is to know your supermarket’s coupon policy. Are expired coupons accepted? Can you use 10 coupons for 10 of the same items? Can you stack a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon? Are there double and triple coupon days? Does your store accept competitors coupons? How are coupon overages applied to the final bill?
Watch for electronic printable coupons on coupon websites. Manufacturer websites sometimes have exclusive coupons. Apply for your supermarket’s loyalty card. The supermarket’s web page may have additional coupons and savings that can be loaded onto your loyalty card. These discounts are taken directly at checkout.
When in the supermarket, watch for coupons in aisles right in front of the product. Remember to use them at checkout. Coupons are also printed right after checkout based on your purchase. Save them for your next trip.
Understand the supermarket’s BOGO (Buy-one-get-one) policy. Sometimes you can get the same deal with buying just one item.
How it affects the stores
Many retailers across the country are seeing an increase in extreme couponing and some are tailoring their policies to cope with the trend.
James Cox, a manager at the Rome Kroger, said that store does see some forms of extreme couponing. He said sometimes if a particular item is on sale and consumers time their purchase perfectly, they can get the sale price and coupon price, resulting in a significant discount on that item or even getting that item for free.
“We do have certain guidelines in place concerning coupons,” he said. “And we always reserve the right to limit quantities.”
Other retailers, such as Rite Aid, Publix and Target have gotten more restrictive with their coupon policies in an effort to create an environment where everybody can get deals.
Rite Aid recently announced that shoppers no longer can combine a buy-one-get-one-free sale or promotion with a buy-one-get-one-free coupon to get two items for free.
Another change you may have noticed is in your coupons themselves. Many manufacturer coupons specifically say, “Do Not Double.”
This all comes at a time when the “Great Recession” has made it harder for families to afford the new higher cost of feeding everyone. Coupons, if you are willing to do the work, can be a way to offset the rise in food prices.
To cope with all of this backlash, shoppers will have to be prepared by carrying a copy of a store’s coupon policy and including a combination of other grocery saving strategies to bring down the bill. For example, buying in bulk and buying generic products, growing your own food and cooking from scratch are all ways to spend less money.