2010-04-22 / Local & State

Super-Couponers Take The Stigma Out Of Clipping

By Jennie Geisler

ERIE, Pa. (AP) – Jeri Magoon cuts coupons. She can walk out of a store with a bag full of stuff for which she paid only pennies.

While she’s saving money, her obsession is bigger than that.

“It’s a game to get as much as I can for the lowest price possible,’’ Magoon said. “It’s a competition between the manufacturer and me.’’

By way of illustration, she opens a binder originally designed for baseball cards. Its pockets are packed with coupons in every category.

She carries it everywhere, along with a bag of grocery store coupons.

She clips coupons whenever she has a minute, such as at the doctor’s office or on her lunch hour, as well as for several hours on Saturday afternoons.

(She got the binder free by combining a coupon and a sale at Target and landing a $5 Target gift card due to an in-store promotion.)

Magoon said she spends about 15 hours a week looking at grocery fliers and coupon Web sites, gleaning advice from like-minded shoppers and coupon-trading programs, trying to match her coupons with sale items, gift cards and rebates.

She says she got into it about a year ago when her husband was laid off.

She shows off a recent bargain-hunting coup: At CVS, she bought a Cover Girl product originally priced at $15.99. She had a coupon for $5.99, making the makeup $10. Due to an in-store special, she got $8 in rewards from CVS that she can use on a future purchase.

While Magoon spends hours developing what she calls these “scenarios,’’ Jill Kahle can rifle through her coupon envelope, and get into and out of a grocery store in 20 minutes, getting $43 worth of stuff for $28, a 35 percent savings.

For example, during a recent trip, she knew Hamburger Helper was priced at 10 boxes for $10. She didn’t want 10 boxes, just three – at a dollar apiece – so she could use a manufacturer’s coupon worth 75 cents on three. That coupon would be doubled at that store to $1.50, getting her three boxes for $1.50. They’re originally $3.49 per box.

“I love this,’’ Kahle said, smiling. “Honestly, I do.’’

While these savings might surprise shoppers who don’t use coupons, they’re legal as long as they don’t violate the coupon policies held by retail stores. Manufacturers print coupons because they want consumers to use them, Magoon said.

She’s right, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

“As long as shoppers are using coupons as originally intended and in compliance with the legal terms printed on the coupon, manufacturers are happy to help consumers stretch their grocery dollars with coupons,’’ said Logan Kastner, GMA senior manager of sales and sales promotion, in a prepared statement.

There used to be a stigma attached to clipping coupons. Not anymore. Coupon clippers have evolved into savvy power players at the cash register, often ringing up unbelievable savings.

With the help of the Internet, the recession, and plain old thrift, consumers cashed in 3.2 billion coupons in 2009, saving $3.5 billion, according to a study by NCH Marketing Service Inc., a private firm that tracks the effect of grocery promotions. The total amount of money consumers saved jumped 30 percent over 2008.

Just like a runner graduating from one mile to three to a marathon, “supercouponers,’’ as they’re often referred to, started small and their prowess grows over time.

“I started using coupons 22 years ago, when I first got married,’’ said Barb Knoedler, of Meadville. She said she got a coupon magazine in the mail that piqued her interest.

“That opened up a whole new world for me,’’ she said. “On average now, I save anywhere from $20 to $60 some weeks.

“Last year, Kmart doubled coupons up to $2 in value. I went there a lot. One of my trips, I saved over $200.’’

The trend toward supercouponing has, like everything else, grown with help from Internet sources. Web sites such as www.afullcup.com, www.mycoupons.com and www.couponmom.com offer not just coupons, but forums where super-couponers gather tips, rules and inside information.

Magoon knew that Kmart was having a double-coupon promotion weeks before it happened. She knows that grocery stores get back the face value, plus 8 cents for every manufacturer’s coupon redeemed at their store. She knows exactly how much she has to spend at each store before rewards, such as Extra Bucks at CVS, kick in.

While the Internet is a newer source for finding coupons, shoppers say the newspaper is the best and easiest source.

“One time, I went with my nephew to recycle and there were stacks of coupon inserts there. I made him Dumpsterdive to get them,’’ Matson said.

Magoon said if she finds a really good set of coupons, she’ll buy two papers to get more of them. She said it’s worth more than the $1.50 price for the Erie Times- News.

While many printable Internet coupons are available, super-couponers are wary of them. Not every store will take them and some can be fraudulent.

Many super-couponers say they give away coupons and free stuff to friends and families, and get together with friends to trade coupons.

Many people big into coupons wind up taking home more great deals than they can use right away. They build up stockpiles of lowcost cereal, detergent, deodorants, body washes and toothpaste, among other things.

Most have shelves in their basement, where friends and family can “shop’’ for anything they need.

“When my husband tells me we’re out of something, I tell him to check the basement,’’ Nicole Matson said. “I told my father he never has to buy shampoo or deodorants ever again.

“Sometimes I take stuff to the local food bank. I don’t need 50 deodorants.’’

But couponers say the space it takes to keep free stuff on hand pays for itself.

“My mother always said, ‘The price never goes up in the cupboard,’’’ Magoon said.

People who don’t use coupons or only do so casually sometimes marvel at Knoedler’s skill.

“I’ve had cashiers comment on my shopping and sometimes the people behind me will comment on how well I did,’’ she said. “Sometimes I think that this is just a hobby that makes me money. But then there are times that I think that it is a sport.’’

She estimates that she’s saved between $2,000 and $3,000 in the past year.

“When I see someone post (on the Internet) a great shopping trip, that gets my juices flowing and makes me want to go shopping again,’’ Knoedler said. “It is the thrill of the hunt.

“I can get such a rush watching my grocery bill go down.’’

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