How a South Florida extreme couponer gets stuff for free

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Kristen Birstok insists she's not a hoarder.

"I am an extreme couponer," the Pembroke Pines mother of three says. "Some people see me clearing shelves and taking all the merchandise out of a store, but the customers always stop me and ask how to do it."

The short answer: "coupons."

Birstok uses a complex system to get free stuff. But there are lessons casual couponers can learn.

Her stockpile, worth about $4,000, contains about 180 rolls of toilet paper, 20 boxes of cereal, 100 boxes of pasta, 60 bottles of shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste, dental floss, body wash, shaving cream and deodorant.

"Stuff" is a good word for it. The goods are stuffed upstairs, downstairs and under the stairs inside her three-bedroom home.

"Right now, I have 78 rolls of Scott paper towels," Birstok says. "But if they go on sale this week, I'm buying more."

She buys 10 Sunday newspapers a week for the coupons, files them by date and gets sales matchup information from IHeartPublix.com and SouthernSavers.com.

Her favorite stores are Publix and CVS, because both are coupon friendly.

Birstok spends $2 out of pocket and gets $60 to $80 in merchandise at CVS.

"I use the ExtraCare Bucks program which gives you store coupons for buying products. You match manufacturer coupons with the ECBs and you get the goods for free or make money. I spend $2 and get $20 in ExraCare Bucks back. I use the $18 to buy other things at the store that are on sale. It’s called rolling rewards. I’ve rolled up to 12 deals at the store. The goal is to have the least amount out of pocket."

She feeds her family of five on 50 bucks a week at Publix.

Last year, Birstok stopped at CVS to do a shampoo deal while she was in labor.

"My favorite cashier was checking me out, and I had to stop her a couple times to breathe through my contractions," she recalls.

Her daughter was born in a hospital, not in the hair-care aisle.

Whether she's in labor or not, Birstok says her heart races and her palms sweat whenever she's at the register.

"You don't want to hear that dreaded beep," she says. "Sometimes, you get money back at Publix and Walmart. That's when I do a happy dance."

Birstok uses Instagram to find deals, categorized under #extremcouponing.

"Hashtag I'm crazy! What can I tell you?" she laughs. "I don't think it's hoarding. I give my stuff to my family and friends. I don't keep it all."

What's your deal? Email it to dchristensen@sunsentinel.com or Facebook.com/DoreensDeals.

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