“If I don’t eat it, I don’t buy it. In fact, I don’t eat any processed food, so it’s not true that the only things you can get coupons for are things you’ll never eat,” she says.
Torres began couponing to offset medical costs and her family’s special diet requirements. She has celiac disease, which means her diet includes only gluten-free foods. “I also have a daughter who has a lot of allergies and uses a feeding tube,” she says.
Her shopping totals used to add up to $100 to $150 each week. Now she spends an average of $200 each month on food.
“What I save now on basic groceries allows me to spend more on the specialty foods we need,” she says. “Now I see people leaving the grocery store with carts full of food that they just paid $200 for and I think, ‘That used to be me.’ It’s just insane to do that when you don’t have to,” she says.
Beth Ivey, a mother of two from Columbia, began couponing in February 2011. She was so impressed by what she was able to save that she began setting the money aside each week.
“I wanted to make it more concrete to my family why I was doing this,” she says. Within six months Ivey had saved more than $1,000 — enough for new carpet in her living room and hallway.
Miller espouses saving with a goal in mind. “Some people need to save that money to get by, but for others, it goes into retirement or the college fund or a trip to Disney,” the blogger says. “If you can save $75 every week, that’s $300 — that’s a car payment.”
The cult of Harris Teeter
Ask most serious couponers where they do the bulk of their grocery shopping and for many the answer is Harris Teeter. The store doubles all coupons up to 99 cents, but during periodic Super Double Days, all coupons up to $1.99 are doubled.
“The first time I left Harris Teeter after a Super Double sale, I felt like I was stealing — the stuff was so cheap it almost felt like you’re doing something wrong,” says Ivey.
Most serious couponers get additional coupon inserts from friends, neighbors and co-workers, which means they can purchase multiple items at once. This is good for stockpiling things like shampoo or body wash, but most couponers will only purchase enough to carry their families through for a few months or, at most, one year.
Stockpiling is a sensitive issue after “Extreme Couponing” began glorifying couponers who clear shelves of items and have stockpiles in their homes worth upward of $10,000.
“There’s been a lot of negative media attention, and it’s important to know that shows like that do not portray the majority of couponers,” says Laura Harders, a Northern Virginia stay-at-home mom who is responsible for BeltwayBargainMoms.com, a website popular with Howard County residents because it details the weekly sales and coupon matchups in local stores like Giant.
“We’re not hoarding. We’re not cleaning out products so there’s none left for other shoppers,” she adds. “The majority of couponers are very positive and love to share tips about deals they found with others. Just look at the comments on the blogs. There’s a real mentality of ‘we’re all in this together.’ ”
Ivey characterizes the extreme couponers as “organized hoarders.”
“There’s a big difference between me and people like that,” she says. “I love sharing the wealth and giving stuff away to my friends and family members, and if I see a really good deal I pick things up to donate to the Elkridge Food Pantry.”
Torres maintains a small backup as well, particularly of cereal for her three kids. Last Christmas she used her couponing skills and made goodie baskets for her kids’ teachers.
“It’s funny, because when I used to come home from the grocery store my husband would always ask, ‘How much did you spend?’” she says. “Now he asks, ‘How much did you save?’”