Rewind! I want a do-over. I have just gotten off the phone with Josh Elledge, the new king of couponing, and I could fill a large Juicy purse with tears thinking of all the money I've left at the checkout counters of my consumptive life. Elledge is unintentionally shining a harsh light on my lack of buying smarts.
Four years ago, Elledge of Orlando was working in Internet development and his income was "unstable." He and his wife, a "very part-time therapist," wanted to save more and get out of debt.
"We weren't making any progress," he said, partly because they were dropping $600 to $700 a month at Walmart on household goods and groceries for their family of five. They were in line with the average family of four, which spends $709 a month, he said.
"I became obsessed with figuring out a way to use technology to change that."
That obsession helped him create SavingsAngel.com, an online couponing site that now employs nearly 100 folks who scan the Internet for deals, and pull them together so you don't have to. Elledge will offer tips on extreme couponing at 1 p.m. today and noon Sunday on the Home Improvement stage of the Orlando Home Show.
Those strategies helped him easily cut his household goods bill in half.
"In half?!" I cry. "You mean all those groceries, cleaning supplies, home appliances and gardening goods I've bought in your life I could have gotten for half?"
"It's a lot of work to clip coupons and file them in an index card holder. It stops being fun," he said.
"Was it ever fun?"
"Those extreme couponers spend eight to 10 hours a day finding savings. Most people don't have that kind of time."
"Besides," I say, "sitting at the kitchen table with the Sunday paper, a pair of scissors just seems so Susie Betty Homemaker Crocker. It also seems sort of sad, like those people who never take the plastic off their furniture."
I reflect on the times I've tried clipping coupons. Usually, I get to the store and realize I've left them all at home.
"But wait," I tell the checker. "I might have them." I empty my purse on the conveyor belt and give myself a strip search. Meanwhile the checker examines her nails, and the customers behind me shift their weight in an exaggerated way and sigh heavily.
On those rare days when I actually produce the coupons, the cashier gives me the face-reddening news that they've expired. Months ago.
"But! But? Do I get partial credit?" I plea as if this is like late homework.
"Our scanners don't work like that, Ma'am."
Did I mention that I could cry? I could have had hundreds, thousands of dollars left over. Left over?! I never have money left over. Here's what I wish I'd known years ago, though it's not too late to start saving.
•Look for matches. I used to feel pretty puffed up if I bought something on super sale, or if I applied a promotional coupon that took a third off, but to Elledge that's just change on the bar. "At a minimum, you want a match," he says. That's couponese for applying a manufacturer's coupon to an item that is also on sale.
•Check the paper and online. When shopping for a new item, say a food processor, check your local paper for store promotions. Then look online for manufacturer coupons. If you're buying a big-ticket item, like a dishwasher, that extra 10 minutes could save you a few hundred dollars.
•Put away the scissors. When the Sunday paper arrives (and Elledge gets three papers to get triple the coupons), take out the coupon insert and write the date on the front page in Sharpie, then put it aside. "The week the coupon comes out is not the best time to use it." Hang onto it for a few weeks, and until the items go on sale, then use the coupons. Keep each insert for 12 weeks.
•Know where to find savings. Elledge's "angels" hunt for four kinds of deals: manufacturer coupons, store promotions, store coupons and manufacturer rebates. He recently paid nothing when he purchased Schick Quatro razor cartridges. A pack sells for $11.99. The store had it on sale for $8.99. He had a $4-off manufacturer coupon and a $5-back register reward at Walgreens. The store paid him one cent.
•Find the sweet spot. This is not a license to hoard. Shoot for a three-month supply of your basics, such as paper goods, canned foods and cleaning supplies. That's the threshold where most people realize real savings without sacrificing too much storage space. When you have all your basics in stock and only need to buy fresh foods, the magic happens.
•Avoid the rookie trap. The No. 1 error beginners make is they overspend to save and buy more than they need. "The whole point of this is not to be wasteful."
•Ask for deals. When checking out, ask whether the checker has any coupons that could offer you a savings. Often if they rummage under the counter they find something. "It's not tacky," said Elledge. "You often find luck because you look for it."
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo Press).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun