Between the price of gas and the increasing cost of food, the necessities of life are leaving little room for fun in the bank account. However, some Northwest residents have found clipping coupons results in extra savings in good times and bad.
Marana resident Stephanie Ashcroft said she first started clipping coupons out of necessity to save on groceries. With three children at the time and a husband in school, income was low. To stay free of student loans and other added debts, Ashcroft learned quickly how to pinch pennies and dollars at the grocery store.
At one time, she was spending up to 20 hours a week preparing for a one-day shopping trip. Ashcroft estimated she was saving more by smart shopping than she could make by working a part-time job.
Now, with four children, Ashcroft and her husband are financially stable. He is finishing school and she is publishing several cookbooks, yet the drive to save still exists.
“We keep doing the coupons because we want to pay off our house within 10 years,” she said “It is a lot easier now than it was then. There is a lot more online to help with the savings. You see what’s on sale this week online, then you go to the newspapers and clip the coupons.”
Ashcroft said Cash Sense is well worth the $15 monthly fee she pays because it saves her up to 10 hours a week in planning. Each week, the website lists all items that can be purchased for free with coupons, followed by other deals in the state in which a person lives.
Ashcroft reads through the list, clicking on the items she will purchase during her one-day shopping trip. Cash Sense then takes the list and organizes it under the stores where the best deals are being offered, lists the costs for every item, the aisle where they can be found, and finally, the newspaper or location of coupons needed for each store.
In a week, Ashcroft shops at multiple grocery stores, including Bashas, Fry’s, Safeway, Walmart, Walgreens and CVS. During some weeks she might go with a list to every store, and on others she will skip those stores without good deals.
Once she is done planning her list on the computer, Ashcroft moves on to clipping. Cash Sense gives her the locations of every coupon, and with her filing drawer, she files every coupon by date.
Ninety percent of all coupons used today come from newspaper inserts.
After clipping each coupon, Ashcroft said she plans her shopping trip, filing the coupons to be used in the folder for the store where she will get the best deals.
“When I first started, I would get six Sunday newspapers. My coupon stock got too high. Now, I get three Sunday newspapers each week along with a few others,” she said.
Ashcroft said a lot of couponers will make deals with local newspapers to get as many coupons as possible; however, others don’t and abuse the right. Free publications, such as The Explorer, have encountered extreme couponers taking 30 or more newspapers from the box just for the inserts.
In a May 6 press release, News America Marketing said a television reality series has shown some shoppers using illegal methods to obtain coupons.
“Due to the show ‘Extreme Couponing’ there has been significantly increased interest by the public in couponing recently,” the release stated. “While we welcome the promotion of coupon usage, some episodes appear to portray shoppers using illegal methods to obtain and use coupons, including going to newspapers to obtain multiple copies of our SmartSource coupon interests.”
News America’s policy states it is illegal for any inserts not distributed in newspapers to be taken, given away or donated. Publications failing to follow set procedures could be dropped from the market list, or even face prosecution.
While couponing is nothing new, the practice has become more popular over the last year, since the reality show began airing. The show features shoppers nationwide who take saving money to extreme. Couponers are shown proudly displaying their stockpiles of food and other supplies meticulously organized in sheds, pantries and garages.
While some seem over-the-top in their shopping, all provide viewers with some kind of insight in to how to save at the grocery store.
Ashcroft said sometimes she laughs at the show, but she understands how to save just as the people featured do.
JoEllen Lynn, a spokeswoman for the Fry’s Food Stores, said the TV show has increased coupon use, but with the added programs online and the economy, Fry’s has always had a lot of coupon traffic.
An Arizona Fry’s will soon be featured in “Extreme Couponing.” Last month, the show filmed a Sahuarita resident who was able to utilize Fry’s coupons to the fullest.
For busy, working families, Lynn said she reorganizes the time restraints for some to plan and clip coupons. Fry’s has implemented an online program where shoppers can log on to the website, review sales and coupons, and apply them to the Fry’s VIP savings card before heading to the store.
Lynn said the process takes minutes, but allows all families to utilize the savings.
From the reality series to local shoppers, a lot of residents are always looking for the best bargain on necessities.
Stocking up on good sales, Ashcroft has plenty of laundry detergent, body washes, shampoos, Kleenex, toilet paper and other household items stored in various places throughout her Marana home.
In her food pantry, the fruits of Ashcroft’s couponing labor is obvious. One wall from floor to ceiling is filled with canned goods; another section has 40 boxes of pasta and a lot of her stock includes cereal for her children that range in age between 4 and 12.
Ashcroft said an important part of being successful at saving is to know what every store offers. Fry’s offers matching for competitor’s coupons. Others offer the $1 off coupons, but many stores in Arizona have a three-coupon limit.
Some of her favorite coupons come from Walgreens and CVS. In a recent trip, Ashcroft spent $5.78 at Walgreens, but received $10 in rebates, meaning she made just over $4 on the trip.
With proper planning, Ashcroft said it’s nothing to go to a store and save between 50 and 90 percent when applying coupons properly.
As a contributor to KVOA’s SavvySavings program, Ashcroft said even the busiest of adults can save money just by taking some time to find the better deals, and get online as see what the stores are offering.
With sales ads, Ashcroft said the best deals are usually featured on the front and back pages.
Wanting to help friends and family learn how to save, Ashcroft manages the mysavvysavings.com blog. As popularity for her knowledge grew, she began teaching classes on how to cut your grocery bill in half.
Ashcroft’s last class had 50 students, and she is already scheduling classes in May and June.
With gas prices creeping higher, the cost to transport food to the stores has caused the increase. Looking at inflation, Ashcrsoft says she always tells her students to stock up when there are good deals. For example, when Ragu spaghetti sauce went on sale for $1, she stocked up.
Now, the lowest Ragu will go is $1.08.
“Once you know the items to watch for, you learn where to save,” she said. “You should always know the regular price of an item, know the best sales prices, and remember that just because something says it’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. The stores know how to market.”
By planning meals around items on sale each week, Ashcroft said families not as into clipping coupons can still save. Plan dinners for the week by looking at sales ads, and for every meal, go by the “cook once, eat twice,” rule. That means, get two meals from each meal cooked.
Ashcroft said looking at creative ways to use leftovers can also decrease the weekly grocery bill.
Tips to cut your grocery bill in half
1. Track your receipts
2. Track and know your best prices
3. Set a realistic goal
4. Using the weekly sales ads, create a weekly meal plan
5. Cook once, eat twice – make use of leftovers
6. Make shopping lists based on what is on sale and a menu plan
7. Shop alone
8. Best sales are on the front and back of your supermarket flier
9. Buy produce in season
10. Grow your own vegetables
11. Check your pantry to see what you already have
12. Shop 99 cent and Dollar Tree stores
13. Bread Outlet stores
15. Price match at Walmart by taking ads to store
16. Sign up for grocer store cards for Fry’s, Bashas and Safeway
17. Ask for rain checks when the grocery store is out of a sales item
18. Most bargains are found on the higher or lower shelves
19. Stock up on items when they hit their lowest prices
20. Limit shopping to one day per week.