Friday, April 8, 2011

'Extreme Couponing' gone too far? Expert offers tips on how to save big without obsessing

Tiffany Ivanovsky uses her coupon clipping skills while shopping with her family on the new TLC reality show 'Extreme Couponing'.

Tiffany Ivanovsky uses her coupon clipping skills while shopping with her family on the new TLC reality show 'Extreme Couponing'.

There are thrifty shoppers and then there are people who live to save.

The families on the new TLC reality series "Extreme Couponing" use their clipping skills to save thousands at the register.  

Armed with her coupons and her savvy saving know-how, show subject J'aime Kirlew, a Maryland mom of three, manages to exit a supermarket with four carts of food and products for a mere $103 – saving a stunning $1,750.

Times are tougher and people want more for less. 

"For a family that is looking to stretch their income and find new ways to save, and for those who have the time to hunt down coupons and plan out shopping trips to various stores to take advantage of their coupons, then it could be effective," consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch told the News. 

But do you have to devote many hours of your week to finding deals online and in your local paper to make these kinds of savings?

Absolutely not, said Jill Cataldo, consumer coupon expert and syndicated columnist. 

"You only need to devote an hour a week, maybe two for substantial savings," she told the Daily News. "Grocery list matchup sites can help you find the stores near you and the products you want to save on." 

Woroch suggests printable in-store coupons available at sites like CouponSherpa, iPhone coupon apps and finding stores where you can double on your coupons for twice the savings. 

Cataldo, a mom of two, said that part of her job as a mother is the home economist. Clipping coupons and being a smart saver is a major help. She uses coupons to save big on high-price items at Walgreens and CVS, like Gillette razors and deodorant. 

Often combing coupons and freebies add up to scoring items for free.

Coupons and freebies are great for supermarkets – especially non perishables like cereal and canned and frozen foods. Super-coupon clippers often own an extra freezer for meats and veggies bought on sale and in bulk.

"I've stocked up on 20 pounds of pork chops for $1.03 a pound," said Cataldo. "I'm stocked up for three months. The price may go up to $3 a pound."

But can a person go from being crazy about saving money to just plain, well, crazy?

"If you aren't willing to clip, search online for coupons, dive in dumpsters and recycling bins for extra newspapers and circulars which contain those coupons, then extreme couponing may not be for you," advised Woroch.

Some signs that the clipping is becoming an obsession? Spending hours and hours a week instead of one or two, said Cataldo.  

When you find yourself driving all over town to take advantage of deals on products that you wouldn't normally purchase or probably won't use, it's time to rethink.

Also, if you've got entire rooms in your house devoted to stockpiles of mustard, conditioner, paper towels and Tater Tots, you've gone too far.

"I've got two plastic shelves for items I've stocked up on," she said. "Once I've gone past that, the overflow goes to the food pantry."

Another sign that you've taken the savings past the point of reason: Buying and eating things that you don't like or compromising your nutrition.

"My family eats a lot of organic products, no high-fructose corn syrup. Coupons do exist for healthier foods, you just have to find them," she said. 

She admits that she understands how people get hooked.

"It's a thrill," she said. "Especially at the beginning when you see how much you can save. But you can't let it take over your life."

You don't have to be an "extreme couponer" to get savings -- casual clippers do well too.

"Consumers who spend just 20 minutes per week seeking out online deals and coupons can save up to $1,000 a year," said Woroch.



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