Shopping ‘centsibly’ with coupons

The steady beep of the cash register signals victory for Holly Wheeler; the receipt she walks out with proclaims, in writing, her triumph over the ever increasing cost of feeding a family.

“We’ve cut our monthly grocery expenses by more than 50 percent in less than a year,” Wheeler said. “And it’s not rocket science.”

It’s coupon clipping.

Wheeler of North Shelby turned to the ritual to shave money off her grocery bill.

“I didn’t really get into it until last year when my husband went back to school to get his doctorate,” she said. “I had to take a harder look at our finances and trim the fat.”

Every week Wheeler feeds her family of four, which includes a 2–and–a–half –year-old and a 5–year-old, with a single $50 bill. Some weeks she even brings home change.

When she does, she uses the change to cover household cleaning items. Sometimes she even finds these things on sale too.

“If Lysol is on sale for 19 cents, I buy a lot of Lysol,” she said.

Take one week’s savings for example. About a month ago, Wheeler saved more than she spent at Publix.

The end of her receipt read like this: store coupons $5.49, vendor coupons $19.25, advantage special savings $27.73, advantage buy $0.69; total saved $53.16.

Wheeler now wants to make sure she’s not the only one saving money for her family. She’s even taught classes on coupon clipping at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church.

Sharla Rose, also of North Shelby, took Holly’s tips and applied them to her own family’s budget.

“Just seeing her success caught my attention,” Rose said. “It didn’t take her a ton of time to save a ton of money.”

Rose started out creating a stockpile of basic items. She bought extra diapers when they were on sale and plenty of pasta when boxes were buy one get one free.

By the third month, her savings really kicked in. She spent about $380, but bought $790 worth of groceries. This month she said she might spend only $250.

Rose said another advantage to coupon clipping is the chance it affords you to help others.

“I definitely have enough of a stockpile for my family, the neighbors should one of them lose their job and for local ministries,” Rose said.

Many of the women involved even pick up free items they might not need to donate them to the Lovelady Center in Birmingham. Wheeler said anyone can do the same.

“It’s trendy right now,” Wheeler said. “I’ve found that more and more people are catching on.”

So many people are catching on she’s even created her own blog. Centsibleshopper.com teaches visitors about strategies like coupon stacking.

Coupon stacking is essential to saving larger amounts of money, Wheeler said.

To coupon stack a shopper must watch for store coupons matching the manufacturer coupons they clip out of the paper or print off the Internet.

For example, if you’re lucky, you might catch a particular white bread on sale BOGO (buy one get one free) and have a $1 off coupon for that same brand.

Before you know it, you’ve purchased two loaves of bread for $1.

Coupons alone won’t do it, Wheeler said, not if you want to see big savings. She said to aim for saving 10 percent of your normal grocery bill at first. Then slowly try to increase your savings.

Wheeler said anyone can save $5 here or even $15 there. To really slash your bill, however, she said you must plan your meals. By doing so you can maximize your savings.

“It completely changes the way you shop,” she said. “The meal planning is part of it. If you can’t meal plan you will struggle.”

Wheeler suggests taking three to four months to create a stockpile of basics.