I watched TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” with premiered the last week of December 2010, with great interest; I’ve used coupons for over 20 years, but never have I snagged the deals that the individuals featured on the show did. I was floored by the thoughts of 1100 boxes of cereal, which was part of Nathan Engels’ order, and shopper Amanda Ostrowski’s purchase of 150 candy bars.
Ironically, Ostrowski works as a storage facility manager, but she finds true fulfillment in the storage of 3000 rolls of toilet paper she has in her Ohio home, enough to last forty years. And to think, I’ve been happy with a 12-pack of Scott and a dollar off coupon.
Ostrowski, who started using coupons four years ago, devotes about 70 hours per week to couponing, using the Internet and clipping services to keep her stockpile growing.Ostrowski acknowledged that couponing comes with a price, such as sacrificing time with her husband, including canceling dinner plans just to go shopping. “I take great pride in my stockpile,” she said on the show. “The bigger it is the better I feel.”
During the shopping trip featured on “Extreme Couponing,” it took a day off work, nine shopping carts and help from her husband to get the job done. No one was prepared for the cash register to crash though, which is exactly what happened. This meant cashiers had to separate and rescan the items and the coupons. The total for the groceries was $1175.33. The cost for the Ostrowski’s: $51.67.
Nathan Engels of Kentucky has a strategy for getting good deals. “Shopping is like chess,” he said. “You’re trying to beat the opponent, which is the store.” Engels and his wife began using coupons several years ago in an effort to cut down on their student loan debt.
Engels buys 10 newspapers a week to get the coupons, and currently has 10,000 items packed into his garage, including 50 pound of cheese. He estimates the stockpile is worth $50 to $75,000, but cost him about $1000.
His big shopping trip netted 1100 boxes of cereal, which he donated to a food bank, 300 toothbrushes and 60 bottles of handsoap. His total came to $5,743, for which he paid $241.
Joyce House of Pennsylvania is a retired nurse who learned to support herself at an early age. She began clipping coupons as a young, single mother; a package of diapers she’d purchased was unusable. When she called the manufacturer, they sent her a coupon, which whetted her appetite for a good deal.
These days, House goes door to door to collect coupons from friends and neighbors who save them for her. “Coupons have allowed me to be debt-free,” she said. House also educates others on the benefits of using coupons, including shoppers who happen to be in the store when she’s there. House paid $6.32 for 230.38 worth of groceries.
Joanie Demer of California is a stay-at-home mom who really knows how to stretch a buck. She doesn’t hesitate to jump into a dumpster to dig for coupons because of the payoff involved. Demer began couponing four years ago after her husband lost his job and her daughter was hospitalized. She felt helpless, she said, but found that couponing gave her a sense of control.
Demer even carefully selects the cashiers who will check out her order. “I cashier-profile,” says Demer, who looks for young male cahiers who tend to be easygoing. Her grocery total was $638.64, but after coupons she paid $2.64.
While most of us will never go to such extremes to get groceries cheap or free, these couponers are an inspiration to those who truly want to save money. If I could garner even a quarter of the savings recounted here, I would be satisfied.