While clipping coupons to save a quarter or two on laundry soap or chicken nuggets might seem like a marginal use of time, an increasing number of shoppers are mining the coupon vein for substantial chunks of change.
Inspired by television tales of "extreme couponing," some savvy shoppers are saving enough to fill their gas tanks, take family vacations and enable their households to survive on one income.
For shoppers serious about trimming costs, consider taking a class. The cities of Medford and Central Point and Rogue Community College offer classes on couponing taught by Genevieve McPartland. She can be reached by email at email@example.com. She plans to post her upcoming classes at http://oregoncouponlady.blogspot.com.
For information on Mary Smith's classes and blog,
Your mother's and grandmother's couponing efforts these are not.
In this day and age, coupons in the Sunday paper are just the tip of the savings iceberg. Blogs, websites and newsletters — along with deals offered through store websites — can help maximize savings on food and other household items.
Shows such as The Learning Channel's "Extreme Couponing" have portrayed coupon-campaign veterans saving 90 percent or more on their bills. But local coupon gurus say newbies or "part-timers" with a few skills under their belts can comfortably trim half of their monthly grocery costs using coupons.
Savings depend on the types of items in shoppers' carts and their willingness to plan shopping trips, says Erica Yohner of Medford.
Yohner, who shifted from full-time employee to stay-at-home-mom last year, has been able to reduce her monthly food costs by at least half for her family of six.
"I have saved anywhere from 60 to 85 percent on my grocery bill," she says. "There is such an awesome feeling, when the checker is finished scanning all your coupons, to see your grocery total go from $250 all the way down to $75."
Yohner says blogs and email newsletters are a great starting point. A local favorite, www.peaceloveandcoupons.com, offers advice for scoring deals around the Rogue Valley and at national chain stores. She also suggests www.athriftymom.com and www.thriftyandthriving.com.
To get started, plan to spend a few minutes clipping coupons from Sunday newspapers and looking at store websites. Even for shoppers not looking to spend much time clipping coupons, saving a few dollars can take just a few minutes a day, says Genevieve McPartland, who teaches local classes on couponing.
"You can make it into a full-time job very easily, but most people don't have time for that. I spend 15 minutes a day on average," says McPartland, who encourages people to maximize their savings by parlaying coupons with store sales.
"Watch the ads and when the item goes on sale, use a manufacturer coupon and a store coupon," she points out.
"Like when Albertsons does its '10 for $10,' do that and use a coupon on top of it, and you can really save a lot."
Utilize doublers and special offers, suggests Central Point resident Mary Smith, who also teaches couponing classes and hosts a local blog at www.savingwithjoy.com.
One of her favorite strategies kicks in when Albertsons offers "doublers," which allow shoppers to double up to three coupons. The offer comes out Sundays and is good for only three days. But with store sales, doublers and coupons, it's sometimes possible to get items for free.
Big-time store savings aren't as easy to accomplish in the Rogue Valley, couponing experts say, because doublers aren't as common here. In larger areas with more stores, many honor competitors' prices.
Coupon etiquette is a point of honor for veterans. Be considerate of other couponers and store employees, they say, by respecting coupon rules and maximums. If you get a really good deal, pay it forward by donating items to charity or leaving coupons for fellow shoppers to enjoy.
While couponing can make a big impact, don't discount any amount of savings, advises Smith.
"On TV, they show people saving 90 percent and getting bags of groceries for free. In this valley, that's not realistic, but you can save, comfortably, 40 to 60 percent," says Smith. "Some people may not think that's worth the time or it's not much savings, but it's a tank of gas."
With so many families in a financial pinch, coupons can improve quality of life and help save needed dollars for other expenses or household needs, says Smith.
"There are billions of dollars in coupons thrown away every year, which is kind of a sad thing," she says. "The typical American family spends about $600 a month on food — that's $7,200 annually just on food.
"In this area, most of the families living on minimum wage in a two-income household are earning about $35,000 a year, which would make groceries a big chunk of their income.
"If you can get $1,400 worth of stuff for $400, or shave a grocery bill in half, why wouldn't you?" Smith asks.
"I'm not too busy to save the amount of money I'm able to save. I don't know who would be."