The secrets of extreme couponing

Aug 12, 2011

Meet veteran bargain hunter Kimberly Pepper-Hoctor. Not only does she save a ton of money when shopping, but she has also taken her skills to the next level by sharing her secrets with other bargain hunters as a couponing instructer, "a vocation born of the recession."

Kimberly answered readers' questions about couponing. Read now! Your pocketbook with thank you later.

Related: : Md. couponing expert teaches the art and science of saving through clipping

Thank you so much for having me here today.  I'm very excited to answer questions about couponing and saving with coupons.

From what I've seen, this sort of thing is a form of hoarding. Why do so many "extreme couponers" buy , or really not buy, hundreds of things, not just the ones they'll actually use? Doesn't this sort of thing just raise costs for everyone as companies raise prices to cover your compulsions? Giving excess items away is a sad excuse.

I don't think that utilizing coupons and stocking up on items necessarily means hoarding.  I have a stockpile of basic staples such as TP, shaving cream, toothpaste, etc...this will last us about two months when it goes on sale again.  There are extreme people in everything out there - couponing include....but that is a small percentage of people.  I don't have a garage full of items...but rather a linen closet full of items we use.  As for your second part about giving away excess is a sad excuse...that is too bad to have that kind of attitude.  I have family members and military families that have been hit hard by the economy...if I'm able to help with my couponing (and I'm saving a ton of money for them), then I'm really helping people in need.  I think we need more people to help our communities rather than complain about them.

What's your opinion on the relative merits of shopping at a bulk discounter (Costco) vs. shopping weekly sales?

I used to shop bulk because I thought I was saving money...but when I really added up the numbers...I was actually paying more for bulk.  For example...Costco may have a 36-roll of Charmin on sale for 24.99...and I have a $1.00 off coupon...that takes it down to $23.99 or .66 a roll.  But my grocery store has a 12pk roll of Charmin on sale for $6..then minus my $1 off coupon...that makes it $5 or .42 a roll...obviously the cheaper one is the grocery store.  If you take a couple minutes to find out the rate per item...I think you'll find most things are cheaper in smaller quanitities

I have volunteered with food banks both sorting the donations and packing bags for the families in need. There needs to be a better way... Food banks need to sort and organize the food that is donated and then distribute it to those in need. It would be much better if they could buy the food in bulk. After watching some of the shows on extreme coupons and the stockpile of items the people collect I must say that any food bank program would be blessed to have their services to do shopping to stock the food bank. It would have the added benefits of being easier to sort the foods as they are purchased in bulk at one time. I would encourage food banks to ask people to donate the cash value of their canned good and let the food bank use the cash to purchase the foods using coupons and sales to their advantage.

Your quote "after watching some of the shows on extreme coupons and the stockpile of items the people collect I must say that any food bank program would be blessed to have their services..." I agree with you fully.  But please don't discount the fact that some of these people HAVE donated items to people in need as well as military troops.  There are numerous people who coupon shop and donate items that they get a good price for.  I donate dog and cat food to local shelters as well as military food pantries.  A great idea would be to do a call-out to your community and volunteers and see if someone would be willing to donate their bulk items or set-up a couponathon and see if you can't get coupons to shop and fill the food bank.

Do you find that couponing tends to encourage people towards packaged, processed (and generally less healthy) foods, as opposed to fresh foods, which there are rarely coupons for?

Great question....I think there is a mix of good and bad options.  There plenty of processed food coupons, but there are just as many healthy option coupons that I use consistently such as eggs, organic milk, soy milk, real butter, cheese (not the processed stuff) etc.  Whole foods has some great coupons and many organic food producers are putting out more and more coupons to make people choose healthlier food choices.  I have a issue with gluten...so I can't eat a lot of processed foods (plus both my husband and I choose to eat organic).  My main point in my classes is to teach people how to make healthier choices...look for organic coupons...if you have a favorite organic product (mine is Stonyfield Milk)...then go to their website and see if they offer coupons...or email them and ask for some coupons.  Additionally, I use a ton of coupons to buy my staples items such as TP, toothpaste, deodorant, etc....because I save so much on this...I have extra money to use towards meats and produce - which can be quite expensive...but I can afford it since I saved so much on everything else

When I have watched shows about extreme couponing, I have always felt like there was something there else besides saving money. I can't imagine someone needing 100 tubes of toothpaste. I assume that the technique to get it in bulk using a combination of coupons and sales would work for buying just 2 or 3 tubes of toothpaste. Most likely, the same sale/coupon combination will come again making it unnecessary to buy 100 packages at a time. I would think there is actually more value from buying in moderation as almost all products have a shelf life. Also, it would save the unseen costs of having to gather 100 copies of the coupon when it would be much easier to get just 2 or 3 copies.

I think extreme couponing has done some good in terms of bring couponing into the light...so people are not as upset when someone ahead of them are using coupons...but I do think that the show has given most of us average couponing folks a bad rap.  I do buy enough to keep us stocked up for 2 months...because I know they will go on sale again in 2 months.  I do buy some items more than 2 at a time, because 1) there is a good sale; and 2) I know that if we can't use it...I have immediate family members and military families that can use it.  I think if you can save $20...isn't that better than not saving at all in this economy?

Kimberly, the story on you said that you do not charge for classes whereas some couponing experts do. I do not mean to sound cynical, but what is in it for you? Are you working on your personal brand for some sort of eventual gain? You obviously value money (hence, the effort to save!); why not capitalize on your expertise?? It seems insane not to get something out of it. That said, I do love the idea of you teaching free classes to other military families. Bravo to that!

End game...thanks for the question.  There is nothing in it for me.  Before the article...I was just an average girl helping out other military families and folks in my community.  I wanted to teach people the realities of couponing and to show them that shows like Extreme Couponing is not completely an everyday reality.  I started teaching these classes to military families because they are often the hardest hit in terms of financial and economics.  I will continue to teach those military folks for free because their husband or wife is fighting for me and my country...its the least I can do for them.  Pay it forward

there seem to be alot of them out there. how can we tell the legitimate ones from the frauds?

In my class I give a list of legit websites.  The best rule of thumb I can give anyone is 1) get a separate email account for couponing...because if you'll get spamed and 2) don't ever pay for a coupon clipping service.  The best websites to go to are coupons.com, redplum.com, smartsource.com, and the drugstore websites (Rite Aid, Target, CVS, etc.)  Hope that helps

I have always wondered this: When you spend hours on clipping and downloading and spreadsheeting and price-comparing -- and then even more time (and gas) driving to various stores and doing the actual shopping -- do you still end up saving? Given the deep discounts you find, I'm guessing it is worth it. But have you seen any studies on this?

I take a couple hours of my Saturday or Sunday and figure things out.  I use a spreadsheet, because I'm fast at it and I'm a techno-kind of girl (it helps me collect my thoughts)...the money that I save when I do major shopping every 6 weeks...not only saves me money, but saves gas too...plus living in an area where things are not that far away is kind of a non-issue. 

Aside from the weekend newspaper, where should I look for coupons?

Online is a great source...but be careful what sites you go to...there are a lot of "phising" sites...the best ones to find coupons online are coupons.com, redplum.com, smartsource.com, and all the stores websites (Rite Aid, CVS, Target, etc.)

I understand the idea of stockpiling staples when they are really cheap, and I do love that you give some of what you get to relatives and families in need. But three dozen tubes of toothpaste for a family of two??? Girl, we need to talk. :)

At least my husband and I have lovely teeth and fresh breath...and it has even saved on our dental costs - which can be costly as we all know.  Doesn't that seem worth having that much toothpaste? lol

I am interested to hear more about your desire to save even when you were making a nice salary. I maintain that *everybody* likes getting a deal, no matter how much money you have. But because coupons require work, most people who make a comfortable living don't bother. How did you motivate yourself to clip and plot when you were probably very busy at work -- and probably didn't need the savings?

I started at a very early age.  My mom was a florist and my dad a construction worker...back in the late '70s and early '80s during another recession...my father lost his job...so we had a hard time making ends meet.  My mom always couponed (because my grandmother was from the depression era...and she couponed)...but we did even more couponing then...so I learned.  As time went on...my college days I HAD to coupon because I had no money and all the money I earned went back into paying for college...so it became ingrained in my DNA of-sorts.  Even when I was making good money, I still couponed...I couldn't see paying full price for something that I knew I could save on (another lesson from my ECON classes..haha)...but now being a military spouse...our wage is low and my continuous couponing has helped us.  You never know what is going to happen...its best to always have good saving skills no matter what.  :-)

My problem with coupons is there will be coupon for a name brand yet a lesser name brand that is just as good, in my opinion, as the name brand is still cheaper. I don't feel I am actually saving any money by using the coupon. What would you do in a case llke this?

I am actually a brand snob with somethings (and others I'm not)...I love Gain detergent...and its the only detergent that doesn't hurt my sensitive skin...so I always look at when Gain goes on sale and I usally can get it cheaper by using mfg coupon and a store coupon then I would a no-name brand.   Also...the stores do put name brands on sale (usually cheaper than non-brands) in order to move inventory...that is why I suggest keeping an eye out on sales and knowing what prices are before the sale.  I hope that helps

From the story, he seemed to be bemused by your couponing habits. What did he think when he first learned you were a diligent couponer? Were you worried about his reaction? I am a big-time couponer as well and I was embarrased to tell my boyfriend; I thought I might scare him away!! lol But he thinks it is cool and has said it will be good for us when we have a family. (We are now engaged). I wish you would bring your class to Prince William where we live. It looks fun.

As for my husband...he thought I was nuts the first time I brought out all my coupons...then I took him shopping...he got scared because the amount of money he was totally up in his head (before coupons), but when we got to the check-out line and I used my coupons...he was amazed.  He had to go with me a couple of times to make sure the saving happened again...now he is proud of me...and even prouder that I help other military spouses save (especially the younger, enlisted ones).  As for the class in Prince William...I would be happy to do one there...go to the www.facebook.com/thegirllovescoupons and send me a  shout and we will talk

What are your favorite ones? I love Safeway because they double up to 99 cents. I like all the online coupons you can get for Target and I usually have good luck with their cashiers. I have my least favorites also but I dont want to mention them and give them any press.

I wish we had a Safeway and Whole Foods close to us...but we have Giant which is great.  I love Target, CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid...but I have gotten to know the managers very well and established a good relationship with them...which is one of the things I teach my students...because the managers will be the first to help you if there is an issue and they can guide you through the coupon policies - which are changing frequently.  I can tell you that there is one store I can't stand and that is Walmart...they are not coupon friendly at all...and give even us average couponers a hard time

I was inspired to read about you. I am a light coupon girl myself but have not figured out a good method yet to get the big savings. How did you wind up being written up by the Post?

I'm so glad to hear that you were inspired.  Thank you.  If you want to learn more...try to find a class that will help you...you can always go on my facebook page and get tips as well as find out about future classes www.facebook.com/thegirllovescoupons.  As for the Post coverage...it was a fluke...Josh Freedom duLac had found out about the class I was teaching and contacted me.  He was great to work with.

......but what hair products do you use and do you get good deals on them? love the red hair!! (my girls have it too, but not me)

Yes...Hair care too....but here is a tip.  My salon offers 20% off Wednesdays...so I can get my hair care for 20% on Wednesdays.  Ask you salon if they would offer you a discount if you bought exclusively from them...you might just be surprised.  My husband, on the other hand isn't brand loyal...so he doesn't mind store products and I get great deals on that.  But I do use store bought hairspray (Finese) and can usually get it for $1 with coupons.  And thanks for the compliment on the hair.  Go redheads!!

Kimberly! I was at the class the writer attended. I remember your secret about what you like to spend your savings on. You go girl!

Thanks....Can we say "I love Gain" 

Thanks for showing us what I think is a more reasonable and responsible way to save money rather than TLC's sensationalistic show. It seems like coupons expire a lot sooner these days and that the Sunday paper's sections have fewer coupons that I am interested in them. Have you found this to be the case? Since I am just one person it doesn't make sense for me to buy a ton of stuff and lots of coupons these days seem to require that you buy multiple items to be able to use them. What I really love is my local store's "Super Double Coupon" weeks where any coupon up to $1.98 is doubled (up to some limited number that I have never run into) rather than the usual $.99 limit. Doubling those $1 coupons is really awesome. Where my mother lives in FL almost no stores do double coupons but in our area here it seems to be the norm. Why is that?

Definitely since you are one person...you should use coupons.  It's money in your pocket (not to mention extra money for say a Starbucks coffee or a movie ticket)....I love the fact that you have Super Double Coupon weeks...a lot of places don't offer that....it really depends on your area.  Your mom's demographically area may not fit the bill with what retail marketers call "discount areas."  It may be at a higher income level or there is simply no competition for discounting.  Tell your mom to inquire at her favorite stores and ask them why they don't offer it...perhaps if they get enough inquiries...they will start offering discounts.

I have never bought more than a couple items because I feel we should all take our fair share and leave the good deals for others too. It is so unfair to see the shelf wiped clean by one greedy person. I was taught to take only one and leave enough for everyone else to have a chance too.

I think you are overgeneralizing coupon shoppers and putting them with a small percentage of folks that do wipe out shelves.  I would suggest if you see someone clearing a whole shelf...say something to them ask them (politely) to leave some for other shoppers.  We all want to save in this day and age.

That's nice, but the kind of stuff you can get with extreme coupons is processed food high in sodium, fat, sugar and chemicals. ALL people should eat fresh unprecessed vegetables and foods. Sodium is the silent killer, causing hypertension, stroke and heart attack. Sending a case of processed mac & cheese is not helping, but causing more disease in the elderly and poor, who can least deal with it.

Might I suggest that you do some research on couponing.  There are tons of coupons out there for organic food, low sodium options, and a heck of a lot of coupons for toliet paper, paper towels, soap, deodorant-things I don't plan on eating.  A great place for you to start is Wholefoods.com...they offer great coupons for organic food products.

Going to Costco once a month as opposed to several different stores every week (or more) saves me a ton of time. One trip, no coupon clipping. My time is valuable to me and I'm not going to spend my weekend running from store to store to save $0.24 on a roll of TP.

Let me ask you this...I go big shopping (or you might say bulk shopping like you do at Costco) every 6 weeks.  I save on average $75 to $150 dollars by using coupons and get things less expensive than if I was to go to Costco...they only difference is I'm using coupons and paying less than your trip once a month to Costco...that $75 to $150 helps me to pay for extra items such as a trip to Hawaii....I would see that as very valuable  and worth my time.

I'm not a coupon clipper but would love to start saving. After watching the show, it's wild that people actually receive money back or can even purchase hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for a fraction of the price. Of course, they're never local to the DC, MD, VA area and they have double coupons for their store, etc. What do you suggest for couponing in this area (websites, etc)?

I would definitely suggest looking at various websites and see how you can save....attend a class, etc.  But I do want to caution you about the reality of the Extreme Couponing show...you can't always get everything for free...and a lot of stores do not honor overages...you can get items for free, but the truth is that you are going to save between 20-60% by using coupons...which helps the bottom line.  A good website to get some information is the Krazycouponlady.com, totallytarget.com, or come by our forum on facebook www.facebook.com/thegirllovescoupons and get some local tips.

I've been couponing for about a year now but I only buy stuff I would buy anyway. I've been able to reduce my grocery costs about 30 percent. My pet peeve is store clerks that don't know the chain's own coupon policies and then give you a hard time and treat you like you're trying to cheat the store. any advice on how do deal with that issue?

I agree with you...and I've run into this problem as well.  My best advice is to get to know the store managers at the places you shop.  Talk to them on a regular basis to find out what their coupon policies are...then if you have a problem at the register...ask for the manager.  The other thing to do is find a cashier that is friendly with you and find out when they are there...and only go to their check-out area.  If all else fails...call the store's corporate office and let them know that you are a loyal customer...but their cashiers are making it extremely uncomfortable for you to continue shopping there and see if they can help.  Last, but not least...stop shopping at a store if they continue....I stopped shopping at Walmart for this very reason

Thanks for making my love of whole foods more doable. I didn't realize they had online coupons. I just checked, and everything from ricotta cheese to butter to juice is there! Awesome!

Awesome...I'm glad.  I love Whole Foods as well.  I'm really trying to get them to come to Southern Maryland.  WHOLE FOODS, if you are reading this...please come to Southern Maryland

Kimberly, just want to say I love your attitude and the answers you have given, esp. to those who are being quite critical. I'm a fairly regular reader of WaPo chats, and the negative comments from people (on I'm not talking on anything related to politics) is amazing. Thank you for reminding people what good we can do when we help others, not just cut them down!

Thank you for that...I really appreciate it.  I think we need to really pay attention to our community...and I'm especially protective of the military family community.  A lot of times we are the forgotten ones...the ones that are left behind (and sometimes permanently)...and the ones that need to make ends meet, take the kids to school, and keep it together when our loved ones are away...but if we come together as a community..it makes it a better place.

I'm a guy, and for me, saving money, whenever I can, can only be a prudent benefit. I benefit a lot from Catalina offerings. I used to get great savings at Super Fresh in the area, but they have sold or closed their stores because of the bankruptcy of their parent company, Great A&P. Now I shop at ShopRite, and enjoy extra savings loading up yourbucks offers on their card. Same for Harris Teeter. Their club card is great and offers extra savings with e-vic. Pairing the digital savings with the coupon savings, really is an added bonus. I guess the best way to prepare yourself for a big shopping outing is to make sure you know the store's coupon policy to avoid surprises.

Very well said....and I'm so glad to see a guy coupons too.  :-)  Thank you

Do you know if Whole Foods allows you to stack their website coupons with manufacturer coupons?

If it is a store coupon (meaning it says Whole Foods) and you have manufacturer coupon...they normally will take both...but I would suggest calling before you go to make sure there policy hasn't change.

I just want to say thank you for today's chat - you are one of the best couponing advocates I've heard. I really appreciate that you gave us leads to healthy items as well as pointed out that the "extreme couponing" tv show is unrealistic for most people.

Thank you to everyone coming out today and chatting with me.  I hope some of the things I have said help with you trying to save money.  You can always catch me at www.facebook.com/thegirllovescoupons or on twitter at grllovescoupons.  

Do you think it's worth having an extra freezer to store items? My freezer is rather small, so I don't stock much frozen stuff, even when there are sales. My neighbor has a freezer full of food in his basement, but I wonder if htat's worth it once you factor in the extra electricity for running a freezer.

Umm...that is an interesting question.  I guess it depends on how much you are going to use the items in the freezer.  If you have a big family and need to store meats and items...then yes, its worth it.  But if you are getting a freezer just for buying more just for the sake of it...then I think it might not be worth it.  Meats usually only last a good 6-months frozen before they are not really that good anymore. 

I just wanted to say thank you for having me today.  It was great being here.  I hope to see a bunch of you coupon shopping in the future.

Cheers,

Kimberly

In This Chat
Kimberly Pepper-Hoctor
Kimberly Pepper-Hoctor, a 30-year coupon veteran commonly known as "The Girl Loves Coupons," also is a seasoned communications professional whose community work gained her 2009 recognition as one of 10 top military spouses by The Flagship Newspaper and WVEC-TV. Kimberly now spends time teaching others how to coupon, runs a local forum on Facebook called thegirllovescoupons, is an independent consultant for Stella & Dot jewelry, and volunteers for various community programs in Southern Maryland.
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