Do You Love The TLC Show 'Extreme Couponing'? Then Meet Kathy Spencer, Couponing Guru And Author of "How To Shop For Free" Who Once Bought $500 Worth of Groceries for A Penny!
Learn how to become a master couponer and get your groceries for free! Plus tips on saving at the mall and on organic foods.
Kathy Spencer, author of How To Shop For Free: Shopping Secrets for Smart Women Who Love To Get Something For Nothing, and a mother of four, used to worry about money. Five years ago, her husband Brian was up for a big promotion when he was hospitalized with life-threatening pneumonia.
As the primary breadwinner for our family of six, his medical bills and prolonged absence from work hit the family hard financially.
While he was recovering, Kathy began looking for ways to save money. She explains: "One day in between trips to the hospital, I ran into a convenience store to buy a carton of juice. I found a bottle of cranberry that was on sale for a dollar that I happened to have a coupon for. The coupon gave me a dollar off that brand, so guess what – the juice was free. That’s when the light bulb went off – what if I applied this shopping strategy to more than just cranberry juice? I decided to go for broke and began challenging myself to get everything my family needed for free."
Today, Kathy and her husband have no credit card debt and never fight about money. In this interview with Commitmentnow.com, Kathy explains her strategies for successful couponing--and how you can become a master couponer too!
"The irony is that my husband never got his promotion and yet, we live a life of abundance because I’ve discovered the secret to having more of what we want, for less. And guess what? Anyone can learn how to shop for free and have it all just like we do," Kathy says.
Commitmentnow.com: Can you explain how you end up paying nothing for so many products?
Kathy: My strategy is simple: if I can get an item for free, I get as many of those items as possible. Shopping for free is a numbers game. When I do the math and figure out that I’ll be able to match a store promotion or sale with a coupon to get an item for free, I get my hands on as many of those winning coupons as possible.
Some of my strategies include:
• Getting multiple inserts out of the free papers around town (I have a three-drawer filing cabinet stuffed full of coupon inserts)
• Buying coupons on eBay
• Ordering coupons from coupon clipping services
• Scoring high-value exclusive coupons from Facebook
• Cashing in on buy-one/get-one, rebate and rain check offers
• Using store credit cards for percentage-off perks and free gifts
• Rolling Catalina deals (this is when the free stuff piles up!)
• Knowing what items to shop for at particular times of the year. For example, July is the best month to buy summer sandals, tanks, shorts and bathing suits at absurdly low prices. Also, don’t miss the massive Target toy clearance in July!
Commitmentnow.com: Walk us through the steps of becoming a master couponer. What are the five steps I need to take to get the most out of couponing?
1.Get your hands on as many coupons as you can.
2. Learn your stores’ coupon policies. Find out if they double coupons and accept “printable” coupons, for example.
3. Don’t shop without a plan. Match manufacturer and store coupons with weekly store sales ahead of time. Know what you’re buying before you buy it.
4. Start challenging yourself to think differently. Stop looking at the unit price; make “free” your bottom line.
5. Stockpile items when they are free.
Commitmentnow.com: How and why did you first get involved in couponing?
Kathy Spencer: Five years ago, my husband Brian was up for a big promotion when he was hit with a cold that within days landed him in the hospital with life-threatening pneumonia.
As the primary breadwinner for our family of six, his medical bills and prolonged absence from work hit us very hard financially. While he was recovering, I began scheming ways we could save money. One day in between trips to the hospital, I ran into a convenience store to buy a carton of juice. I found a bottle of cranberry that was on sale for a dollar that I happened to have a coupon for.
The coupon gave me a dollar off that brand, so guess what – the juice was free. That’s when the light bulb went off – what if I applied this shopping strategy to more than just cranberry juice? I decided to go for broke and began challenging myself to get everything my family needed for free.
Today, we look like we have it all. We live in a 3,000 square-foot home on nearly three acres of land in an affluent community. My husband and I drive vehicles that we paid for in cash. My kids and I wear brand-name clothes. Our oldest is in college and we have no credit card debt. What’s more, my husband and I never fight about money. How many married couples can say that?
The irony is that my husband never got his promotion and yet, we live a life of abundance because I’ve discovered the secret to having more of what we want, for less. And guess what? Anyone can learn how to shop for free and have it all just like we do.
Commitmentnow.com: Can you explain to us how to use manufacturers coupons and store coupons?
Kathy: Manufacturer coupons are issued by the big manufacturers like General Mills and Proctor and Gamble, and can be found in the weekly Sunday paper and online at sites like coupons.com, smartsource.com and redplum.com.
Store coupons are issued directly from the stores you shop in and can be found in their weekly circulars and online at the store website. Manufacturer (MFR) and store coupons can be combined to maximize savings.
Don’t be fooled—you can use a MFR and store coupon on the purchase of a single product. In addition, drug stores like CVS, Walgreen’s and Rite Aid have money savings programs that reward participating customers with “Extra Care Bucks,” “Register Rewards” and “UP’s”, respectably when they buy advertised products.
These rewards, either printed out on your receipt or handed to you separately at checkout, is basically money in your hand.
These cash credits can be used to purchase anything in the store—including sale and clearance items. Needless to say, these programs allow shoppers to get great deals on make up, and all their health and beauty items for practically nothing!
Commitmentnow.com: How can a person organize their coupons in way that is easy to keep track of?
Kathy: Put away the scissors! I don’t cut coupons until I am ready to shop. Until then, I file my coupon inserts by date in a filing cabinet. Manufacturer coupons usually don’t expire for up to three months, so your inserts will stack up fast. For this reason, organization is very important. It’s only until I spot a great sale that I search the coupon database on www.howtoshopforfree.net to determine whether or not a coupon exists for the product I want. If it does, the database will tell me the insert it’s in. That’s when I go to my coupon cabinet and pull them out. This is a system I recommend to all my readers. It will save you lots of time and energy.
Commitmentnow.com: What have been some of your biggest victories as a couponer?
Kathy: Some of my better-documented deals have been $500.00 worth of groceries for 1 penny. Some of my better bargains include five years worth of laundry detergent for free; free Dyson vacuums, Macleran baby strollers and car seats from Target; UGGS and designer clothing free through the website Shop It To Me; and a pantry built for free because I taught the contractor’s wife how to—you guessed it-- shop for free.
Commitmentnow.com: What are some of your favorite and best web sites for couponing? Where do you get most of your coupons?
Kathy: I get most of my online “printable” coupons from coupons.com. I get the bulk of my paper coupons from a free local newspaper that includes coupon inserts once a week. I also trade for coupons on my website, www.howtoshopforfree.net, in the trading forum.
Collecting coupons from a variety of sources is the best way to build your savings stash. I know a lot of bargainistas who use e-coupons (coupons that you “load” directly onto your store savings card from the store website) and mobile coupons (bar codes or text messages that manufacturers send directly to your phone that you simply show to the cashier at check out).
Opportunities to save are everywhere, so start looking around and designate a savings strategy that complements your lifestyle.
Commitmentnow.com: What mistakes do most people make when they start couponing?
Kathy: Most newbie couponers hope to eliminate their grocery bill over night, but it doesn’t usually happen that way. Shopping for free requires that you think about spending in a whole new way. This includes getting a plan and strategy in place before you enter the store. What I’ve discovered is that finding the best deal is the result of learning the right mathematical equation.
I look at every thing I want as a math problem and have discovered that there is always a way to get anything and everything for free.
As it is with all math problems, some are easy to solve while others are harder, but the answer is always there. Be patient. Learn from others who have already cracked the code. Many of the members on my site, www.howtoshopforfree.net, are more than willing to hold your hand and teach you the ropes.
Commitmentnow.com: Is there really a way to save at the mall? If so, how?
Kathy: You simply have to start thinking strategically and make deals happen. Before you hit the mall, google the name of the store you’re going to plus +printable coupon. Nine times out of ten, you can start saving money before you even walk into the mall.
In addition, check out the store’s website and Facebook page for deals. Sign up for the store’s membership rewards card and they will reward you with free goodies throughout the year.
There are so many great membership clubs out there that regularly reward members with freebies, samples, high-value coupons and secret sales. Ask your favorite retailer if they have one-- most do!
I love Sephora’s Beauty Insider program where you earn big points for every purchase you make. You can apply these points towards makeup, skin care and fragrances, among other things. Plus, members are invited to private events and gifted on birthdays.
At Victoria’s Secret when you sign up for the “Angel” credit card, you get loaded up with coupons for free undies and $10 off coupons that can be used to score lotions, sprays and lip balm for free.
And at Aerie, if you join their “insider” program, you get gifted every month with freebies like socks, t-shirts and canvas bags.
Commitmentnow.com: If a person wants to eat healthy, do coupons really apply to them? What about those who say you can never save on things like organic meats or fruits and vegetables?
Kathy: A lot of people have a hard time believing that that I get meat, fresh veggies and organic food for free, but it’s true! What many shoppers don’t know is that coupons for fresh fruit exist.
For example, Kellogg’s often issues a coupon that gives you money off your favorite fruit when you buy two boxes of one of their cereals.
If you have coupons to get Special K, for example, for free, then you can get both the fruit and the cereal for nothing.
As for produce, you can always get frozen veggies-- and often organic frozen veggies--- for free. With a .50 coupon that you can double, there’s always something on sale for $1, and then it’s free.
Believe it or not, I often find discounts on organic food on the big coupon sites like coupons.com and smartsource.com.
An even better bet is to go directly to your favorite brand or product websites, like Organic Valley and Seventh Generation, to maximize savings.Whatever you eat a lot of or have brand loyalty to, go to the company website and see what savings are available.A smart way to get organic meat for low prices is to shop at a local butcher shop.
Many independent butchers are realizing that in order to compete with big manufacturer sales on meat, they have to lower their prices. If you find a great per pound price at your local butcher shop, buy in bulk and stock up.
Commitmentnow.com: Here's a scenario: say I am having a big barbecue at my house in two months--how do I prepare now to get $200 worth of barbecue items for free?
Kathy: Start making a list of what you need and then start searching on store websites and weekly circulars for deals. Barbeque sauce and condiments will almost always be free when you match a coupon with a store sale.
Right after the fourth of July weekend, ketchup, mustard, relish, hot dogs, hamburger and hot dog buns will be marked down everywhere. Match these sales with a coupon and stockpile! In addition, start checking the beer aisle. Many times you will find rebate coupons for fresh meat when you buy a particular brand of beer. I’ve scored over $30 worth of free hamburger and steak tips this way!
To Purchase "How to Shop For Free: Shopping Secrets for Smart Women Who Love To Get Something for Nothing" click here.
About the Authors: Kathy Spencer's shopping skills have been featured in various media outlets, including The Boston Globe. She lives with her family outside of Boston, Massachusetts.
Samantha Rose is an Emmy award-winning television writer and the executive producer of YellowSkyMedia. She lives in Austin, Texas with her family.