Apples may grow on trees, but that doesn’t make them free.
If your last grocery trip emptied your wallet, coupon guru Lanelle Devlin has some advice: “Never pay full retail price on the stuff you want. By using coupons and in-store promotions, it doesn’t take much effort for me to save at least 50 percent.”
Devlin organizes coupon swaps and teaches classes on ways to stretch your grocery money. She purchases hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for a small fraction of their original price.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of groceries rose 6 percent in 2011. In 2010 grocery prices increased by 1.7 percent. And while grocery prices have gone up, many households have experienced a decline in monthly income.
Ali Perry attended her first coupon swap last week. The Bainbridge Island resident and mother of three encountered a dramatic cut to her work hours. To help close the financial gap, she’s turned to coupons and tries to seek out the best possible deal.
“I don’t have a choice,” Perry said. “I need to feed my kids.”
Perry said the real money-saving deals come when she combines a store coupon with a manufacture’s coupon. But she admits matching coupons and store-promotions can be challenging and labor-intensive.
“I think of it as a game,” Perry said. “How far can I stretch my money?”
Perry posts photos of her grocery receipts on Facebook, impressing her friends with her savings. One photo shows savings of 98 percent after a purchase.
An important part of being frugal is thinking ahead and being prepared. That means being aware of the grocery store cycles, Devlin said. Take Thanksgiving for example. The holiday is a great time to stock up on pie crusts and vegetable stock. The Fourth of July is the time to purchase chips and hot dog buns.
Knowing the cycles helps you stockpile items until the next big sale. Currently, Devlin has enough toiletries to last her family of three through next year. She recommends purchasing three Sunday papers each week, which should give you a sufficient amount of coupons. Once you have a coupon organizing system in place, it should take an hour or two to clip coupons and look through stores’ advertising circulars.
Devlin’s website, www.frugalinkitsap.com, offers different ideas on coupon organizing systems. It’s important to stay up to date with your coupons so you aren’t carting around a bunch of expired ones, she said. But don’t toss the invalid ones.
Overseas military can use coupons up to six months past their expiration. Devlin collects expired coupons at the coupon swap. To date, she’s sent coupons with a face value of $40,000 overseas.
The reality television show “Extreme Couponing” breathed new life into coupons. But Devlin said beginner couponers shouldn’t expect to immediately achieve the same results as seen on the show.
Instead, she suggests newbies tackle one store at a time, learning how in-store promotions work and how to combine coupons. Begin with a store you are familiar with, so you know the layout and can organize your trip based on the aisles.
There also are ethics involved with couponing.
“If you are going to have a triple-transaction, three-cart type of shopping trip, don’t go the day before Thanksgiving,” Devlin said. “Go to the store when it isn’t busy, like in the middle of the day, or late at night.”
She said being nice goes a long way and stressed it’s important to be courteous to the cashier, as well as to the people in line behind you.
“Let the people behind you know that you have a bunch of coupons and multiple transactions,” Devlin said. “Let them know you may be awhile and they may wish to go to a different checkout line.”
Another considerate idea is to pre-order items that you know you want to purchase in vast quantities, thus leaving plenty on the shelf for others. Most grocery stores are happy to assist you with pre-ordering.
If you think you are ripping off the store by using coupons, Devlin said that isn’t the case. Not only do the stores receive the value of the coupon from the manufacturer, but they also receive an eight-cent handling fee.
Always on the lookout for a bargain, both Perry and Devlin said they often purchase items for very little – and sometimes get items for free – and donate the products to local food banks.
“I may not be able to write a check for a big donation, but I am able to donate some cereal that will help start someone’s day off a little better,” Perry said.
Devlin doesn’t charge for classes or for the coupon swap, but asks participants to donate canned goods. She’s collected 800 pounds of food for the Central Kitsap Food Bank.
“Even if I was a millionaire, I’d still coupon,” Devlin said. “I don’t understand why you would pay full price if you don’t have to.”So, does she ever splurge?
“Yes,” admitted Devlin. “I love the raspberries at Costco. I usually purchase two containers, and eat one on the drive home.”
Held the first Saturday of the month, 9:30-10:30 a.m. at Subway, 2238 NW Bucklin Hill Road, Silverdale. Bring canned food donations and coupons you don’t need.