Extreme couponing? Yeah, just a little ...
One day Jessica Bambeck-Lipp walked into the grocery store, grabbed two bottles of orange juice and walked out without paying a penny.
The Woodbury mother of two young girls was just happy to use two $1 off coupons for juice that was already on sale -- 10 for $10.
"I just wanted to get something for free and walk out," she said. "It was like they paid me to take stuff out of the store."
Since she started couponing, Bambeck-Lipp said she's saved an average of $150 a month on groceries and household goods.
With shows like TLC's Extreme Couponing, money-saving tips on the Web and increasing opportunities to print coupons online, couponing has become a trend in today's tough economy.
Local retailers continue to send out weekly ads that include store coupons. Discount stores like Target are now offering online coupons as a customer appreciation gesture, a corporate spokesperson said.
The more people save, the more they're motivated to continue couponing, as in the case of Bambeck-Lipp.
She's made it a habit to collect as many coupons as she can get her hands on, but only to buy the things her family absolutely needs.
Since moving into a new, larger home a couple of years ago, the Lipps, a family of four, saw their heating bill skyrocket and maintenance costs increase.
"After Christmas, I had this huge heating bill, but I still had to buy groceries," she said.
Now when the heating bill reaches the $500 to $600 range, it helps to have stuff in the pantry, Bambeck-Lipp said.
"It came in really handy to have a stockpile... cereal, things that we eat every day," she added.
Bambeck-Lipp said she makes sure she hits the store on "double day," which is Wednesday at the local Rainbow Foods.
As she circles the entire store, she scans every aisle for sales, discounts and promotions. If she has coupons for items she needs, the savings at the register end up around 50 percent every time. And if she ends up scoring some good sales, that's just icing on the cake.
On a recent shopping trip she found soup, a pantry item in almost every home in America and part of her stockpile, on sale for 78 cents. With a coupon that gives her 40 cents off four cans, doubled, she ended up with a good deal.
The total 80 cent saving, though small, adds up.
"I think it's good for my girls to see that," Bambeck-Lipp said of her 5- and 4-year-old daughters. "It's good to show them that you don't have to go in and buy recklessly. You can take care of what you spend."
Often times, while she goes around the store checking for sales, Bambeck-Lipp would take notes of the sale items and later look for manufacturer coupons online for those specific things.
"It'll take me a while to stock it up," she said of her pantry that she started stocking about three months ago.
Every cent counts
In a perfect world, Bambeck-Lipp would walk out of the store paying close to nothing every time, but in reality, not every company offers a coupon.
Household necessities like those produced by Proctor and Gamble offer coupons on a limited time basis, she said, and customers have to sign up to receive them via e-mail.
So as she passes by dish soap, dryer sheets and cleaning supplies, she decides to skip buying them until later in October when the coupons are scheduled for release.
Just like cleaning supplies, stockpiling on juice and nonperishable items that her family consumes all the time requires planning ahead.
"If I have to have juice and it's not on sale, then that can get really expensive," Bambeck-Lipp said.
She looks at Welches and says she only gets it when it's discounted plus, coupons bring the normally $4.35 price tag down a bit to make it easier to swallow.
Instead, she reaches for a couple bottles of V8 Splash on sale for $2.60, down from $3.19. With a coupon for $1 off that's doubled, she gets two for the regular price of one.
Combining sales, coupons
Like juice, Bambeck-Lipp said she's gotten used to substituting what her family has been used to eating in order to make a variety of dinners.
"Sometimes I have to go out of my comfort zone to prepare certain meals," she said.
She also learned how to sacrifice buying snacks and things that her kids eat on a regular basis and wait for the good deals.
For example, a box of the Gerber Graduates crackers was $1.88 - on sale at the store a couple of weeks ago. To get one of those is not enough, she said, so getting a few can get expensive.
"My 4-year-old will take that down in about three minutes," Bambeck-Lipp said with a smile.
Rainbow Foods co-manager Vicki Lynd said since the company started offering the double day couponing opportunities about two years ago, more people shop at the Woodbury location on those days.
"The increase on Wednesdays has gone up substantially," she added.
Newspaper inserts are often the first place people go to for coupons, but nowadays there are hundreds of websites that offer coupons.
A problem with online manufacturer coupons, however, is that not every website is legitimate or works properly.
Bambeck-Lipp said one of her favorite websites is www.mysavings.com. Additionally, Sunday newspaper inserts by SmartSource and redplum are now offering online coupons as well.
Abiding by the rules is essential though, which is why Bambeck-Lipp has to divide up her items into separate transactions so she doesn't go over the $25 limit the store imposes if customers wish to double their coupons.
"Some people get really upset when they get stuck behind me," she said at the checkout lane.
But she leaves with a big smile on her face, after she hands the cashier a bunch of coupons and watches the register deduct dollar after dollar from each of her transactions.
"I have all my receipts and I'm really proud of them," Bambeck-Lipp said.