COUPON CRAZE: More Iowans are learning the secret to saving and have advice before you learn to clip

With tight budgets, high food prices and a certain reality show called Extreme Couponing, more shoppers than ever are looking for extreme savings to stretch their budgets. And, they’re clipping their way to a cheaper checkout. As more people look to cash in on the coupon craze, stores are starting to see a problem.

Every Sunday morning, Erin Ruiz’s living room turns into a coupon club. She says, “The girls meet me over here at six.”

The mother-of-six started searching for savings two years ago, and she taught a group of friends to do the same. She says, “We call each other through the week, did you hear about this good deal?”

She says she’s found so many good deals on everything from toilet paper to soap, you’ll find a stockpile of stuff in her basement. Showing a corner of her lower level she says, “It was a mini-mart. The kids kind of changed it from mini-mart to mega-mart.”

Ruiz says she’s cut her family of eight’s grocery bill to $200 a month. And, her secret to start saving is simple. She says, “Start with your Sunday paper.”

Ruiz collects coupons from 20 papers each week and searches sites online for more deals. Then, she matches manufacturer coupons with store sales. She says she started slowly by learning one store’s policies and sale schedule. Now, she stocks up when items hit the rock bottom price, and she has a coupon, usually every twelve weeks. She says, “I will never pay full price for shampoo, conditioner, deodorant body wash, laundry soap, any of the household cleaners.”

She’s not alone. A survey by the Nielsen Company says coupon redemption grew 27% when the recession hit. And, households making more than $100,000 a year were the primary group to drive the growth.

Couponer Katie Kitterman says, “People are trying more and more to save money.” Kitterman taught herself how to save a year ago so she could stay at home with her son. By following blogs, learning store polices and stockpiling deals, she saves $300 to $400 a month.

This fall she started teaching a crash course in couponing, and she says classes constantly fill up. She says, “The need is really there. I kind of started out not telling people. I didn’t know what they would think about my stock pile and savings, but once I did, people were really interested and they wanted to know how they could do it themselves.”

As more people learn to shop the aisles with coupons, some stores are starting to see a problem creep into Iowa. Iowa Grocery Industry Association President Jerry Fleagle says, “We’ve started to see some usage of counterfeit coupons.”

Fleagle says the rise of printing coupons online has contributed to the problem. He says most shoppers don’t realize they might be using a counterfeit. So, the group is trying to raise awareness. Fleagle says, “Ultimately with any type of counterfeit or fraudulent coupon, it’s ultimately the store that stands the loss on that and ultimately the consumer because all those costs eventually get passed on.”

He says using a counterfeit coupon is prosecutable, but so far, no one has been charged in Iowa. He says fakes are usually found online, so beware of any advertising a free product or offering more than $5 in savings. He says, “Too good to be true, is probably too good to be true.”

Ruiz says as long as you follow the rules, she can only find the good in couponing. In addition to her extreme savings, she’s helping others. She recently donated more than 900 items to a local food pantry. She says, “And we donated some really nice stuff, like those pro-glide razors that are $12.99 and we paid nothing for them.”

She says it just takes a little time, and anyone can learn to find savings success. The ladies say you’ll start saving right away, but it might take a year to find the extreme savings.

Kitterman is also hosting drive for couponers to use their power for good. You can find more information about that and her Couponing 101 class by clicking here.

Danielle Van Arkel is another Iowa couponer. She blogs about her savingss and posts her weekly grocery list, advice and makes coupon binders for people. She has adopted a military family living on a base in Turkey. She regularly mails expired coupons to them as part of the Overseas Coupon Program. She says military members serving overseas have six months to use expired coupons.

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