Clipping costs

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald photo illustration

By Karen Brucoli Anesi
Special to the Herald

For Durango disciples of the “waste not, want not” movement, coupon clipping is a religion. Some, such as veteran coupon clipper Eve Presler, joyfully live their lives around principles of thriftiness.

“Oh my gosh. This is my whole life,” Presler, program director for Advocacy for LaPlata, said. “My family returned bottles to the pop shop. We smashed pop cans. I was raised learning how to turn things into cash.”

Presler recalled pasting S&H Green Stamps in redemption books and watching her mother trade them for household appliances.

The community organizer has an additional part-time job at Volunteers of America’s Durango Community Shelter. She also owns and teaches at Eden’s Pole Dance Fitness. But her other obligations don’t diminish her passion for coupon clipping.

Presler rattles off food prices and coupon deals as easily as most of us spit out our phone numbers.

Choked with emotion, she says she’s grateful to her mother, who taught her how to economize.

“It was the greatest gift,” she said. “Who would have ever thought we’d be doing this to eat in today’s economy?”

Be organized

Eating well does not require lots of money, Presler said, but it does require a game plan and commitment.

“It starts with being in the mind-set of working within a budget.”

Presler still carries a coupon clutch stuffed with coupons clipped from inserts, just as her mother did, but technology allows her to download online coupons, open loyalty accounts and bank savings in rewards programs.

That way, she can combine in-store specials with manufacturer coupons to maximize savings.

“I meal-plan around my coupons, and I’m flexible in what I’m going to eat, but I do not compromise my nutrition,” she said. “If I’m married to eating an English muffin every morning, this isn’t going to work, but if I’m open to adaptation, I can figure it out.”

Presler says she spends about $75 a week in the grocery store, but that includes feeding her cat and purchasing household and cleaning items, toiletries and occasional entertainment. She coordinates shopping trips with other car trips to save fuel costs.

“You absolutely need to be a list-maker,” she said.

And a receipt-keeper, conscious of how rewards programs work, when coupons expire and how much time is spent sniffing out the deals.

Presler estimates she spends about 20 minutes a day strategizing, organizing and refining her game plan before shopping.

Set a goal

She does not sacrifice brand names for generics, flashing a receipt to show how she ended up paying a mere $2.77 for a bottle of Tide laundry detergent that normally would sell for $8.77.

Presler waited for the item to go on sale where she normally shops. Then she added e-coupons to the manufacturer’s coupons to optimize savings. Reward points offer the possibility of even greater savings, she said.

Presler said she advises those she counsels to consider nutritional quality over quantity of food, to prepay limited amounts on gas cards, to use cash envelopes and to control impulse spending.

“You have to really look at the choices you make,” she said.

Presler said saving with a specific reward in mind has inspired online couponing sites such as www.couponingtodisney.com. The site features a thrifty homemaker dreaming of a family vacation and sharing tips on how she saves through couponing. She loads rebates to pay for vacation lodging and meals in a Disney restaurant.

“I’m couponing for Eden,” Presler said, saving to pay the operational costs of her business during lean economic times. “Then, maybe I can eventually coupon for Costa Rica.”

More for your money

Recent Durango transplants Megan and Phil Camp embraced several lifestyle changes when the stay-at-home mom and briefly unemployed father of two preschool-aged children had to stretch dollars that were once plentiful when both had well-paying jobs.

Rather than regret their unfortunate change in circumstances, Megan Camp said she wishes she would have known and practiced what she knows now. Back then she was “wasteful” at times, she admitted.

“When it came to coupon clipping, at first I did not think I was saving enough money,” she said. “I was really frustrated. Then I found couponmom.com.”

Now she saves from 50 to 55 percent on every shopping trip, she said.

The former elementary school teacher last week invited three moms of preschoolers to the living room of her townhouse for a class about couponing.

Of the coupons Camp uses, 90 percent come from inserts in major metropolitan newspapers such as the Denver Post, she said.

Buy what you need

Like Presler, Camp watches for sales, then combines online and insert coupons to purchase what she needs. She registers for rewards programs and avoids the temptation to buy for the sake of buying, she said.

“When you coupon, you may need to be less brand-specific,” Camp said. “I’m very good at substituting to get what I need.”

Camp demonstrated on her laptop how to click on grocery deals at store chains, organizing them from greatest to least percentage of savings. Then, she showed how to select only coupons for what she needs that week.

“The goal of couponing is to buy as much as your family will use until the item goes on sale again,” she said.

Camp talked about registering and loading electronic coupons on reward cards so savings can be doubled or even tripled. She pointed to websites such as www.smartsource.com, www.mypoints.com and www.redplum.com and offered suggestions on how savers could start slowly and not get discouraged.

Camp said she spends about $300 to $350 to feed her family of two adults and two young children, wasting little.

“I cook differently now. I shop the deals,” said the mother, who makes her own laundry soap, bakes from scratch and picks and cans apples that otherwise would have gone to waste.

Coupons for charity

Class member Michelle Casias said she’s been couponing only for a couple of months but got started when she heard how much she could save on disposable diapers. Her advice was straightforward: “Shop only for what you need.”

Casias said with the money she saves on some items she can afford organic produce and other more costly nutritious food choices for her family.

Camp detailed rebate programs where shoppers can get items for free if they register their receipts online.

“I recently donated 22 tubes of toothpaste and diabetes kits to the homeless shelter,” she said. “These cost me nothing.”

She said she regularly invites her extended family to “shop in my linen closet,” where they get shampoo and other toiletries she’s gathered at no cost.

Digital discounts

Paulette Church, executive director of Durango Adult Education Center, also considers herself a smart shopper.

“You’ve got to watch for coupons on the items you would normally buy,” she said.

Church said she buys staples when they’re on sale, monitors what’s in the pantry, stays alert for seasonal specials and doesn’t plan meals too far out, instead being flexible enough to take advantage of in-store specials, combined with coupons.

“I shop just two stores to simplify things,” Church said.

She and her husband spend about $325 a month on groceries. That includes dog food and entertaining friends about once a month, Church estimated.

Her advice for couponing?

“Become digital-coupon savvy,” Church said.

By entering loyalty cards and downloading specials, you can organize lists, pay attention to expiration dates and limit couponing to something you’ll actually use, she said.

kbrucolianesi@durangoherald.com

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