By Natalie Morales, NBC News anchor
I come from a family of coupon clippers. As the daughter of a military dad and stay at home mom, my family taught me the value of a buck—or in this case, a 55 cent coupon. We never walked into a grocery store without my mom leafing through her coupon book. I still am pretty thrifty—or so I thought before I met Jamie Chase, a mother of two boys from Amesbury, Massachusetts. To see Jamie in action is a real education on saving money. She is able to load up a cart-full of healthy food (not Cheetos or soda, as you might be thinking) and walk out of the store paying next to nothing. Jamie actually teaches a class at a Northern Essex Community College, which I attended, and even though I too have clipped coupons and looked for savings, I learned so much from Jamie that I had to share some of her best tips with you (unfortunately two minutes of TV just isn't enough time to cover it all).
Jamie has gotten it down to a science. She says it now only takes her about 45 minutes a week to look for deals. And she looks everywhere! From promotional circulars, online to even manufacturers websites like P&G. She's done the work for us though, so here are a few of her favorite sites that she checks weekly: redplum.com, couponsource.com, krazycouponlady.com.
Jamie also keeps her coupons in order in a binder by expiration date. She also doesn't like to clip them because that's how she says you lose them or forget to use them. She'll only clip them on the day she plans to use them.
Prior to heading to the store, Jamie will check the promotional/store flyers and combine them with coupons for the greatest savings. One thing I couldn't help but noticing, unlike most of us, she sticks to her list. She knows exactly what she is buying and will have a coupon for just about everything before she even walks into the store.
At the register, Jamie tops off her savings with CATS— those are the coupons that come out after your receipt at the register. If you're a loyal customer, sometimes you get a $10 off your next grocery bill. That's like hitting the jackpot for Jamie.
Another really important tip, and perhaps the best advice of all: Find a coupon buddy. Jamie and her friends keep each other aware of good deals—they exchange coupons for items others may want and have formed a couponing community.
Jamie also is a loyal customer. When she and her family find a product they like—Cedars Hummus, for example— she emails the company telling them she loves their product, and that usually that leads to more coupons and sometimes even coupons for a freebie or two.
Now you may be thinking, "That's great, just hope I'm not stuck behind her at checkout..." Well, Jamie has tips there too. She usually shops during slow times during the week, and she will warn the store she has lots of coupons. They'll often open a separate register. In fact, couponing has become so popular (usage is up 27 percent from 2008 to 2009) that most stores (grocery or drug store) are very accommodating to coupon users. Retailers encourage coupon use because they get paid a little extra by the manufacturers for the coupon's value.
In the three years since Jamie started couponing, she now is saving the family about $25,000 a year—and that's after tax savings. She didn't do it so much out of necessity, but because she was being smart and thrifty. Now her husband has decided to take a teaching job that he wanted because, with all that Jamie is adding to the family's income, he can.
The lesson learned is this: Couponing has never been easier, so why not save money where you can? Even the iPhone has an app for coupons where you can pull up the ones you want at the register and they'll scan the barcode...no more paper coupon! Incredible.
I decided to put Jamie's methods into practice, and though I still wound up spending quite a bit, I managed to save $67 on my last grocery bill. Not bad for a beginner—and that's savings you can take straight to the bank.