This Mom Rarely Pays for Groceries. Here’s Her Couponing Strategy

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Nearly everyone’s used coupons at some time or another, but New York mom Kate Fenner has turned couponing into a serious savings strategy.

She regularly returns from grocery shopping having spent under $2 for an entire cart full of groceries — and sometimes she has so many coupons that she gets her groceries for free and gets cash back at checkout!

How does Fenner do it, and how can you make couponing a part of your everyday savings plan? We talked to Fenner to get her tips and advice.

This Shoprite run cost Fenner just $2.59.

How This Mother Started Couponing

Fenner grew up in a coupon-clipping family. “My mother definitely couponed when I was growing up, so I would see her clipping the coupons from the paper when I was a kid.”

However, even after watching her mother clip coupons, Fenner wasn’t a big couponer as an adult. Then things changed.

“A couple of years after I got married, we were settling into living in a new state and living on our own, and I needed to save some money. So I thought back to coupons, and seeing where I could go with that.

On this haul from Shoprite, Fenner eceived a *profit* of $12.55.

Using Local Blogs to Become a Coupon Expert

Fenner quickly realized coupons had changed since the days when her mother would sit down with the newspaper and a pair of scissors.

“Now, you can get coupons online, and there are all sorts of different apps, and cash back from the different apps and store coupons. There are all of these different things that you can combine to get the good deals.”

So Fenner started looking for online experts to guide her to the best deals. She found coupon blogs that focused on stores in her local area, and studied them to learn how to improve her couponing skills.

“It’s helpful to have local blogs,” Fenner told us. “I know one or two people who have blogs who live in the Capital District of New York, and they will put up what they call ‘match-ups’ for our stores. They’ll list what’s in the sales flyer, which products are on a good sale, and they’ll already do the legwork for me by finding out what coupons go with a sale and which apps might have savings as well.”

Fenner regularly visits A Super Savvy Saver Deal, a Capital region couponing blog that sometimes features Fenner’s hauls, listing the coupons she used and the savings she received. On Kate’s ShopRite TRIPLES Trip, for example, Fenner shared how she used three 50-cent coupons and added a 75-cent e-coupon to receive 75 cents in profit on Larabars.

If you want to become a coupon expert yourself, Fenner suggests looking for your own local couponing blogs. She advises new couponers to go to these blogs and decide what you want to buy based on their lists of high-value coupons and coupon/sale combinations.

She also advises new couponers to make couponing a part of their everyday routine. Fenner spends about 15 minutes every day looking at coupons and blogs to find the best deals and work those coupons into her shopping plan.

Fenner spent $1.58 for this loot from Harris Teeter.

Plan to Save

Fenner stresses the importance of planning your shopping trips: “Planning is key. Figure out what you’re going to buy beforehand.”

One element of Fenner’s planning strategy involves buying grocery staples in advance, so she can shop for the best deals. She knows that if she waits too long to buy cereal, for example, she has to pay the price the grocery store is offering on the day she needs cereal.

“If you put yourself in that situation, you’re going to be limited by what’s on sale today and what you have in front of you,” she explains.

But when Fenner plans ahead, she looks for the best coupons on cereal and other staples. She buys groceries when the price is right, not when her pantry is empty.

This type of planning becomes even more important during what Fenner calls a big couponing event. “Our store, Shoprite, just had a triple coupon promotion, so instead of doubling the value of the coupon, which many of my local stores do, they triple the value of most coupons.”

When Fenner knows that a big couponing event is coming, she figures out exactly what she needs to buy to save the most money. It takes a little extra time to plan these shopping trips, but that’s also how Fenner ends up with those amazing grocery hauls.

Use Coupons to Buy Healthy Foods

Fenner does not meal plan, but she does use what’s on sale to help guide her meal choices. This includes using coupons to subsidize the cost of foods that don’t often go on sale.

“There aren’t usually coupons on apples,” Fenner said, “but if you want to buy apples, you might be more likely to do it now that you’re saving money in other areas.”

Fenner knows a lot of people decide not to get into couponing because they don’t see coupons for foods they want to buy. What they don’t understand is they can use coupon savings to pay for the rest of their grocery cart. This goes for the little coupons as well as the big ones; no amount of savings is too small.

“When you start couponing and learn how it works, you’ll see that a 50-cent coupon is going to double to a dollar at your grocery store, potentially, and depending on the sale you can make a little profit on something, which can help you cover produce or meat.”

We’ll leave you with some final advice from Kate Fenner: “Couponing can be as easy or as complicated as you make it. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and it is a great way to save money. You can end up doing even more than you might think.”

So find your local couponing blogs, start planning your shopping trips and see if you can come home with a cart of free groceries.

Nicole Dieker is a freelance writer focusing on personal finance and personal stories. Her work has appeared in The Billfold, The Toast, Yearbook Office, The Write Life and Boing Boing.