Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Coupon queen

Local resident is master at saving money

By Margie Wuebker

St. Marys resident Kara Sharp checks out some of the products she has acquired t. . .

ST. MARYS - Kara Sharp places a three-ring binder, a supermarket flyer and two neatly organized plastic totes on the kitchen table.
Preparing for a grocery buying trip takes methodical planning and appropriate coordination for Sharp, who has made couponing a way of life.
Sharp and her husband Cody budget $80 per week for groceries for the family of five. But Sharp said she never spends that much.
The money she saves provides occasional restaurant meals and special treats like the new camper parked in the driveway.
"I stick to Kroger and my coupons are sorted by aisle," she said showing envelopes marked with the appropriate aisle numbers. "This method eliminates going back and forth between rows and shuffling through stacks of coupons."
Sharp said organization and dedication are the keys to saving money.
"You need to get in the right mindset and invest some time before heading to the grocery store," she said. "Kroger frequently offers mega specials - purchasing 10 specified products earns you a $5 discount at the register. However, using coupons for those products increases the savings and Kroger offers points toward gas purchases."
Double coupons, which also boost savings, are another draw.
Sharp recalled stocking up on Toaster Strudel in anticipation of her daughter's friends coming for a sleepover. The items were on sale and she owed nothing after the cashier deducted the coupons. She pulled out the sales slip lest anyone doubt the accomplishment.
A closet with bifold doors off a hallway serves as a storage area for everything from shampoos and conditioners to canned fruit and salad dressing. The overflow, including a variety of pasta products, occupies part of another cupboard while nearly a dozen boxes of dishwasher soap - all obtained at no cost - wait under the kitchen sink.
"I never clear the shelves of products," she said. "However, I may go back several times during the week if it's a really good deal."
She also pointed out that most clippers aren't brand loyal.
Sharp purchases one Sunday paper containing coupon inserts, with more inserts coming from relatives and friends who know of her penchant. Other good sources of coupons and rebate offers are magazines, manufacturer's websites and even store displays.
Sharp visits free websites like WeUseCoupons.com and CouponMom.com for pointers. Some sites offer listings of various inserts and the coupons they contain, along with what special supermarkets and drug stores are offering.
"Some couponers subscribe to online programs," she said. "I don't. Why spend money when the goal is to save it."
Area supermarkets report a dramatic increase in the use of coupons since the show "Extreme Couponing" aired Dec. 29 on the TLC cable network.
Sharp recalled an episode that featured a shopper armed with coupons who filled a cart with mustard products. She has yet to follow that example, although she did acquire 100 free toothbrushes over the course of weeks for a church project.
She also pointed out the importance of rebate offers as another means of not only saving but making money. The recent purchase of aspirin at an area pharmacy is a prime example. Coupons and the store's bonus bucks reduced the cost while rebate forms will more than compensate her for the purchase.
Sharp also brings care packages of food and personal care items to Agape Ministries in St. Marys as a means of sharing her savings.
"Paying the full price for anything goes against the grain," she said. "We went camping the other weekend and discovered there was no aluminum foil. We ended up paying full price and that was upsetting."
Using coupons and rebate offers as cost-cutting measures does not apply solely to supermarkets and pharmacies The Sharps also saved considerable money on paint, kitchen appliances and other things for their new home.
"Saving money is a mindset," she said. "And the rewards make it worth any effort involved."

Start clipping:
Kara Sharp offers these suggestions for someone interested in using coupons:
• Purchase a Sunday newspaper with the largest circulation in order to get the best coupons. Ask friends and relatives to save their coupons for you.
• Check Internet sites for printable coupons and information about what's on sale where.
• Save the complete insert and clip the coupons for specials at the supermarket and pharmacy you frequent.
• Check store policy as some will accept or match competitor's prices. Most stores accept coupons for items that are on sale or reduced for clearance.
• If you match a coupon and a sale price, you could get the product for free.
• Never scan or copy coupons because that is illegal, and read the fine print as to use.
• Do not clear shelves; remember other shoppers may want just one bottle of body wash or one can of sweetened condensed milk.
• Have your coupons ready to hand the cashier as you enter the checkout lane.
• Watch the cashier ring up the items and speak up if he or she overlooks a coupon. It's best to check the sales slip before leaving the store.
• Donate extra food and personal care products to a charitable organization for the benefit of others.
-Margie Wuebker
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