Corns celebrates after another coupon coup. (Courtesy of TLC) On a good day, Chrystie Corns can save hundreds on groceries. On a great day, she'll make money in the process.
"I once got $156 worth of items at Rite Aid and I walked away with $17," says Corns. "I actually was able to make money because I used store coupons and a manufacturer coupons on the same items, plus I had a rewards card."
If that sentence requires a translation, you're probably not an extreme couponer. Corns is one of the subjects of TLC's new docu-series "Extreme Couponing" (premiering Wednesday at 9 EST). It's a show about shoppers who consider newspaper inserts currency, not kitty litter liner.
"I got into couponing after I got divorced," says 33-year-old Corns, who lives with her young son and daughter in in Portland, Maine. "I was a self-employed single mom of two and I needed to save money." At first she started to search for discounts online at sites like CouponMom and Coupons.com. "I quickly got addicted," she says. "Every time you go out and pay pennies on the dollar it's like a rush."
Since she started serious couponing a year ago, she's saved well over $5000 on groceries and household items. In exchange, she's lost space in her two-bedroom apartment. She recently gutted her bedroom closet and installed shelves for the stockpiles of Power-Aid (she currently has 75 bottles) cereal (over 30 boxes) and detergent ("enough to do 700 loads").
Buying marked down items in bulk is one of Corns' tricks of the trade. Another is networking. She runs her own insider couponing website, Ilovetogossip, with blog and video updates on sales, rebates, discount offers and tips. "There's a huge community online and they're all eager to share deals and shopping," says Corns, whose site garners around 20,000 visitors a month. "It's a whole subculture of young hip moms trying to save money for their family and shop smarter."
A part-time social marketing consultant, Corns tacks on about 20 to 25 hours a week, collecting, clipping and filing inserts from the six papers she buys on Sunday, scanning blogs for discounts, updating her own site and mailing out rebates. It seems like a lot of work, but her mind's become used to the constant calculations, and even craves it.
To most of us, a bag of iams dog food is a waste a money, if you don't own a dog. To Corns it's a source of income. Here's her math: "If you buy a 4 pound bag of Iams for $6.99, with a three dollar coupon, then turn around and take your receipt and submit the mail in rebate and get $6.99 in mail, you end up making three dollars off it."
What's three dollars? It's more than a profit, it's a reminder that the system can be beat. Corns' couponing is a rebellion that pays back dividends.
Part of the method to her madness is organization. She keeps all her coupons, rebates and newspaper inserts in an accordion folder divided by date, so she never forgets when a big sale is coming up or when a rebate is poised for expiration. She also relies on chain stores like Rite Aid and CVS which offer reward cards or points on purchases to sweeten any deal at the register. It sounds like a lot of paperwork, but it gets easier with time, according to Corns.
For newbies to the couponing game, she suggests hitting up multiple Sunday newspapers and collecting inserts, also surveying online sites for compilations of local and national deals. Her website has a massive coupon database of its own. Once you've got your nest egg, Corns has four keys to maximizing them.
1. If a product is majorly discounted or free, buy it in bulk. Don't wait till you need it.
2. Check with your grocery store to see if they double coupons. Doubling coupons means they accept both manufacturer and store-specific coupons on any given items. That will double-y discount the item.
3. Collect 'buy 1 get 1 free' coupons. If you can use it on a 'buy 1 get 1 free' sale you may end up getting them both for free.
4. Even if you don't need something being given away, if it's free, take it. "I don't wear contacts but if I can get them for free with a mail-in rebate, I'll save them and give them to my sister," says Corns, whose sister incidentally is the new Bachelorette Ashley Herbert (small TV world).
As Corns' collection of coupon booty grows, she's given up shopping for clothes. "I haven't bought clothes in four months, I just don't have room for it," she says. She's also started to give away some of her spoils. "Last Christmas I made my family these baskets with filled with products from my stockpile," she says. "They loved it and I only spent about $5 dollars on each gift, so it was win-win."
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