Ashley Nuzzo, creator of the Frugal Coupon Mom website, says she saves around $1,500 a month by using coupons. In December, for example, she spent $711 on groceries and saved $1,500. (Because her family doesn't need $2,200 of groceries, she donates much of what she brings home.)
I asked Nuzzo over E-mail how she got started, and how much time her couponing takes. Excerpts:
Why did you decide to start your blog?
In May 2008, I became a stay-at-home mom (I was a teacher) when my husband and I welcomed our baby daughter into the world. Later, when my husband switched jobs, we found ourselves with far less income than we previously had. Something had to change.
Since it wasn't going to be bringing home more money, it had to be the way we spent money. I started blogging about my budgeting on my own family blog back in the summer of 2008. I would have friends and family ask me what the good deals were each week. Tired of repeating myself, and since I was making shopping lists for me anyways, I decided I might as well begin a budget blog, where friends, relatives, and their friends could see where the deals were and what to buy.
My first post was December 2, 2008. In just two months time, my blog has exploded. Each day it seems I have people writing me from all over the country. These are people I don't know, and I can't even figure out how the connections are being made. I love it! I love sharing my ideas and I LOVE helping other families; obviously, this was an easy transition from being a teacher. I am still using my gift of sharing my knowledge with others.
How much would you estimate you save by using coupons?
There are two main types of coupons: Store and Manufacturer (MFR) coupons. Store coupons are put out by the grocery stores/pharmacies, and can only be used in the location where they have written on the coupon (for example if it is a Walgreens store coupon, I can only use it at Walgreens.) Manufacturer coupons come out in the Sunday paper, on manufacturer web sites, on coupons.com, in grocery store dispensers, in coupon fliers (found at stores) etc. They can be used anywhere that accepts coupons. Most places do.
What a lot of people don’t know is that you can combine store and MFR coupons. The big savings occurs when you combine the two (especially if they are combined with a sale). If your store takes competitors’ coupons (store coupons from another location, i.e. Home Depot and Publix), you can save even more. I save an average of 70 percent. Last month I saved $1,071.15 and spent $321.27 – a savings of 77 percent for the month. This included my family’s groceries, beauty supplies, cleaning, entertainment, going out to eat, etc. December looked a little different – we spent $711.06, and saved 1,499.07 – a savings of 68% for the month. I do admit our family is not going out to eat much at this time. This savings also does not include gas, though there are some great gas gift card offers available (these take a lot more time.)
A lot of people say using coupons takes up too much time. How much time do you spend on it?
If you don’t do it right, it truly can be a waste of time. If you do it effectively, however, the time spent pays off. Before couponing as much as I do now (teaching other to coupon, writing my blog, etc.) I spent around one hour per week in prep time (this did not include shopping). I chose Sunday afternoon as my time because my husband was home and he could watch our daughter. Nap times or after the baby went to bed also worked well when he wasn’t available. Of course in the beginning, you will spend a little extra time learning to organize yourself, learn the lingo, etc.
However, the amount of time I now invest in couponing has changed drastically. It is about two hours a day. This is MUCH different from the average saver. This number is skewed because most normal couponers do not read dozens of blogs, web site, and hundreds of posts each day. By doing all this work, though, I am able to firmly advance the purpose of my blog – I want my friends and family to quickly see the deals and not have to search high and low for them. I make the shopping list, I provide the links to the deals, I basically do the dirty work….all you have to do is check my web site daily or even a couple times a week to see where you can save.
The other common complaint is that it's hard to keep coupons organized. Any tips for that?
Organization is a must. When you coupon you end up with A LOT of tiny (in size) coupons. On my web site, I offer a location where I show you how to stay organized couponing. I keep the Sunday coupon fliers dated in a three-ring binder (newest in the front). The coupons that are pre-cut (because they came from store dispensers, they were printed offline, etc) are kept in an accordion-style folder (labeled by the store or by type (beauty, cleaning, food, etc.). I keep all of this together in a carrying bag in my car.
You also talk about using coupons charitably -- how do you do that?
As you can see in the month of December (where I spent $711 and saved $1,500), I ended up with over $2,200 in products. Can you imagine brining into your home $2,200 worth of groceries each month? My husband and I would not longer FIT in our home due to the abundance of items I bring home. I have no other choice/desire than to donate. I personally donate to our church’s pantry closet. The church meets the needs of less fortunate members of our community and all over the city/county. One example of why I have a need to donate – I estimate in the past six months I have purchased (received for free) 30 regular size tubes of toothpaste. No family, not even the Duggars (17 kids and counting) needs this many tubes of toothpaste – so we give them away.
Another example is that in recent months, I was able to obtain about 10 free diabetes monitors (each a $60 value) free. Since neither my husband nor I have diabetes, we gave them to others. Some friends of mine use the extra money they save to buy McDonald’s gift cards for the homeless. Another friend uses her “extra” groceries to make care bags, also for the homeless. When they run into an individual they feel could use this gift, they are able to give back.
Where do you find coupons, and how would you recommend others do so?
I find out about coupons reading blogs each morning. Instead of visiting each web site individually, I add the web sites I prefer as “subscriptions” on Google reader. Google reader is a free tool that lets you see hundreds (if you wanted that many) of web sites in one place. They only post the newly added material to the web sites, so you are not reading the same thing over and over. I also belong to a couple of Yahoo groups (made up of my friends) who send out great advice daily. Anybody can do this. If a member of the group sees a great bargain, coupon, or sale, they email the group to give us a heads up. Combined with reading other blogs (using Google reader) this allows me to learn from others….why reinvent the wheel?
Any other thoughts or advice for readers on saving money?
It is completely worth it, especially in this economy. You can decide how much or how little you would like to invest (time-wise) in your savings. I go to the store and look at shampoo and toothpaste (two things I no longer pay for since I get them free couponing) and I think about how much money I wasted over the course of my life time paying for these. No one should be paying full price for anything. In addition, using coupons does not hurt the stores – for every coupon you use, the store usually makes money off that coupon. For example, if I give use a $1 coupon, once that coupon price gets back to the store the manufacturer ends up paying $1.08 (the extra money is usually due to a handling and shipping fee. Keep in mind, the store is not hurting; they appreciate your additional business.
Another rule of thumb is you cannot be loyal to a brand. If you are brand loyal you will miss out on many deals. You can not invent the deals yourself. As an example, I cannot say I need Crest toothpaste – tinstead I look at the sale and go to get the coupon. There might be a great deal on Colgate this week.
You will also not find yourself buying store brand items anymore. With couponing you are able to get the expensive Proctor and Gamble, Kellogg’s, etc. items. All the big money brands you find yourself getting cheaper than the store brand items. Don’t get me wrong, when I am in need of cooking spray and I cannot wait until the next sale, I do go ahead and get the store brand cooking spray. If you must be brand loyal, choose what it is that is important to you….is it your morning cereal, your mouth wash, your granola bars? Try to limit your loyalty. The most important thing I want you to take away is to shop the sales and if you can, shop the sales with a manufacturer coupon combined with a store coupon. This way you get items cheap, free, or even make money!