Can't get enough of the coupons

Woman turns saving at the grocery into a business

msexton@thestate.comJanuary 4, 2010 

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    To learn more, and find a list of upcoming workshops, see southernsavers.com.

The coupon clipping started simply for Jenny Martin, a couple of years ago.

The house needed a new roof. She needed money to pay for it.

A friend e-mailed her about the potential savings using coupons. A stay-at-home mom, she decided to give it a try, but was skeptical about how much she really could save.

She cut her family's grocery bill from $150 a week to about $50 a week.

She was hooked.

"I got so excited, I started telling friends, 'Go here and get this deal; go there and get that deal,'" Martin, 29, said.

Her husband encouraged her to start a Web site to tell friends about the money she was saving. Southernsavers.com was born in June 2008.

"I started Southernsavers to help what I thought would be about six people," she said.

In the first month, she had 1,000 hits. In November, the site had more than 2 million hits.

"Everybody's trying to save money on groceries," she said.

Martin runs the business out of a bonus room in her Irmo area home. (She calls it the toy room, with games and home-schooling tables for 4 1/2-year-old twins Emma and Kate and 1 1/2-year-old Mary.) There she sits in front of three computer screens - she calls it her command central - comparing and matching up deals.

Here's the concept: Grocery stores put items on sale in cycles. Once every six weeks a product you need will go on sale. The goal is to buy it when it's at its best price. She gets the weekly ads from the store and circles the good deals. They are then matched up with the best prices each week at each store.

She recommends people buy the Sunday newspaper, where the vast majority of coupons come from. Printable Internet coupons are available for some items on her Web site.

How much can she save?

"Pickles might be $2 a jar. I get them for 9 cents," she said.

How?

"The pickles are buy one get one free, that makes them $1.09, I have a 50-cent off coupon, which most grocery stores double."

Bingo: 9 cents for a jar of pickles.

And the savings go on.

She gets Green Giant frozen vegetables free when they are on sale and she has a coupon. She pays 10 cents for a box of spaghetti. She never pays more than $1 for a box of cereal - that's national brand cereal that can cost more than $4 a box.

"Everything comes on sale at each grocery store at some point," she said.

She keeps an updated tab of her spending on the Web site each week. In the past year, she bought $6,435.72 worth of groceries, including food, cleaning supplies, paper products and diapers. She spent $2,068, a savings of 67 percent.

She tracks sale items at all local grocery stores except Piggly Wiggly. (Each Pig offers different specials, making it too difficult to keep up with pricing.) She also offers tips and comparisons at drugstores. For example, CVS operates on a reward system.

"I've bought $100 worth of stuff (at CVS) and paid a quarter. It's very fun."

And she dismisses claims that coupon clipping and comparison shopping are huge time eaters.

"You can save $100 for about 30 minutes or an hour of work," she said. "If you just use Southernsavers it takes about 30 minutes to get ready for a trip to the grocery store."

Unlike some other coupon Web sites, southernsavers.com is free, and it will stay that way, she said.

It's not the main source of income for the family. (Her husband, James, is a computer network engineer, who also works at home.) She makes a little money when somebody prints a coupon from her Web site. And she teaches coupon workshops around the Southeast. (Her husband drives the family van, and the whole family goes on the workshop circuit.)

"I decided in February I'd teach a workshop, and I booked the Lexington Leisure Center. The class was filled in two hours," she said. Now the $10-per-person classes are scheduled through April.

She has hired a couple of USC students to work part time, typing in ads and helping answer the more than 200 e-mails she receives each day.

"A lot of our readership sends e-mails saying things like, 'My husband was laid off and we really needed this.' Others don't need the money, but once they buy a box of cereal for a dollar, they're hooked."

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