Clipping Cash — How Coupons Help One Woman Shop For Free

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Buying $800 to $1,000 or more in groceries and paying $50 or less because of coupons is now known as extreme couponing, thanks to a program on the TLC network.

Monica Vaughn doesn’t really believe in or practice taking coupon shopping to the extreme. She believes in buying what you need and what you can use (or donate) and having a few extras to replace a product when you run out of it.

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Vaughn, 35, is the mother of three girls — 10, 11 and 13 — and has been married to Rory for 13 years. 

She started couponing a little in August 2010, and said she really went nuts with it in December. She will be teaching a free Extreme Couponing class at the Payson Public Library Tuesday, June 28, for those who want to know more about pinching pennies.

“I saw someone’s pictures of groceries online and was curious to see why they were posting pictures of food,” she said, explaining how she started “couponing.”

“I saw that they had only paid pennies on the dollar for it and wanted to know how I could do that too. Researched it and started. Now I too post pictures (of all I have been able to purchase using coupons) and have helped several people get turned on to couponing.”

She began her work with coupons when she left her job because she was tired of it causing her to miss holidays with her family. She found another job, but then injured her knee and had to stop working. Coupons helped her family bridge the gap created with the loss of her income.

“I realized I didn’t have to work. I could stay home, take care of my family, clip coupons and save money,” Vaughn said.

She has taught a few couponing classes at her home and has even gone to the store with people to help them shop.

Vaughn said she will never buy things the way she used to again — getting store brands when they are generally more costly than name brands bought using coupons. However, she will check out a store’s clearance racks.

 “I have a small stockpile in my garage of canned foods, toiletries, laundry products, oral care items and more. I will never pay for razors, toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, body wash, lotion and many more items ever again.”

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Monica Vaughn, left, hands Safeway cashier Kevin Austin a bunch of coupons during one of her trips to the grocery store.

While Vaughn doesn’t advocate extreme couponing, and in fact said what is depicted on the TLC series isn’t realistic, she has managed to leave a store or two with just paying the sales tax on her purchases.

On a recent trip she bought 20 bottles of shampoo that is normally between $8 and $9, five bottles of barbecue sauce and five deodorants and paid a little more than $7, which was the sales tax.

“I know 20 bottles of shampoo sounds like a lot, but there are four females living in my house and we go through a lot of shampoo.”

Another time she was able to get 14 bottles of barbecue sauce and the store paid her money — not a lot, but she still walked out with more money than she had going in.

Another thing that she points out as unrealistic on the television program are the marathon shopping trips — in one shown on a recent episode, a family of three spent six hours shopping and two hours going through the checkout.

“I do little trips, but I go about five times a week,” Vaughn said.

To start making the most of coupons when shopping, you have to have the coupons. For a time, to have enough coupons, Vaughn was buying six copies of the Sunday Arizona Republic every week.

“The rule of thumb is to have enough (coupon inserts) for every member of your family. I have five in my family, but I wanted an extra just in case.”

When that many subscriptions became too expensive, she decided to go rummaging through the paper recycle bins. On her most recent Dumpster dive she and her coupon buddy recovered at least 20 discarded copies of the paper, all with the coupon inserts unused.

Vaughn also makes use of coupons in store circulars and those found on the Internet. She will share some of her favorite coupon sites in her class. She discovered them by just doing a Google search on the topic of coupons. She said from 20 to 25 percent of the coupons she uses are from the Internet and she has three computers at home from which to print them.

“You generally can’t print more than two of any one coupon from a single computer,” she explained.

Once you have the coupons, they need to be organized. There are different ways to do this, but Vaughn prefers using a five-inch binder and clear plastic sheets designed to hold baseball cards; the sheets are separated by product type. To arrange the coupons before they go into the binder, Vaughn has created a tile system. Using a regular 8-by-10 piece of paper divided into her categories she places the coupons in its designated tile and then transfers them to her binder. She has collected so many coupons since she “went wild” with it, her five-inch binder is about to pop.

Couponing is just about always on her mind, Vaughn said.

“I see something on sale or at someone’s house and remember I have a coupon for that. I think I even dream about coupons.”

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With two shelving racks set up in the garage , Vaughn is running out of space to stock her groceries.

She said anyone could benefit from using coupons, including singles and couples, not just families.

“Get what you want and one or two backups, not 20,” she said.

Vaughn keeps her backups in what extreme couponers call a stockpile, some devote entire rooms and multiple other spaces to the vast quantities of merchandise they have bought for pennies on the dollar. Her stockpile is on two large shelves in her garage. She admits she sometimes goes a little overboard and at one point had so much toothpaste and body washes she took it to her job and gave it away to her co-workers.

She has also had enough extras to send 10 plastic grocery bags of goods to her sister in California when she was recovering from a motorcycle accident. Vaughn gave about six to 10 bags of goods to Mountain Bible Church when it organized a collection for the victims of the tornado in Joplin, Mo. She also sent about six bags of toiletries to the Wallow Fire victims in the Red Cross shelter.

On average, using manufacturer and store coupons in combination with sales, Vaughn saves about 70 percent off the retail purchases she makes on every shopping trip and on occasion, she has saved as much as 100 percent.

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