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Lessons from an Arkansas Coupon Queen

Learning how to do it can be a big boost to your family budget.
Imagine not having to buy things like toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, laundry detergent, makeup or pet treats for years? And not only that, the supply you have stashed at home didn't cost you a penny.

Sound good? How do you do it? Those are all questions for a coupon queen.

Stephanie Master, 31, of Cabot, certainly fits that title. Not only has she been couponing for several years, but she also teaches classes where others learn how she does it. She's so good at it that any available space in her home has been turned into a mini grocery store with shelves for her continuously fluctuating stock.

"Whether you want to save a little money, or a lot at the grocery store, coupons are the key," Master says. "All it takes is some time to start clipping coupons, getting a binder to organize them and then get ready to start saving at the checkout."

One example of how it works: "Say you're in Walmart, you've got two different brands right there. One is the off-brand generic brand that's $1.87, and then you've got the non-generic brand and that's $2.50. Would you rather pay the $1.87, no coupon, and get that exact same thing, or get the $2.50 brand, use a $1.00 off coupon and get it for $1.50? That's pretty basic couponing knowledge," says Master.

A show titled "Extreme Couponing" airs on TLC and gets the credit for leading many Americans to give it a try. Some of the episodes are nothing short of amazing, showing couponers paying as little as five-dollars for a grocery bill that was $300 or more before coupons were applied.

Master was couponing long before the program, and likes to refer to what she does as "reality couponing." She says the scenarios like those shown on the TLC program are rare even for the most dedicated couponers.

If you've ever been behind couponers at the grocery store, you already know it's best to look for another checkout line. While most shoppers whiz through the checkout in minutes, the scanning of a large number of coupons can take a lot longer.

Master says while most shoppers don't give her a hard time and actually are amazed by her savings, there are some who give her dirty looks and complain. During one such incident, Master told a frustrated shopper that she'd be happy not to use her coupons if the shopper wanted to give her the $300 she was about to save by using them. That's when they gave up and moved to another checkout line.

And customers are not the only ones to have given Master a hard time. She says she's also encountered store clerks who refuse to check her out and even store managers who refuse to work with couponers. She says even though manufacturers pay stores the face value of the coupon plus eight cents, it appears some store workers have yet to learn how couponing really works to their benefit and it's the couponers themselves who have been forced to educate store personnel.

Master says she's known some couponers that quit under such pressure. She recommends stores to take the time to train their staff on how to handle couponing.

"Store owners really need to understand that a lot of people just can't afford to come in and buy the stuff they need without coupons," she says.

The savings aspect of couponing is only part of the reason why Master does it. She says another plus is being able to use coupons in such a way that certain items like toothbrushes or razors end up costing nothing at all. She then puts these free items together into personal hygiene kits and gives them away to people in need.

Master laughs when she recalls a recent shopping trip where a fellow shopper followed her out of the store, saw the nice car she was getting into and said "you're not poor!." Master's comeback was, "no, I have this nice car because I use coupons."

To give you an idea of how much Master typically saves, she sums up one of her recent stops at the grocery store. "All in all, this was about 270 dollars. I ended up paying a little bit over 80 dollars, so I saved around 185-190 dollars."

Master, who just moved into a new home with her husband Charles in December, says without her coupon savings, they would not have been able to buy the two-story house that is already filled with her "stash."

"Couponing has given me an outlet to be able to, instead of renting a house or rent an apartment and throwing money away, it's pretty much given me the ability to afford a monthly mortgage payment and get this house that we just bought," she says.

Master says she hates it when some people confuse her stockpile of savings with the psychological problem known as hoarding because she either uses what she buys within weeks/months or gives it away.

Coupon Queen's Tips to Get Started:
  • Make a list of what you usually buy
  • Look for coupons for as many of those items as possible (go slowly as you learn)
  • Organize your coupons in a binder
  • The money you save will start to add up (try saving $5.00 per shopping trip and build from there)
Click here to learn more about Coupon Queen Stephanie Master plus links to her blog, Facebook page and favorite coupon links.
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