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One Mom's Not-So-Extreme Guide to Couponing

Susan Johnston

There are plenty of excuses for not couponing: I'm busy running a business. Clipping coupons takes too much time. My kids have allergies or diabetes, so I have to be extra careful about what I buy.

All of these could apply to Kasey Knight Trenum, but none of them have stopped her. This Cleveland, Tenn., mom runs the popular couponing blog time2saveworkshops.com and has a book, "Couponing for the Rest of Us: The Not-So-Extreme Guide to Saving More," coming out this week.

U.S. News recently spoke to Trenum about why she started couponing and how coupons help her give back to the community:

Why did you get into couponing?

I got into couponing about five or six years ago, not because I thought it was going to be fun, because I had to. My family went through a series of events that financially was very devastating. I quit my job to have our second child. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and we started building houses on the side.

We built the first house, and it sold before we finished it, and we thought, 'That's fabulous, we'll build two next time.' We did, and those houses sat for over two years. So including the house that we lived in, we had three houses. Then my father was sick with brain cancer, and the day after his funeral, my husband lost his day job.

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We had cut out our vacations, gymnastics, everything that we could possibly cut out of our budget, but at the end of the day, they didn't pay any of the three mortgages that we had. So I started researching ways to save money. Because I had tried couponing before, and it didn't work for me, I really didn't want to try it again. But as I did more research, I started to figure it out and started saving my family real money.

What's an example of one of your best couponing finds?

I am not, by any means, an extreme couponer, so my goal really isn't to save 90 percent, or 95 percent or 100 percent. But there is a store probably a mile from where I live, and they had a store coupon available on their website where I could go every single day and get a pack of baby wipes and two jars of baby food for free.

I just remember thinking, 'Why is this parking lot not full? Because I know that there are children in my area that are needy, and parents that are struggling financially and how do they not know about this?'

Tell us about some of your not-so-extreme couponing strategies.

You have to shop differently. When people go grocery shopping, they might wait until they run out of something, then put it on the list. If they can find a coupon that matches up with it, that's great, but they don't save a lot of money that way because it doesn't match up with the grocery store's sales cycle. There's about 10 to 12 weeks when the price of an item is going to fluctuate dramatically. Cheerios may go from $1.99 to $4.99. Toilet paper may go from $3.99 to $6.99.

Typically, for me, whenever I needed something, it happened to be the highest price, and if you're waiting until you need it, that coupon is not going to save you that much money.

[Read: A Beginner's Guide to Online Couponing.]

So by learning to shop by what you use instead of by what you need, when you see an item on sale at its lowest price and you pair that sale with a coupon, you're going to get that item for the absolute lowest price.

You have a section on your blog that talks about giving back to your community through couponing. How can couponing help you give back?

When we were in that place when we had three houses for two years, and my husband didn't have a job and I started couponing, what I quickly discovered is that when items were so cheap or free, even without a job and three house payments, I was able to get extra every week to give.

Instead of waiting until Christmas or Thanksgiving, it's great to be able to look outside of your family uses when you look at a grocery list. I don't have babies to diaper anymore, but I watch for sales, and when diapers go on sale, we go ahead and buy diapers and we can donate those to our church nursery. We have a really good friend who's a single mother that we donate diapers to.

It just opens up ways to give that you never imagined were possible. Two weeks ago, mustard was on sale. I bought enough for my family--it was like 10 cents each--and I went ahead and bought extras I'm going to donate to my church.

How does having a husband and child with Type 1 diabetes impact your couponing?

I just don't buy a ton of items that are packaged that have a lot of sugar in them. I make more things homemade. It's not that they can't have sugar, but if they do, then I prefer to make it myself because I can control what goes in it.

My daughter is also highly allergic to peanuts. So those are just questions that I've had people ask me: 'What if I have an allergy? What if my child's allergic to peanuts? Can you still buy stuff?' Yes, you can still save on everything else.

One common complaint around couponing is that they tend to focus on packaged foods at the expense of fresh produce or organic items. Any strategies on getting coupons for healthier options?

I actually purchase more organic items and more fruits and vegetables now that I coupon than I did before. One of the main ways to do so is just by cutting back on your household expenses: things like dishwashing detergent, washing powders, toothpaste. When I'm not having to use a large part of my grocery budget on all those items, it's going to free up more money that I can use to purchase fruits and vegetables.

Also, there are coupons for organic items. There may not be as many, but you follow the same principles. When they're on sale, and there's a coupon paired with that, then buy enough to last you about 10 to 12 weeks.

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Anything else you would like readers to know?

Couponing doesn't have to be all or nothing. Whether you save 5 percent, 10 percent or 50 percent, you're still saving. You're in charge of what goes in your cart. If you don't want 100 boxes, then just buy five, or just buy three or just buy two.

Just because you might have seen people coupon to the extreme, doesn't mean that you have to do that. For my family, I've gone to the grocery store three times this month. Each time before I went, I took about maybe an hour in preparation in cutting out coupons and printing them online, and I saved my family close to $500. For me, I'm not trying to compare myself to other people. I'm not trying to average 90 percent off. Fifty percent is fine with me, but even if it's 10 percent that week, that's still money that I got to keep in my pocket. If you do that week after week, that money adds up.

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