Jamie Erickson has always been frugal, but as a stay-at-home homeschooling mom to four children — and a fifth due in April — it can still take some creativity to make ends meet.
An experience at an area grocery store about 2-1/2 years ago changed everything for the southeast Brainerd mom.
Erickson was checking out with her cart full of food when she realized she didn’t have enough money in her account for all the things they needed. They were living paycheck to paycheck, like many families. She had to put some things back.
Something had to change, Erickson told herself.
She then watched a segment on the Food Network a couple weeks later on a woman who did extreme couponing and Erickson thought that just might help her. She had always clipped coupons but gradually, as she learned more by going to online couponing sites, she found herself saving a lot of money. So much so, that her shopping trips now consist of at least 50-80 percent in savings, by buying items she needs when they’re on sale and with coupons.
She was able to cut her average $350 grocery bill — which includes necessities such as diapers and toiletries — in half. She and her husband Dain, who works as an art director at Red House Media, now have built up a substantial savings account, mostly because of her couponing savings.
In the past, Erickson often bought store brand or generic brands. Now she’s able to afford the luxury of choosing to buy name brand items, which can cost significantly less than store brand when you purchase them on sale and use coupons.
“I’ve come to realize it’s unnecessary to pay retail price for anything,” said Erickson.
But shows like TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” has given some diehard couponers like Erickson a bad name. She said she’s definitely not a hoarder and doesn’t just clear items off the shelves of a store simply because she has the coupons to do so. She figures she spends about 3-5 hours a week on planning for her couponing store trips.
“The extreme couponers are ruining it for the rest of us,” said Erickson.
Because of couponing, Erickson is able to purchase items, such as birthday presents and other gifts, for nearly nothing and save them for when she needs them.
She no longer feels stressed out when going to the grocery store. Instead, the trips are fun. She and a friend often grocery shop together early Sunday mornings before church.
“I don’t feel the pressure at the grocery store like I used to. My heart would just beat. ‘God, am I going to have enough money to pay for this?,’” said Erickson. “I feel I am at peace with our finances, especially when I’m at the grocery store.”
Erickson’s advice for those who wish to get into extreme couponing is to start small. Figure out those 10-15 staple items you buy often at the grocery store and find the store that has the best prices for those items. Find coupons for your favorite items and use them when those items are on sale.
It helps to get to understand the sales cycle in the grocery store. For example, Erickson said condiments like mustard and ketchup are at their lowest prices in the summer, when families are grilling out. This is the time when you need to purchase enough mustard and ketchup to last your family a year, or when the next big sale will occur. Oatmeal is at its lowest price during National Oatmeal Month in January. That’s the time to stock up.
Most grocery store items are on a six-week sales cycle, she said.
“In saving money, I’m earning money for my family,” said Erickson. “Couponing is not the salvation of our budget. It’s a tool in our arsenal. I think the key is becoming an educated consumer.”
Erickson said her pantry usually has a three-month supply in stock. She always gets toothpaste, body wash, lotion, hairbands, toothbrushes, body spray and other toiletries for free. She often gets free barbecue sauce, salad dressing, boxes of pasta, bread, milk, eggs, juice boxes, vitamins, feminine products, chips, two-liter bottles of pop, snacks and crackers, too. This doesn’t count the buy one, get one deals offered at some grocery stores. Sometimes she can actually make money by buying the advertised store items with coupons.
In addition to couponing, Erickson often makes her own bread and rarely buys packaged cookies, instead making her own. Erickson passes on coupon deals for many unhealthy foods, even if it means her family would get those items for free or nearly free. They may be harder to find, but Erickson does find coupons on organic foods, fruit and meats.
Erickson said she hopes her couponing is teaching a financial lesson to her children, Madeline, 7; Reese, 5; Finn, 3; and Jack, 2. She said her husband thought she was crazy at first, but now appreciates the savings.
“I figure my husband works hard many hours a week. I can work to keep it in our pocket,” she said.
Erickson was chatting with someone at the Brainerd Community Education office about her extreme couponing when she was signing her daughter up for a class. A week later, they called and asked if she would teach a class on extreme couponing. Erickson is a former teacher and she thought it would be a great way to help other families.
Her two-part class Oct. 18 and 25 quickly became full and a second class was added from 7-9 p.m. Nov. 7 and 10. Contact Brainerd Community Education to sign up.
Erickson has enjoyed helping many of her friends get into couponing and she’s excited about teaching the community education course.
“It’s about a need I had, finding a solution to that need and sharing it with my friends and seeing their load lighten a bit,” said Erickson.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.