The cart was overflowing with groceries, but because Sara Steigerwald bought nearly everything on sale, the total was just $106. That was just the start of her savings. Halfway through scanning Sara’s stack of coupons, the Giant Eagle clerk looked up and joked, “Am I going to end up paying you?” After coupons, the total had dropped to $42. But Sara wasn’t finished.
The cart was overflowing with groceries, but because Sara Steigerwald bought nearly everything on sale, the total was just $106.
That was just the start of her savings.
Halfway through scanning Sara’s stack of coupons, the Giant Eagle supermarket clerk looked up and joked, “Am I going to end up paying you?”
After coupons, the total had dropped to $42.
But Sara wasn’t finished. She handed the clerk her “catalinas,” which are store credit slips she got at the register on previous shopping trips. Several said “$5 off your next visit.”
The total dropped to $17.
But wait, there’s more. After Sara paid, the cashier handed her new catalinas for her next visit that totaled $14.
A fluke? Nope. Sara of Osnaburg Township, Ohio, and sister-in-law Lisa Steigerwald of Jackson Township, Ohio, do this week after week. They’ve become so expert at getting groceries and other household items for pennies on the dollar that they’ve even been asked to give a workshop to help others do the same.
When Sara took a child-care leave from her teaching job to care for her daughters, ages 1 and 2, she realized she had to help with the family finances.
“I’ve always considered myself frugal, but it wasn’t till I really got into the (Web) sites that I realized you really don’t have to pay for much at all,” Sara said. “I used to buy off-brand items, shop at Aldi’s, all that. Now I buy name brands and save 70 to 85 percent on my grocery bills. We eat better than we did before.”
When Lisa heard about Sara’s success, she joined, and other family members are following.
The objections heard most often to couponing are that you have to run from store to store to get the deals, that the coupons are just for processed food and things you don’t want, and that it’s a full-time job to keep it up.
False, false and false say the Steigerwalds. They shop at just three stores: Giant Eagle because it doubles coupons, and at Walgreens and Rite Aid because they allow “stacking,” which is the use of manufacturer’s coupons on top of store coupons and rebates.
Although many coupons admittedly are for processed food, Sara’s grocery cart was loaded with oranges, bananas, milk, cheese, bread and fresh chicken, all bought with coupons.
“You can even save on staples,” Lisa said. “Like I have one that if you buy Special K, you get $2 off milk.”
Is it time consuming?
“We get together once a week to clip coupons,” Sara said. “We put the kids to bed, our husbands watch sports and we clip.”
They also buy multiple copies of local newspapers.
“Depending on the deals, we (each) get 14 to 18 newspapers,” Lisa said. “That’s the key to getting the best deals, by having multiple coupons.”
For instance, if the store is offering 5 Lean Cuisines for $10 and you have a coupon from the paper for 50 cents off, that doubles to $1, so you get five Lean Cuisines for $9. But if you have five coupons (cut from five newspapers), you get $1 off each Lean Cuisine, or five for $5.
Organization is the key to spending the least amount of time and minimizing frustration at the store. They use three-ring binders filled with clear plastic pages meant for holding baseball cards. In each sleeve are multiple copies of the same coupon. The pages are alphabetized.
“It’s funny, when you’re shopping, you recognize other couponers by their binders,” Lisa said. “We stop and chat, share trade secrets.”
The Steigerwalds warn that it takes practice to reap significant savings. For instance, at Walgreens, they have learned to split their orders in order to maximize savings and catalinas, called Register Rewards.
Sara said sometimes they end up facing a deal for free or nearly free on items they don’t need, which allows them to give to family members and donate to their church.
But even if they have enough coupons to empty the shelf, they don’t.
“There’s couponing etiquette. You never clear shelves, never take advantage,” Sara said.
They also try to shop when stores are not busy.
“At Walgreens, always check out at the cosmetic counter so you’re not clogging the line at the front,” Lisa said. “And tell people behind you (in line) that you have a lot of coupons, that it might take a while. “
Sara and Lisa have gotten so expert that they walk right by sales that others snatch up, and they object to paying even pennies for certain items.
“Oh, we never pay for frozen vegetables anymore,” Lisa said matter-of-factly.
But the thrill of saving money never gets old.
“If I’ve had a bad day, I say to my husband, ‘Can you watch the girls? I’m going to Walgreens.’ ” Lisa said. “It’s a great pick-me-up.”
On the Web
One key to big savings is matching sales to coupons. For help, the Steigerwalds recommend visiting web sites dedicated to that task.
For Rite Aid:
For all stores: