Local woman offers tips on couponing

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Neil Johnson
Sunday, October 22, 2017

TOWN OF BELOIT—Sharon Wisen buys 10 copies of a local newspaper’s weekend edition every week in her hunt for as many coupons as she can get.

That’s not a common trend in couponing, but Wisen, a photographer who lives in the town of Beloit, has found coupons are one way she can keep her pantry stocked with enough Life cereal to satisfy her equipment operator/firefighter husband, Tom Wisen.

Over the last decade, Wisen’s, who considers herself a “non-extreme couponer,” has learned how to arm herself with paper coupons to save big on grocery and box store trips. She’s figured out how to organize the little paper vouchers by item and expiration date, and she carries them in a plastic Tupperware container she often takes into stores.

The work of couponing takes Wisen an hour or two a week, but her savings can be huge.

In recent years, Wisen said she’s never paid more than 99 cents for a jug of laundry detergent, and she’s learned to sometimes save $200 on bulk buys of diapers and other items. Most of Wisen’s savings come the good, old fashioned way—paper coupons that come in flyers in the Sunday edition of The Gazette.

For those new to couponing, Wisen offers some tips:

-- Match coupons with sales at local stores. It’s 101 for couponers, but Wisen stresses that in-store sales of items combined with a coupon can lead to some eye-popping savings. Like 99-cent laundry detergent.  

-- Try websites that track couponing deals or local grocery chains’ own electronic apps that update in-store sales weekly. Wisen cites one couponing blog she uses frequently—wildforwags.com, an independently run site dedicated to tracking coupons, sales and in-store coupon deals at Walgreens stores. There are dozens of such sites dedicated to other retailers.

-- Don’t overthink or overhunt. Some so-called “extreme couponers” can practically run a forensic scrub of dozens of blogs or social media pages in a hunt to match coupons to the cheapest possible sale price at every possible area retail store.

Wisen said going to extremes doesn’t always pay off. She pointed out that some blogs tout coupon deals or other promotions that might only be available in certain metro areas. A shopper often can only travel so far for a deal before it becomes a wash.

Simply figuring out what sales are going at a few area stores and matching them with coupons you have in hand can save nearly as much as a broad dragnet, Wisen said.

“I have gotten myself overwhelmed with too many coupon blogs before. There’s Facebook pages, too,” Wisen said. “You could drive yourself crazy. I’m like a simplified person. Just give me something simple.”

-- Make use of in-store rewards that shoppers can earn as frequent customers at some retailers. Wisen shops at Walgreens frequently, so she amasses rewards through the Walgreens frequent shopper program. Wisen keeps track of the rewards and has learned when to use them, sometimes cashing them in in tandem with coupons she already has.

Consumers can often overlook rewards balances they have, especially if they have programs running with multiple retailers. Many retailers have electronic apps customers can use to check their rewards balances. Wisen said it’s often worth the time for shoppers to check their balances before they hit a store.

“Think of it as money. You don’t throw that away,” she said.

-- If there is a good coupon deal on a common item, (laundry detergent) consider getting to the store where you expect the deal early or have a fallback store in mind. Keep in mind that in a small or mid-size city, a couponer is competing for finite available goods with others who are likely going to be armed with the same coupons.

Wisen said that when bulk buying popular coupon items at multiple stores, she sometimes buys at multiple stores to leave items in stock for other customers. Wisen cautions that she’s seen others who aren’t as benevolent. They’ll clear a store’s shelves of an item.

“With coupons, it’s kind of like every day can be Black Friday,” she said.

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