If I Didn't See It With My Own Eyes...
She is very sweet. Almost kind of shy. And she's nervous. She's never been on television before and she didn't expect to be anytime soon.
But what Crissy Thompson didn't count on was that I would meet an acquaintance of hers, and that we would strike up a conversation about coupons, and that this acquaintance would say, "Well my friend who lives in Gainesville, she spends sometimes, like $10 a week on groceries."
"What, for one person?"
"No, she's got three kids and a husband."
Okay, I am so there.
I call Crissy and ask her to let us spend the day with her to see how she shops. She seems a little hesitant but is very nice and agrees. We drive to her house in Gainesville and at her kitchen table we talk about how it all began.
"It got to the point where groceries were going up and paychecks weren't."
Crissy was pregnant with her third child and had reached the point that she was breaking even paying for childcare while she worked. She and her husband agreed it would be best for her to try to stay home with their children but they had to find a way to save money.
The family's grocery bill was $200 to $250 dollars a week. She began clippping coupons, trying to match them up with sales in the weekly fliers from grocery and drug stores. As Crissy's husband Joe puts it, "At first it kind of blew my mind because she'd bring things home and I'd be like is this legit or what? Are we going to get in trouble?"
It was legit alright.
And it took a bit of research and work. It still does.
Crissy says it takes her about an hour a week to get ready for her shopping trip, a trip that takes three to four hours and involves three to seven stores in the area.
She buys two copies of the AJC's daily double Sunday paper, getting four papers, four sets of coupons, for $5. She also goes to her favorite coupon websites (see links).
On the day we're with Crissy, we tell her we just want a sampling of what she does. She tells us we're going to CVS and Publix, two of her favorite stores.
I do coupons every week myself so I was very curious to see how she did it.
At the Publix, Crissy got her best deals with the buy 1, get 1 free items.
Most local grocery stores will let you buy only one item and get it 50% off. If you pair a coupon with that (most grocery stores double coupons up to 50 cents) you can sometimes get the item for free or next to nothing.
What I learned from Crissy is that you can use one coupon per item.
All this time I had misunderstood what it says on each coupon, only one coupon per purchase. I took "purchase" to mean "transaction." It's not.
For example, Crissy grabbed two boxes of cereal that were buy 1, get 1 free. The cereal was $3.79 a box. Crissy had a three dollar coupon for each box of cereal. She made over $2.00 when she pulled those boxes off the shelves. I thought I could only use one coupon, no matter how many boxes or cans or whatever I'd bought. So that's good for me to know.
She didn't buy any produce or meat when we were with her. The best deals that week were elsewhere and she told us she often gets her produce from local farmers at a nearby market where prices are very inexpensive. When we got to checkout her bill was $15.38 and she saved $36.22. Basically she saved two thirds of the bill.
Next we went to CVS in Dawsonville. "The best deals at CVS are coupons and Extra Care Bucks." Crissy explains that the Extra Care Bucks are given to you on specially marked items. You receive the bucks on your receipt and are good on your next purchase.
So Crissy does five separate transactions on this visit. CVS will have several items that are the best deal of the week, where you can essentially get the product for free.
Here's an example from our visit. Adidas deoderant was $4.99 and if you bought it, you'd get back $4.99 in Extra Bucks. They also had some toothbrushes that were $3.99 and you would receive $3.99 back in Extra Bucks. "By splitting it up into several transactions, I can take the extra care bucks I get and use it to pay for the next (items)."
Don't forget, Crissy also had coupons for most of these products. "That's the best when they have anything that's free after the Extra Care Bucks because when you have a coupon you're basically getting paid to buy the product."
Crissy walks through the store, shopping for her items. She advises people not to buy products or clip coupons for items they don't need because then they'll spend more money. However, she says when she can get things for free, she'll buy them and donate the items to a local shelter.
We get to the check out. Crissy does five transactions. She places a few items on the counter and says "This is my first transaction."
This is perfectly okay by the way.
We not only talked to the manager of the store about it, we talked to corporate headquarters in Rhode Island.
Her first total is $1.05. "It would have been $14. I paid $1.05 and I just got money back, Extra Care Bucks."
Then she places the next items on the counter and this time uses the extra care bucks to pay. "It would have been about $25. I just paid $1.61."
This is the way it goes for five transactions. At the end, Crissy has a bag full of household items ranging from toothbrushes to Tums. Her total would have been $140.00. I ask "How much did you pay?" Her answer, "Under five dollars."
I consider myself pretty good with coupons, or at least I did until I met Crissy.
I ask for her help for my purchases. We need some new toothbrushes, I need face cleanser and I would like a certain eye cream that is $20.
By following her directions, looking for items marked with the extra bucks sign, and using my own coupons I make my purchases. I also have $9 in extra bucks already in my wallet. My first purchase is $4 after my extra care bucks and coupons. I receive back $19 in extra bucks.
On my second transaction, the cleanser I buy is free with the purchase of the eye cream, an in store deal. My bill is zero.
I've just purchased $50 worth of products for $4. I practically jump up and down.
Now, this first time Crissy had to tell me what to buy and in what order so I could get the bucks back but I think I'll be quick to catch on in the future.
I got in the car and started calling my girlfriends, my sister and my mother. I was trying to explain to them how it worked and I kept getting frustrated because it's not that easy to explain over the phone and if you don't understand extra bucks.
Crissy says there are deals to be had everywhere. These were just two examples, but pretty impressive ones. She says at Target, you can print their coupons out from their website and use a manufacturer coupon with them, two coupons to buy one product.
Actually her best trip ever was at a Target. Her bill was over $380.00. She paid, get this, two cents. TWO CENTS!!!
I still don't know how she did that one. But even she was proud. She says she kept the receipt for a long time and that everybody heard about that trip.
I ask her about the stigma attached to coupons. I know in my grocery store I never see anyone with coupons besides myself.
Crissy is very matter of fact about it. "That piece of paper is that much money you're keeping in your bank account. No matter what you're income level is, you want to make that dollar go as far as you can and this is just a way to do that. To me personally, when I see someone in the store who has coupons I look at them as a smart shopper."
As for the looks Crissy gets? "When I go I get people behind me who are just glued to the register watching it go down." Other customers have asked her for advice, have exchanged e mails. "The cashier is either completely amazed or they're very offended like I'm stealing from them."
As for people who say coupons are for junk. "Some are junk, so don't clip them. If you buy everything you have a coupon for you're going to end up spending more than you would normally spend and you're going to have things you can't use."
For this stay at home Mom, coupons help the family live a better life. "It's the difference in my children being able to have the things they want and being able to have a decent place to live and get the bills paid."
That's something that is getting more challenging for many people.
Crissy Thompson is very humble about how good she is with coupons. If I tried my hardest, I don't think I could ever do anywhere near the two cent deal at Target.
But because of her, I know I'll be able to save my family even more each month.
Crissy jokes that the coupons are now her hobby, her addiction. Well if you have to be addicted to something, saving money at the grocery store these days is a good problem to have.