Virginia ‘Couponer' Uses Grocery Store Deals to Help People in Need

A woman who clips coupons for a cause has 10 tips for people just getting started

Last week, Gina Schweppe stacked 72 cups of organic applesauce into her shopping cart. The bill should have been $54. But, with coupons, she walked away with the snacks for less than $6.

The Northern Virginia mom clips coupons to save money on groceries for her own family -- and to help stock food banks for people in need.

"There’s no reason for me to hold tightly to my tubes of toothpaste when there are actually people out there that need toothpaste," she said.

Clipping coupons from newspapers and hunting them down online is a lot of work, but it keeps the Schweppe family's grocery bills low, she said.

"We get things for cheap to free all the time," she said.

The little pieces of paper do create some clutter.

"Literally, we have coupons in every little crevice of our house," Schweppe said. "We have coupons in our car. We have coupons in places there should not be coupons."

Schweppe, of Ashburn, first used coupons as a child, with her mother. As an adult, she started watching "extreme couponing" videos on how to buy impressive amounts of groceries for little money.

The stay-at-home mom of two said she started a nonprofit called Loudoun Coupons for Hope. She buys in bulk and donates items to Community Church, in Ashburn.

Pastor Brian Ayers praised her work to help others.

"It’s really exciting. I honestly never thought of something like couponing being used in the way that Gina’s doing that, but it’s really cool to see," he said.

Schweppe started a class at the church to teach others how to use coupons, and she gives tips on YouTube

"I wanted to combine my love for couponing, my passion for couponing, with also giving back," she said.

Schweppe had these 10 tips on couponing:

1. The Sunday newspaper is one of the best places to look for coupons.

2. There are two main types of coupons: manufacturer's coupons and store coupons. Manufacturer's coupons are put out by brands. These coupons can be used at a variety of places. Store coupons are put out by stores and only can be used at those stores.

3. Planning ahead is key. Check out the circulars to find out what's on sale, and then try to use coupons on top of the sale prices. That will save you the most money.

4. Organization is important. You will want to keep everything organized by category, e.g. food, household, health, baby, pet, beauty. One way to do that is by having a plastic bag for each category. Another way is by having a binder.

5. Be sure to read the fine print on the coupons, e.g. on limitations, expiration dates, etc.

6. Don't feel like you have to buy something just because you have a great coupon for it. If you don't need the item, it doesn't matter how good of a deal it is. You will save more money if you don't buy it.

7. You may encounter people at checkout -- such as the cashier and the customers behind you -- who act frustrated or impatient when they see you pull out your coupons. Don't let them get to you. Just remember that what you're doing isn't wrong!

"It’s gonna be stressful," Schweppe said. "I know my first few times, when I saw people standing behind me and looking upset with me because I had a million coupons, it would stress me out. I would literally start to sweat in the line. I have to remember that the people that are upset with me behind me, I’m never gonna see again."

8. Some stores have a policy in which they double any coupon up to $0.99 every day. So, if you're getting an item that's normally $2 and you have a coupon for $0.99, the coupon will double to $1.98 and your item will be basically free! Some grocery stores will occasionally have special days where they raise the limit for how much they will double, for example, on anything up to $2 off, or they might even triple your coupons, so be on the lookout for those special days.

9. Military families stationed overseas can actually use expired coupons at their bases up to six months after the expiration date. So, if you have any expired coupons, don't throw them out -- donate them!

10. Couponing takes time to master. You probably will not be able to go to a store and walk out with a cart full of free groceries right away. As with anything, practice makes perfect.

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