Editor’s note: Longtime readers of The Bee and its online network of local bloggers, Sacramento Connect, will recognize Kimberly Morales as the discerning, creative cook behind the Poor Girl Eats Well blog. In this issue of Food Wine, Morales compares shopping strategies and food philosophies with extreme couponer Kelly Gibbs of Elk Grove, who will appear tonight on TLC’s “Extreme Couponing.”
Kelly Gibbs stares at the checkout screen intently as the cashier scans coupon after coupon. She seems pleased as she watches her total get smaller with every coupon used.
That is, until
“You missed one,” she tells the cashier and leans over to point out the missing savings. “This one should have been a dollar off.”
When this extreme couponer goes shopping, she means business.
And with good reason. Gibbs, 24, is a wife, student and mother of a 1-year-old daughter, who, like most people nowadays, cuts costs as much as possible to make ends meet. Last year, she quit her job as a teacher’s aide to start studying for a career as a dental hygienist.
Since then, she and her husband, Zach, have had to live on his $25,000-a-year salary and a strict $50-a-month food budget.
With such small numbers, it’s small wonder that Gibbs has turned to couponing to make the most of her budget. She sets aside roughly 20 hours a week to research, clip coupons and shop. And the extreme savings are well worth the effort.
She doesn’t just clip coupons to help her immediate family. Her older brother is blind and deaf, and her father is on permanent disability because of renal failure. The deals Gibbs has been able to score through her extreme-couponing measures have helped her relatives get through difficult times.
So it makes sense that the popular TLC show, “Extreme Couponing,” would choose to feature Gibbs for today’s episode at 10 p.m. The show follows deal-conscious shoppers from across the country as they use their couponing skills to maximize their savings from store to store.
Over summer, Gibbs led camera crews through a Bel Air store in Elk Grove to show just how much she’s able to buy and save using various couponing methods. She went armed with a binder full of coupons and a plan and left paying next to nothing.
“I try to save at least 80 percent each time I shop,” Gibbs said when we spoke last week. “Sometimes, even more. Sometimes I won’t pay anything for a couple hundred dollars worth of food.”
After watching a media preview of the TLC show featuring Gibbs, I wanted to see her in action and met her at a second Bel Air store in Elk Grove to do some shopping. Between the show (Gibbs appears in the second half) and my own experience, I saw the extreme- couponer pile up impressive deals.
She picked up 21 boxes of Zyrtec, a popular allergy medication used by family members. By using coupons from the Zyrtec website and combining them with printable coupons, Gibbs got $5 off each box. After also applying a store coupon, she paid nothing.
Gibbs also loaded up on stocking stuffers, snagging 260 boxes of Tic Tacs.
“Every year for Christmas, my mom likes to put candy in our stockings,” Gibbs said.
The candy sold for $1.29 but was on sale at 10 for $10. Using coupons for $1 off per box, she was able to get all 260 boxes for free.
This example offers the biggest secret that “Extreme Couponing” producer Caroline Perez said she has learned from Gibbs and shoppers: “Hold onto coupons until an item goes on sale in order to earn the biggest savings.”
Gibbs also likes to look for offers that will give money back. Her brother’s favorite yogurt was on sale at $6 for 10 containers, with a bonus of $2 off her next shopping trip if she bought 20 containers. She purchased 40 and received $4 off her next trip.
When I was tailing Gibbs, I saw her bill drop to $1.29 from $26.45, and I started to wonder if I wasn’t missing out on some serious bargains by shying away from coupons.
It’s not that I don’t use coupons, but for a single woman like me, some coupons just don’t make practical sense. Why would I buy eight jars of pasta sauce just to save 50 cents? Where would I even put the jars, considering my kitchen is about the size of a postage stamp? Better yet, why wouldn’t I just make the pasta sauce from scratch?
And then there are the anti-couponing prejudices that many staunch from-scratch cooks secretly harbor.
As much as I love the convenience of some pre-packaged foods, I love the art of cooking and the security of knowing exactly what’s in my food much more.
Most of my recipes use whole ingredients, not just to ensure the quality of my dishes but as a way to cut costs. Though it seems counterintuitive at first, whole ingredients can be used in several dishes, vs. buying one pre-made meal. This stretches grocery dollars much further and, depending on food preparation and choices, can make dinners healthier.
As someone who prefers to make dishes from scratch, I have felt that a lot of coupons just don’t make the cut. They discount prepared foods like frozen or boxed dinner entrees or junk food.
I asked Gibbs how she gets around this, since she described herself as a big fan of cooking.
“I have a garden, so I get a lot of my produce that way,” she explained as we wound through the store aisles. Gibbs uses her garden’s harvest to make her own salsa, and after a serious cucumber surplus this summer, she kept family and friends well-stocked in pickles.
“I also don’t buy things like bagged cheese unless there are some really good deals,” Gibbs continued. “I usually buy block cheese, shred it myself, then freeze it.”
This is a woman after my own heart. Bagged, shredded cheese is my favorite example of how much we spend for convenience. Grating cheese from a block that costs about the same as a small bag of the shredded kind will yield about three times as much cheese and takes only an extra five minutes.
Gibbs also mentioned something I hadn’t considered: Some of those cheese blocks can be purchased with coupons. So can things like bread, condiments and other ingredients used in everyday cooking.
A coupon, in those instances, would definitely reduce my overall grocery bill, which could come in very handy during my next $25 shopping cart trip.
So, even a single person with limited storage space can use coupons on things she actually needs and uses, without being run out of her home by dozens of jars of strawberry marmalade.
It just takes a little extra time and effort and an open mind. Lesson learned.
What else did the Poor Girl learn from the Extreme Couponer?
Do your research: Ask for store policies regarding coupons so you know what to expect at the checkout stand.
The Internet is a couponer’s best friend: From sites like Hip2Save to programs like RecycleBank, which gives points coupons for pledging to lead a greener life, surfing the Web can result in big savings
Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for their junk mail. Not everyone is a fan of those weekly circulars with coupons and ads, so they may happily turn them over to someone who doesn’t mind sifting through them for deals.
Kelly Gibbs spends 20 hours a week to get the best deals, but you don’t have to spend that much time to realize significant savings. Learn how to use the Internet to do the coupon sorting for you at these free classes, courtesy of The Sacramento Bee. You must sign up at beebuzzpoints.com.
10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Thursday: Thrive Church, 3109 Dwight Road, Elk Grove
10 a.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Oct. 19: Sunrise Event Center, 11167 Trade Center Drive, Rancho Cordova
10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Nov. 2: Family Community Church, 6331 Watt Ave., North Highlands