Some people won’t think twice about going out and blowing $100 on dinner. Then there’s Ewa Beach’s Ashley Dougherty, who manages to stretch her Benjamin to cover all of her meals for the entire month.
“Yup, my budget is $100 for food for the month and that’s my husband’s budget as well,” brags Dougherty.
Some people collect stamps, teddy bears or cat figurines, Dougherty collects coupons … thousands upon thousands of them. She has a 3-inch binder stuffed to 6 inches with coupons, stacks of Tupperware containers filled to capacity with coupons, a social network centered around coupons, stacks of yet-to-be-cut coupons, and a website devoted to, yes, coupons hawaiishopaholics.com. Basically, what she wears, what she eats, what she uses to clean the house are all based around those little deals-on-a-slip-of-paper.
“Would you call yourself extreme?”
Dougherty pauses, considers the question for a second and replies, “I’m just making ends meet.”
But it’s more than that. She clearly relishes her world of coupons and somehow keeps track of every single one. She finds cutting them out a joy (“Does your hand get tired?” “No way!”) and takes pride in her efficient organization system.
“If you’re going to ‘coupon’ and you want to be an efficient couponer (yes, the noun is now a verb and adjective) the biggest tip I have is that you have to be organized. If you’re not organized, you’re going to go into the stores and be a wreck and you’re going to miss deals,” she explains.
She has piles of coupons waiting to be sorted into her binder, others that she’ll trade with fellow couponers at a monthly swap, and yet others that are expired and will be sent to overseas military who can use them six months past their expiration date at stores on base. The giant pocketed binder goes with her on her shopping sprees. It’s divided into 26 categories from health and beauty to cleaning and food items. And she always has a calculator on hand.
Growing up, her mom was a coupon fanatic.
“It used to embarrass me,” admits Dougherty, “but now that I’m older and I see how money just flies through your hands, I was like, well why not?”
When Dougherty, a Louisiana native, moved to Hawaii two years ago with her Navy husband Kevin, she’d heard that prices in Hawaii are higher and that the state doesn’t offer the same couponing opportunities that diehards can find on the Mainland. Dougherty was happy to prove the naysayers wrong, watching the cash register on a typical shopping visit ka-ching to an average of 50 to 70 percent in savings. With the right marriage of coupons, sales and rebates, she not only gets items that might have normally cost about $10 for free, but she’s even gotten money back. She’s actually made money shopping!
“I shop at least twice a week, after the Sunday paper comes out and then when I receive MidWeek,” notes Dougherty. She makes herself familiar with store sale cycles. On top of the sales and clearances, she uses coupons to get the seriously “break-neck” deals.
“For instance, Kellogg’s just had a $5 off of five coupon out. Longs Drugs has them on sale for $2.89 a box. After the coupon, if you buy five, it’s $1.89 each. But Kellogg’s also has a $10 rebate when you buy 10, which makes it just 89 cents a box after the rebate. To get those rock-bottom prices, you just have to do your homework,” she says.
“Longs Drugs has the best deals, and its clearance is up to 90 percent off. Walmart is great for price-matching. Instead of driving all around town to each store, I come in with coupons for soup or chips from other stores and Walmart will match those prices. There’s also tearsheet coupons Foodland, Times, Safeway, Don Quijote, they all have tear pads, take a couple and build your coupon collection. That’s how you’re going to save the most.”
What about specialty items or what if someone’s on a diet?
“There’s deals on everything,” insists Dougherty. “I get dresses at Macy’s for $10 all the time, and I recently got wine at Foodland for $2.99 a bottle. (Foodland’s detailed coupon policy can be found at foodland.com) I have a lot of people who come to my coupon classes and say they’re vegans or vegetarians or diabetic. There are coupons for those things; it’s just really keeping an eye out.
“People pay full price for diapers and baby food, and all that stuff is expensive. One thing is not to be brand loyal. You might like a particular brand, but if you find the same thing, just a different brand, on sale, you’re probably getting it close to free if you’re using a coupon.”
You picture the grocery clerk going, “Oh, no, here comes another couponer.” But Dougherty says that’s not the case. “I have found most managers embrace couponers. Coupons are like money. Most couponers know more about the store’s coupon policy than the store’s workers. I find they learn a lot from us.”
Her website is dedicated to a frugal lifestyle, offering tips on couponing, rebates, sweepstakes. She wins free samples and prizes all the time, a recent memorable win being two tailor-made golf clubs. Oh yes, her husband loves what she does!
“This is my job,” she says. “I spend about three hours a day updating my website and then I take some time to do my personal couponing. Plus when I get the Sunday Star-Advertiser and again on Wednesday when MidWeek comes out, I do coupon match-ups to the sales ads. So I do all the homework for you.”
She posts coupons online, which can be combined with the latest Star-Advertiser and MidWeek sales ads.
Dougherty also teaches couponing classes to share her tricks of the trade with young couples, families or anyone (men enroll, too), looking to keep costs down. There’s the intro class on how to read coupons and how to use them. (“Some coupons offering a great deal or a free product will say ‘per person.’ If you’re going and have three kids with you, that’s four free products that you’re getting. Bring your kids’ friends along, too.”) Then there’s couponing 201, which talks about store policies. The third class has to do with military couponing. Classes cost $10 each, two for $15 or all three for $20.
To rake in the savings takes some initial patience because it involves building up a stockpile that you then replenish whenever a great sales deal pops up. But, warns Dougherty, you only want to buy what the family will use within a three- to six- month period, so that it doesn’t expire.
So, does she ever go shopping without coupons?
“No!” she says, laughing at the absurdity of the question. “Coupons are money it would be like leaving your wallet at home.”
In my 30 years in the newspaper business we have been selling the fact that the Sunday newspaper holds tremendous value and more than pays for itself. In fact, every day has value but I mention Sunday because that is the day in which the majority of coupons have been inserted for generations. Consumers have been utilizing these savings for years, but their value has increased more than ever with America experiencing the worst economy of our times.
I first learned about the extreme coupon craze on TLC’s Extreme Couponing, which I found fascinating. Then someone sent me a video of KITV news coverage of Ashley utilizing her coupons and teaching others how they can save huge amounts of money on their grocery and dry goods shopping. At the end of that broadcast the anchor held up a Honolulu Star-Advertiser and said, “If you want to save coupons check your Sunday paper” … well that gave me the idea to reach out and utilize Ashley as a testimonial on the value of our Sunday Star-Advertiser. The response has been tremendous. For the Star-Advertiser we have recently surpassed more than 100,000 Sunday home delivery subscribers for the first time ever.
I think Ashley is a shining light for all Hawaii consumers. I hope you will visit her website to receive tips on how you can save hundreds and thousands of dollars. We can all use that.
senior vice president of marketing for the Star-Advertiser