MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Use a 50-cent coupon and save 50-cents, right? Not necessarily. If you work at it, you may save two or even three times the face value.
Stephanie Nelson learned the secrets of coupons eight years ago, almost by accident. She was using coupons to buy food for a struggling food bank in her hometown.
"I ended up getting $60 of groceries for only $16," she said. "I thought, 'Wait a minute. Maybe there's something to this.'"
Today, Stephanie is better known as the Coupon Mom. Her web site, which now has 1.6 million members, offers all kinds of tips.
"The key for me is to plan ahead," she explained to our news partner, WTOC-TV, in Savannah, Georgia.
Planning means checking the sale circulars before you make out your weekly menu.
"You plan your meals around the featured sales," she explained. "Most people would decide what they want to eat that week and make their shopping list around that, but you will cut your shopping bill dramatically if you do it the other way around."
Stephanie never leaves the house without first clipping coupons. Then she searches her web site, www.couponmom.com for more discounts.
You can also find on-line coupons at WSFA's internet coupon site, The Coupon Bug.
You can often use both regular and electronic coupons on the same item. And if you shop on 'double coupons day,' you can often save even more.
"This [yogurt] is $2.49," Stephanie showed us. "But I have a coupon for 50 cents off and the store will double it. I also have an electronic coupon which will come off automatically for $1. You can use all of those, so this [yogurt] will cost me 49 cents."
But the real savings come when using a coupon on an item that's been placed on sale.
"For example, this store has close out prices on pasta," Stephanie said. "And I have a coupon for it, so I will actually get this for free."
Shopping with the Coupon Mom feels almost like a scavenger hunt. Take those buy-one get-one-free promotions. In those instances, she says it's important to know the store's policy.
"Some stores charge full price for the first item and zero for the next - meaning you have to buy 2 items to get the benefit of the sale," Stephanie explained. "But many grocery stores will charge half price for each item."
"I only want to buy one [bottle of lotion], so instead of paying $5.63, I'll pay $2.61 minus my $1.50 coupon. In the end, I'll pay $1.30 for this big bottle of lotion instead of $5.63. That's a good deal."
After following her own advice, Stephanie's final grocery bill went from $98 down to $17.76 - a savings of more than $80.
And that's just at the grocery store. In our next Money Saving Mondays report, the Coupon Mom shows how to save at the corner drug store. That's Monday, May25th on WSFA 12 News at 10:00.