On a recent grocery shopping trip, Rochelle Hamby and her husband filled up a shopping cart with items that included steaks and lobster. Her bill came out to $14.
Hamby's pantry looks like as if could survive a zombie apocalypse.
Using clipped-out newspaper coupons, deals she discovered online and her own aggressive shopping methods, she's filled the shelves with laundry detergent, toilet paper and soup. Her garage freezer is full of Angus sirloins and T-bone steaks, which, with a Wall Street trader's acuity, she stocked up on at rock-bottom prices.
“I could probably live on what I already have in my house for another year or two without purchasing anything except fresh produce,” she said.
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Hamby does not fit the stereotypical image of the penny-pinching, money-worrying coupon clipper. She sees pursuing discounts not as a necessary evil, but as a fun game of “How much can I save?”
As many of us stress about rising gas prices, world food shortages or the sputtering economy, Hamby has risen to the challenge and is saving herself thousands of dollars, one 50-cent coupon at a time.
“I wish I did this in my 20s when I was broke,” says Hamby, who works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Some people laugh at me for couponing, but I'm laughing all the way to the bank.”
On Web sites with names like The Dollar Stretcher and Hot Coupon World, shoppers have formed communities that will tell you whether a deal is too good to be true or whether you should bother to fire up the printer.
Some bloggers have made a business out of deal hunting.
Crystal Paine, a stay-at-home mother in Kansas City, Kan., was writing a personal blog about being a Christian mom three years ago. She noticed the shopping tips she was posting were getting a lot of attention, so she spun it into a separate site, Money Saving Mom. She gets about 20,000 visitors to her site per day.
“It's a pretty hot topic right now,” Paine said of being a part of what she calls the “Frugal Blogosphere.” “I make a very decent income off of it.”
Deal hunters such as Paine find stores that double or triple the value of coupons, “stack” store deals with manufacturer's coupons and take advantage of loyalty card programs at drugstores and grocery stores.
Though there are plenty of sites that share online discount codes for high-def TVs or Dell laptops, Paine chooses to focus on necessities.
“A lot of people that read my site, that would be way out of their budget,” she said. “Everyone has to eat. Everyone has to buy groceries.”