By SUZANNA K. LOURIE
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Extreme Couponers. Sure, you’ve heard of them: ordinary people saving extraordinarily large sums of money by clipping coupons. And maybe you’ve seen them on TLC’s hit reality show, “Extreme Couponing.” But do these savvy savers really exist here in Saratoga Springs?
The answer is yes. Meet two local super couponers: Charlene DuBuque of Ballston Spa and Kate Scott of Saratoga Springs.
Between the two of them, DuBuque and Scott save more than $700 on groceries and household items every week.
How do they do it?
To cut costs and fight back against a tough economy, DuBuque and Scott plan financially savvy schedules each weekend, starting with the bonus coupons found in the weekend editions of local newspapers.
“On Sundays, I wake up and get the two local papers. Then, my mother-in-law and friends send me their coupons, so I’ll have about six or seven copies of the same inserts that you get in one paper, which is six or seven times the discount,” Dubuque explained.
Scott’s routine is a little different. Early Saturday morning, she heads to Stewart’s to pick up four copies of the Times Union’s early bird special edition with extra coupons.
The next step is digital. Both women spend between 30 minutes to an hour each day comparing print coupons to current sales at stores like Price Chopper, CVS and Rite Aid. They’re looking for online coupons and sales that match their print coupons.
“At least half match up each week with the sales,” DuBuque said.
After scouring the print and online deals, it’s time to start clipping.
“My two oldest kids clip and they get free TV time — they love it and it helps a lot,” DuBuque said with a laugh.
Once everything is meticulously laid out, Scott and DuBuque arrange their personal coupon binders.
“I cut the coupons and organize them in the binder — I plan out everything I’m going to buy that week,” Scott said.
DuBuque also uses a coupon book with the vouchers carefully laid out, organized not only by store, but by aisle. That book travels with DuBuque to every store, just in case she happens to see something forgotten on the list.
On the off-chance they do see an item not on the list, DuBuque and Scott rarely surrender to the urge to make an impulse buy.
“The thing is, I do everything with coupons. We don’t buy anything unless it’s with a coupon, from going out to restaurants to buying clothing,” DuBuque said.
Scott agreed. “I don’t even remember the last time I went anywhere without a coupon, and I never splurge on random items,” she said.
It might be strict, but living by the couponer’s code pays off. DuBuque saves between $200 and $500 each week while shopping for six, and Scott saves around $200 between herself, her boyfriend and two pets.
“There’s no way we could have the kind of stuff we have if I wasn’t clipping. Even once I’m in the job force, I’m still going to do this,” DuBuque said.
Although DuBuque recently finished graduate school, full-time work isn’t an option right now.
“My husband makes a decent salary, but it’s not enough for six people, and two of my kids have special needs — my baby goes to therapy, so it’s hard to find a nine-to-five,” she said.
DuBuque said she saves the most each week at Price Chopper due to their policy of doubling coupons up to 99 cents.
Price Choppers’ competitive Capital District coupon deals are about to be broadcast nationally.
A Price Chopper spokesperson said the TLC show “Extreme Couponing” filmed a segment at the Watertown Price Chopper several weeks ago to profile an extreme couponer from the area. The air date is still uncertain.
“We’ve definitely noticed an increase in people using coupons since the show started,” said Tom Smith, the Ballston Spa Avenue Price Chopper’s front end manager.
Although DuBuque and Scott aren’t quite as extreme as some of the crazed TLC couponers, both admit that the hobby does have a darker side.
After learning to clip from her mom, Scott quickly surpassed her mother’s couponing compulsion.
“It’s definitely an addiction,” Scott said. “If I don’t do it — yesterday we went out to the lake and I was like, ‘I have to do my coupons’ — I feel anxious when I don’t do it or if I buy something without a coupon.”
DuBuque agreed, saying, “It does become kind of addicting. When we were in Plattsburgh, we would get stuff pretty much free and we’d have so much stuff — just coming out of the closets. Now I only buy things we need or just a little extra.”
Of all the addictions in today’s society, saving hundreds of dollars per month doesn’t stand out as a cause for worry. Of course, all habits need moderation, but DuBuque and Scott are two examples of local extreme couponers who, with a little extra time and effort, manage to balance their lives with their savings.
“I’ll never go back to shopping without coupons,” DuBuque said. “I started clipping coupons when I was 17 and I’ve never looked back.”