{Money} How to Shop for Free: Confessions of an Extreme Couponer

FOFrugal?! Kathy Spencer, author of “How to Shop for Free,” lives off a yearly income of $45,000, feeding her family of six on just $4 dollars per week. (You read that right!) She saves an estimated $60,000 per year with her tried and true couponing tricks. Here, she shares some of her best saving secrets, including the hardest item to get for free (and how she succeeded at getting it), how to become “rich at the drugstore,” and ways to cut down your weekly grocery bill.

Enter to win a copy of Kathy’s book, “How to Shop for Free,” by answering this question in the comments below: what was the best thing you ever got for free (or almost free?)

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Where can someone find the best coupons?
Coupon inserts.  Before the truck comes to pick up the unsold papers at your local gas station or convenience store, ask if you can take the inserts. Put a donation box for coupons at a local church.

What online resources can you recommend for coupons?
Coupons.com, and SmartSource.com. You can print coupons off [those] websites.

Do you have a system for organizing all of your coupons?
On my website I have something called the Coupon Database, so if you wanted to know if there was a coupon for Crest toothpaste, [you can search ‘toothpaste’] and it would pull up all the inserts that came out with coupons for toothpaste. I cut the coupons from the insert and organize them by date in my file cabinet. For my coupons [that I’m ready to use,] I have a little [ziploc] baggy for every store I go to.  Those bags go in my purse, so that if I’m driving around I have my coupons and am ready to go.

Can you offer some couponing tips for once you have your coupons organized and ready to go?

  • 1) Be patient. I didn’t get my spending down to 4 dollars a week [right away]. I started challenging myself. The best thing to do is to start tracking how much you save [each week.]
  • 2) Set a realistic goal. Go over your receipts to find out what you really are spending each week. Then give yourself a goal. If you’re spending 300 dollars a week at the grocery store, take a baby step and [aim for] 5-10% off of that, so it’s not so scary and drastic, it’s doable.
  • 3) Only take cash to the store. That way you don’t make spontaneous purchases.
  • 4) Track it all. As long as you’re keeping a chart [with your savings], you’re going to feel empowered. You did it this week, you’ve got [extra] money in your pocket.
  • 5) Always stick to your list. Once you have that list, you’re going to be in and out of the grocery store quicker than ever.
  • 6) Get as many free things as you can. Any time something is free, get as much of it as you can. Don’t get one or two — you want to buy for a year out. If you don’t have [enough] coupons [for the items that are free], you can [get the coupons] on eBay for a couple of bucks. Your stockpile [of household necessities] will get bigger and bigger, and your list of needs will get smaller and smaller, until you reach your goal budget. As long as you’re focused and determined, anyone can do it.

Kathy often showcases the stockpiles of her coupon cutting devotees on her blog.

How do you feel about deal sites like Groupon, or LivingSocial?
I love them! LivingSocial is one of my favorites. Not only is everything discounted, but for every three friends you refer, you get [the deal] for free. I’ll buy it and put it on my website or my Facebook page and say, “look, this is what I got, it’s a great deal!” When three people buy the deal, it makes mine completely free. You can’t get better than that.

Do you use any shopping apps?
My favorite is the barcode scanner. If you’re in a store and you see, let’s say a baby carrier that you want, you can scan the product barcode and it will tell you where in your vicinity it’s for sale.

Can you recommend any deals specifically for FOFs?
If you’re over fifty, you may be [considered] senior citizens, and a lot of stores and restaurants such as Kohl’s and Denny’s offer seniors special savings.

How do you get beauty products  for free?
You can get all drugstore items completely free. I get everything at CVS. Take advantage of their Extra Care program. It gives you 2% back (in Extra Care bucks) on all purchases, and $1 of Extra Care bucks for every 2 prescriptions filled. Extra Care bucks are just like monopoly money [you can use them on anything in the store.] You can keep adding coupons on top of that. You can actually become rich at drugstores. I have a member on my website [who shops at] Rite Aid. Whatever she gets, works out completely free, with a rebate and coupons. The Rite Aid rebate turns your coupons into cash. She’s made over $10,000 in free Rite Aid money, which translates to cash once she gets the [rebate] check.

What about clothing?
At Ann Taylor and The Loft, and they have sales that are 40% off, and then they’ll offer different coupons or a savings card that says spend $50 get $25 off. So if a brand new shirt was $50 and then you get 40% off, that brings it to $30, and if you had $25 off $50 that would bring it down to $15. You can stack that coupon there, and also at New York and Company. If you don’t have those savings cards, you can go on Ebay and buy them for a very minimal [amount], maybe $1.

What is the hardest item to get for free?
Heating oil, which I thought was impossible. I’ve actually had two or three free fill-ups so far. There’s a program called Neighbor’s Oil. You go on and you sign up to find out what companies offer the best deal in your neighborhood. It does all of the price shopping for you. There’s no cost to sign up, and for every person you refer, you get a $10 credit. If ten of your friends sign up, that’s $100 in free oil.

Is there anything you can’t get for free?
Everyone asks me that. I say a car, but you can get that through freecar.com, or if you put advertisements on your car.  I look at everything like a math problem — there’s always a solution but some of them are easier to figure out. [Free] toothpaste is easy, but things like an in-ground pool, you must challenge yourself. There’s a way to get anything for free if you just think outside  the box.

Enter to win a copy of Kathy’s book, “How to Shop for Free,” by answering this question in the comments below: what was the best thing you ever got for free (or almost free?)

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One FOF will win. (See all our past winners, here.) (See official rules, here.) Contest closes July 19th, 2012 at midnight E.S.T.

60 Responses to “{Money} How to Shop for Free: Confessions of an Extreme Couponer”

  1. Celeste Crago says:

    I did some concentrated wishing/affirming for 4 days, and envisioned my boss calling me and saying “I’m giving you the BMW.” And that happened on the morning of the 5th day! I was in a prosperity class for 12 weeks at Unity Church of Savannah. Blew everyone away.

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  2. Phoenix says:

    I’ve gotten lots of great outfits for free through Freecycle.

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  3. Patti says:

    I am a couponer myself, and while I don’t get a lot of things free I certainly save a lot of money. Recently I got several free canned milks on sale during Kings mega 10 event (onsale for $1, coupon for .50 doubled = free). Another recent great deal was Hebrew National hot dogs, in the discount bin at Safeway (still well in date), they mark them 50% – but they ring up at the regular price (which happened to be bogo) then when they scanned the 50% – i got them free. I got about 4 packages that way. The best though was last summer I bought ribeye steaks that they mis-charged me for at Kings – i went back to cust service and BOOM they were free!! 😀

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  4. Karen Carroll says:

    The razor deal recently at CVS.

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  6. Bart says:

    I would love to win this gift card so I can buy the Zwilling JA Henckels International EverEdge Plus 13 Piece Block Cutlery Set.I really need some new knievs.Thanks for thegiveaway

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  8. Kathie Rose says:

    When I get a 30% of for Kohls I will go there and only look at the clearance ranks which is anywhere from 60%-80% off,I buy my grandkids, nieces and the rest of the family items all year and give them to them on birthdays and Christmas…They get ALOT of quality items and I get a break at Christmas time! I never go to the mall during the holidays, my shopping gets done all year long! I love it and its always great to find a bargin!

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  9. Claire says:

    What I got for free was a trip to Australia for SIX WEEKS! I came in from a little different angle but it worked for me.

    I used coupons a lot. When I got home from shopping I would add up the amount saved and put that money in a jar. Also money from rebates went into the same jar. After collecting $200. or so I’d buy a few stocks. This was back in the 80’s when more rebates were available. I cashed everything in a few weeks before the stock market crashed in the mid80’s and went to Australia. I considered it a free trip!

    I would love to win your book and get fired up again about coupons with new knowledge.

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  10. Shelia says:

    The best thing I ever got for free was the love from my parents. I have been the luckiest person on earth to have such wonderful parents. They set an example for me on how to raise your children by using love & rules. I know that every spanking I received, I deserved & I have NEVER felt that I was abused in anyway. It has allowed me to raise children who are respectful of the other people they deal with everyday. Thanks mom and dad.

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    • Mona says:

      I saw this giveaway the other day when I was here for a visit but, I tuhgoht you had to have a machine. now I realize…YAY..you don’t! so, here I am telling you that of course I am a follower and I visited the silhouette site and would love to play around with some adhesive vinyl. And I also like that they have tutorials and tips.

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    • Riska says:

      STOP complaining so much about her doing spsenorod videos!!! if she finds good products, do you think she should NOT tell us about them just because they were spsenorod? and why does it even matter if she bought the product herself or she got it for free? please give me one reason to why it’s not good that she does spsenorod videos sometimes .?

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  11. Debbie says:

    I got a gorgeous pair of summer sandals with a buy one/get one free coupon at SAVERS

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  12. kjrivas says:

    How about a trip to London. Flew business class and attended a few parties because we wrote an essay about doing business face to face. Moved on to the Hilton Park Lane – free due to signing up for a credit card. Lots of free food due to asking to stay on the executive level. Vacation ended up costing about $200.

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  13. Barbara M. says:

    I got a Brahmin tote from Vogue for free, and traded it with my Pediatric Dentist for a Coach purse I loved. I would love this book, as we have a family of 7 on the same income as the author and we spend over $200 a week on food, even with all the coupons I can find; they don’t double them in NV. 🙁

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    • Puja says:

      I want use this stamp to personalize evnrithyeg Miss Everleigh sends out! That way I don’t have to spend a boatload on personalized cards and gift tags for a 4month old baby! In that case, we will take an E, please! Love you! (You better rig this one for me!)

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  14. Crystal Renee says:

    I got a brand new genuine ipad2 for 40 bucks! Best deal yet.
    sellcrystal2[at]gmail[dot]com

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  15. Stlmag says:

    I don’t recall getting anything for free…that is why I so need this book ! I’m sure it will be awesome.

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  16. Stephanie says:

    On July 13,2012 I had a $10.00 kohls cash card and purchased a pair of $56.00 pants which was reduced to $10.00 and bought them for $0.00. This was a good day. Free pants.

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  17. Michelle S says:

    My favorite freebies are also at CVS-I always end up walking out with Extra Care bucks for my next visit, and have ordered online to get the same savings as the circular and an extra 20-4-% on top of that.

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  18. rhonda says:

    I am hoping I can call this book the best thing I have ever gotten for free.

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  19. nancdep5 says:

    I got an Ipod for answering a survey. And I love using coupons to get groceries for free.

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  20. Alison says:

    The best thing I’ve got for free was a trip to Whistler thru a contest. But I still like using coupons for free products & get so sad if they expire before I can use them.

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  21. melody says:

    Got gift cards just for filling out surveys.

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  22. Deb says:

    All the little things – drugstore and grocery items. It nice to be able to reach into the closet and pull out anything I need and know that I didn’t pay a cent for most of it!

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  23. shewalk says:

    I have won 2 (used) cars and laser eye surgery over the years through contests in my local newspaper. Although, technically they were not free since I bought hundreds of dollars in extra newspapers to collect the “money” in them to bid on these items in auctions. Overall, still a great value and almost free!

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  24. anisemarsh says:

    Getting things for free! I’m in. I have gotten free vacations from time shares almost free and avoided the sales pitches. And who doesn’t love getting grocery staples with buy one get one one on sale and with a coupon. I would love to see how the book sets out a plan that is easy to understand and implement.

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  25. Ri coupon Sam says:

    The 2 best things i got for free was Bannans at stop and shop with a store coupon and got 2 cents overage and Heffty trash bags and 8 bottles of shampoo in one trip there was dove and other brands paid $1.24 just sales tax

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    • Phoenix says:

      I won a Petco gift card in a contest that paid for 6 months more of cat supplies. (I combined it with a free shipping coupon, so I didn’t have any costs out of pocket.)

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  26. Christine Norman says:

    I won a trip to South Carolina with my family after walking a lot of miles, which I still do every day.

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  27. Lindsay says:

    The best thing I received for free was one I got last week! I won an ionic hair dryer and a brush in a giveaway.

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  28. Debby says:

    A coffee maker

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  29. Christine says:

    summer dresses on sale at Target for 3.00

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  30. gshep says:

    Boy, do I need this!

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  31. Diane says:

    Lasik surgery! I won it in a contest. Unfortunately, my eyes aren’t compatible for the surgery, but the clinic allowed me to transfer to my son, who had been wearing glassing since he was 8. Value at the time was $2400.

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  32. Admin Officer says:

    Rolling Luggage Cart from Kia Cars. It nice but we were at a car show and the second floor of cars was almost empty. There were only 4 cards in the drawing jar. It was just too easy – so I won. There’s a lesson there somewhere!

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  33. Deborah Shirley says:

    I won 100.00 on a call-in radio contest; and I have gotten many food items free.

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  34. pmernick says:

    The best thing recently was a tote bag full of toiletries and personal care items that I received for free from CVS. I combined coupons and store rewards. Even my husband was impressed.

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  35. Lisa says:

    I won a free trip to California from a radio station! I do coupon and do have good luck at CVS especially with razors! I haven’t mastered getting my bill down to $4 but I do average a 50% savings on most trips.

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  36. orchidlady01 says:

    My sister and I just got back from a 2 week vacation that was paid for with our sweeps wins so it was free for us (except nominal $ in taxes). It would have cost $6000 – $7000 so we consider that getting it for free (or almost)! In fact we came back with gift cards we didn’t even use!

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  37. Jean Burkhardt says:

    Oh wow-this book sounds like my ultimate shopping bible. I have been couponing for over 50 years and hopefully getting better at it. I know lots of tricks but if I would win this book-I’m SURE I could find something new to learn and save money!

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  38. joyzkim says:

    The best is when I find something priced incorrectly at my supermarket(shoprite), they will give you one free. I always find incorrect pricing on my bill. Also, once I bought meat at a Stop & shop and it didn’t look good to me the next day, so I returned it. They pay you double the price if you return meat so it so I basically got one free plus my money back.

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  39. Jayne M. says:

    Our sweet, purebred beagle AnnaBella. We put the word out to friends we were looking for another beagle and a friend of a friend had spoken to a family that needed to find their beagle a new home. It was a gamble, but well worth it. She completes our home!

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  40. Margaret Gabriele says:

    a coffee maker

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  41. Debra J Webb says:

    Beauty products, clothing, accessories, jewelry, books, art and anything and everything my two sons every created, made, drew, colored and wrote!

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  42. colleen gilgenbach says:

    I LOVE Freecycle.com, I got a tower type cat scratching post that was in excellent shape for free.

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    • Anonomo says:

      my favorite acne tip: asiprin (crushed and mixed with a LITTLE bit of water and i mix it until its a little bit pasty) and i just put it over my pimple and leave it overnight. it WORKS AMAZINGLY.

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  43. Cindy says:

    The perfect fit jeans at a thrift store for $4.00.

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  44. Laquita says:

    The best freebie I got was a $1000.00 credit card-didn’t even know I was entered in the contest my card was offering, and I won $1K!!

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  45. Donna says:

    I got a Lennox vase for free. Very beautiful.

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  46. belindabg says:

    You’re going to laugh, but it was my fiance, the absolute Love of My Life! I got him for free from a dating site called ‘Plenty of Fish’ (dot com) and since it was a free site – HE WAS FREE! 😉

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  47. DELIA SADLER says:

    A GO-KART. MY KIDS WERE LITTLE WHEN I WON IT, BUT USED IT FOR YEARS.

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  48. Brenda Rosenberg says:

    The best thing I ever got was a pair of pj’s and a video just for sending in my name. I stopped buying toothpaste as my supermarket doubles coupons and actually doesn’t cost me anything to buy it. My husband says enough.

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    • Goutam says:

      I am new to your blog, but it is great. I like reading your reiwves and giveaways are an added bonus. 🙂 Thanks for all of your hard work. I do happen to have a Dunkin Donuts near my father so when I visit I can stop there. Chellenewmommiez at gmail dot com

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  49. AJB says:

    Through a loyalty program (Best Buy Reward Zone) I used points I earned to get a nice camera.

    Last year, playing a contest, I won two $50 airline gift cards.

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  50. Cheryl Titko says:

    I got a free 19″ Brand Name (Sharp) LCD High Definition Flat Screen TV when I purchased a mattress set for my bed at Macy’s and the matress set was 50% off!

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  51. Candace Sikiric says:

    The best thing I have ever gotten for free would be a few food items, yogurt, sausages, bread. Free rocks! 🙂

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  52. cheryl says:

    Groceries, I love going to the store with a coupon and if the item is on sale sometimes I get it for free. I do this at CVS, Market Basket, Rite Aid. It is awesome!

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    • Momomy says:

      How much time do you put into research and do you inldcue real historical events and places in your story? I have always found historical fiction that takes into account real history to be much more exciting to read and relate to.jasmyn9[at]hotmail[dot]com

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    • Dokter says:

      tyf or teh chance first off sendlocy thibook has a cool premise but i have to say i love the cover the most never hear dof teh author before now either so thats an added bonusmortalsinn(AT)yahoo(DOT)com

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