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Internet adds more possibilities for diligent coupon hunters

Here’s how serious Jami Bova-Whitehead is about couponing: She buys coupons on eBay.

Now, you might think that buying coupons would sort of defeat the whole goal of saving money. You might think that anybody who sells coupons wouldn’t make enough money to make the venture worthwhile. In both cases, you’d be wrong.

Bova-Whitehead said she had always tried to reduce her grocery bills with in-store promotions and loyalty cards, but became a serious couponer about six months ago after she decided to stop working as an emergency-room technician to spend more time with her 22-month-old son and the baby she’s expecting shortly. And one thing she learned is that serious couponers look beyond the Sunday newspaper.

“You can get better coupons by purchasing them for pretty much the cost of a paper,” she said. “If you get them from different regions of the country, you get a better variety.”

Bova-Whitehead buys from people in San Diego; Rochester, N.Y.; and Florida (and noted that technically, the sellers must charge not for the coupons themselves but for the process of clipping them). There also are Web sites set up just to sell coupons, she said, “but I prefer eBay because you get more of an idea what you’re getting.”

She said she usually gets 100 coupons for about $2, including shipping, and indeed, a check last week of the auction site found a batch of 100 grocery coupons expiring “3/31 and later” bringing a bid of $1.51 (with free shipping) with 1 minute to go, and $7.50 worth of Huggies coupons going for 99 cents with 6 minutes to go. Besides coupons for groceries and household items, those offering savings at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Kohl’s and Office Max were up for auction.

Magazines — particularly Good Housekeeping and parenting magazines such as American Baby — are another good source, Bova-Whitehead said.

“Plus there’s different types of coupons,” she added. “People just think of the ones that you clip. Now there’s electronic coupons that you load right onto your shopper’s card. You can use those on top of coupons you clip out of the paper. That’s how you end up getting items for free — when you stack the coupons on top of each other. Unfortunately, we don’t have any stores here that double or triple.”

Smith’s has several coupon sources on its Web site, www.smithsfoodanddrug.com (click on “In Store” in the red banner at the top of the page, then “Coupons”). Through Cellfire, you can use a mobile phone or computer to load coupons on your Fresh Values card. The savings comes off when you use the card at the store.

“It automatically happens,” said company spokeswoman Marsha Gilford. “It’s really cool.”

Through the company’s partnership with Shortcuts.com, there also were 23 coupons to be loaded to the store card or 49 that could be printed at home and brought to the store. Examples included 35 cents off Pillsbury Crescent Dinner Rolls, $1 off V8 100-Percent Vegetable Juice, and a buy-one-get-one-free offer for Meaty Bone dog treats.

Smith’s store card also gives customers the ability to accumulate points (1 point for every dollar spent; 500 points earns a $5-off discount), plus “targeted coupons,” mailed to the customer’s home, offering savings or bonus points on things he or she normally buys.

Gilford said it’s also possible to enter a shopping list on the Web site, which indicates coupon availability for items on the list.

On the Albertsons Web site, coupons can be printed and there’s information on savings — including eight-hour sales — tied to the company’s store loyalty card.

“A lot of things are tied to the Albertsons Preferred Savings Card,” said spokeswoman Lilia Rodriguez. “You can get a lot of good deals that way.”

Smith’s and Albertsons both offer fuel savings; Smith’s has five fuel stations in the valley, Albertsons eight.

Alice Crites, extension educator emeritus with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, said when considering couponing, remember basic smart-shopping rules.

“Look at the number of stores you visit, how much gas and time you’re spending,” she said. “Plan your trip so you don’t go from one store to the other side of town, because of the gas and time.”

Crites said Googling “discount coupons” in quote marks will bring up coupon sites online, and if you’re looking for a specific — especially bigger-ticket — item, she suggests looking online. You might even be able to find a deal with free shipping, and if the company doesn’t have a store in Nevada you won’t pay sales tax.

Crites suggests filing coupons by product category and keeping them in a container in the vehicle that you use for shopping so they’re always with you if you make an unexpected stop.

Bova-Whitehead uses an organization system called the Couponizer and gives Couponizer parties to show people how to use it. About a month ago, she started a Meetup.com site, The Poor Mom Coupon Club, which so far has 16 members who can meet and swap coupons and couponing ideas. The club’s site also links to her blog, which has more tips.

One rule she adheres to is to not be loyal to one store or brand. Also, she said, understand that stores usually have 12-week cycles on which items go on special. By saving coupons — especially duplicate coupons — for those times, you can multiply savings and stockpile items for future use.

“You need to get to know your stores and their cycles so you know when it’s absolutely your lowest price,” she said. “March is Frozen Food Month, so you’re going to get some of the lowest prices on frozen food. So you want to keep all those frozen-food coupons and use them in March.”

Now, six months after starting, Bova-Whitehead figures she saves about 50 percent above and beyond her previous money-saving shopping methods, with a grocery bill — including diapers and cleaning supplies — of about $22 a week for herself, her husband and son.

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474.

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