Shaving nearly $100 off a grocery bill of more than $150 may seem like magic to some, but for two local coupon queens, it's just another day on the job. In an economic time when every penny counts, more shoppers are seeking ways to cut costs and stay-at-home moms Kasey Trenum and Kelly Thompson, of Cleveland, Tenn., think couponing could be the way.
"To me, it's almost like introducing somebody to Santa Claus," Mrs. Thompson said. "That light in a kid's eyes, to see that in an adult's eyes ... reminds me of that kid's delight."
The two coupon capitalists teach their "Time 2 Save" couponing workshops across Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia.
Armed with two binders and an envelope packed with coupons, the pair recently dazzled a mother and daughter shopping at Publix in Ooltewah by cutting their weekly grocery bill down to $57.
About two hours later and 20 miles south, the duo purchased more than $80 worth of groceries for just $17 at Bi-Lo in Fort Oglethorpe.
Callie Falls, 25, and her mother, Barbara Ownby, 49, were looking for ways to save at Publix but were unsure of how to do so before being approached by Mrs. Trenum and Mrs. Thompson.
"I heard that you could do it, but I didn't know how to do it," said Ms. Falls, a Cleveland, Tenn., resident. "I tried doing it a little bit this past week, but I didn't save that much."
The approach Ms. Falls took was simply to look for items on sale, she said. But sale items are just the beginning.
"That's just half the picture," Mrs. Thompson told Ms. Falls, pointing to the Publix sales paper. "We want to put a coupon on everything that you buy."
Strolling down the store's aisles, the women pointed to deals Ms. Ownby and her daughter had not noticed. A bin filled to the brim with assorted microwaveable meals didn't look like a gold mine, but Mrs. Trenum saw otherwise.
"So many people look at this big pile, and they're going to miss the ones with coupons," she said as she peeled the savings sticker from one of the packages.
Throughout the store, the pair kept a watchful eye for what they refer to as "peelies" and "blinkies" -- coupons that can be peeled from merchandise, or those within a small blinking case on the store's shelves. When combined with a sale, such coupons create savings many shoppers only dream of: toothpaste for 49 cents, salad dressing for 8 cents, tissues for free.
"That's part of the magic, buying it with a coupon while it's on sale," Mrs. Trenum said.
For more than an hour, Mrs. Trenum and Mrs. Thompson walked with the mother/daughter pair, teaching them tricks of the trade. Ms. Ownby and Ms. Falls let the other two women take the lead during the shopping excursion, expressing surprise when they heard the savings a coupon could provide.
"I think once you get the hang of it, it will be real smooth," said Ms. Ownby, who said she typically spends $300 a week on groceries to feed her family and stock her husband's workshop. "I'm going to cut all the coupons I can, for sure."
By putting in two to three hours of effort each week for about two months, it's possible to decrease a grocery bill dramatically while buying more than before, Mrs. Thompson said. After that, the time per week should go down to about an hour, she said.
To slash their grocery costs, the money-saving moms create a stockpile of merchandise they buy, using coupons, for next to nothing. As the stockpile grows, Mrs. Thompson said, the amount of time spent in the grocery store will shorten.
"When you get the bigger picture of making a small investment of your time to get that payback, it's worth it, definitely worth it," Mrs. Thompson said.
While shopping at Bi-Lo, Mrs. Trenum and Mrs. Thompson consulted one another about which items to purchase. The women flipped open their massive coupon binders -- stuffed with tiny bits of savings neatly tucked in plastic sleeves normally reserved for the likes of baseball trading cards -- and sifted through loose coupons in a small white envelope, searching for the piece of paper matching the item on sale.
"I like to tell people, you can take my pocketbook, but you touch this" -- holding up the coupon binder -- "and it's over," Mrs. Thompson said. "This is worth thousands of dollars."
While shopping, the two closely examine items many typically would throw into a grocery cart with little thought. The item and the coupon must match exactly, and it should be on sale to get maximum savings, the women said.
Eric Hozouri, Bi-Lo store manager, said it's important that coupon users understand the limitations of the savings certificates. Policies vary store to store, but at the Bi-Lo in Fort Oglethorpe, manufacturers coupons are doubled up to 60 cents, unless the coupon states "do not double," he said.
Customers also must have a Bi-Lo Bonus Card to hit the big savings, he said.
Time 2 Save couponing experts Kelly Thompson and Kasey Trenum answer your questions. In Life (Taste).
There are three Time 2 Save couponing classes that make up the five-hour workshop: Couponing 101-Building the Foundation ($10), Couponing 102-The Next Level ($15) and Couponing 103-Wild World of Drug Stores & More ($15).
Upcoming workshops will be held at:
* Ridgeview Church in Ringgold, Ga., on March 20.
* Allen Elementary School in Soddy-Daisy on March 27.
To sign up for a class, visit www.time2saveworkshops.com.
"Our coupons will only double if the consumer uses our Bonus Card," Mr. Hozouri said. "It activates all the discounts in the store, so they have to use that. Coupons also have to be in-date."
Since Mrs. Trenum and Mrs. Thompson began their Time 2 Save workshops more than a year ago, area grocery store managers say they've seen an increase in customers using coupons.
Daryl Massey, Bi-Lo district director for North Georgia and half of Chattanooga, said the increased traffic has helped sales and has boosted the store's value image.
"Customers are clearly looking for a better value," Mr. Massey said. "We've really recognized that the economy is struggling, and we have increased our advertised specials. Going along with the double coupons, we feel like we have a much better price."
Though Mrs. Trenum and Mrs. Thompson don't ambush shoppers every time they go grocery shopping, they said meeting someone needing to learn how to save is something that always makes them happy.
"Just watching their eyes and watching them come alive ... it just kind of puts a new hope in their heart," Mrs. Trenum said. "They're realizing how much money they can save."