Spokane Journal of Business

Crash course in couponing

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Crash course in couponing
-—Staff photo by Chey Scott
Sisters Lisa Honnell and Stacey Neet say that during their first big shopping trip using coupons they saved about 70 percent.

Coupon usage in the U.S. is on the rise as more shoppers search for ways to cut their household spending.

Two sisters from Post Falls, Lisa Honnell and Stacey Neet, contend that they consistently save more than 50 percent on their grocery bills by using coupons. The two now share their couponing strategies with others through their business, The Coupon Clippin' Housewives.

Honnell and Neet offer weekly classes at the Red Lion Templin's Hotel on the River, at 414 E. First in Post Falls, to people interested in learning how to use coupons to achieve a significant amount of savings on groceries and household items. Each class is two hours long and costs $20 per person, or $30 per couple, the sisters say.

"We will reteach you how to shop," Honnell asserts. "It's not about just clipping a coupon; there is way more to it. Most people will make their grocery list and look for coupons to match their list and be lucky to save five or 10 dollars."

Honnell and Neet say they began exploring the idea of using coupons last fall to increase their savings on groceries more than they'd ever been able to in the past and researched online how to save through couponing.

"We were doing it all wrong," Honnell says. "We could never figure out how to save more than five to 10 dollars, but then we were starting to save hundreds of dollars."

She refers back to her first big shopping trip with Neet using coupons last October at a Walmart store, when they were able to purchase $420 worth of groceries for $130.

"We had no idea we could get that much for $130; it was amazing," she says.

A few months later, they turned their newfound talent into a small business venture.

The Coupon Clippin' Housewives' classes are broken down into two parts, with the first half focusing on the basic techniques of using coupons and where to find them, the sisters say. The second half of the class guides participants on how to put their coupons together to create a shopping list so they know exactly what coupons to use and how much they're going to spend before they get to the store.

In addition to the material covered in the two-hour session, the sisters also sell coupon organizers they've put together for participants to buy for $15 to help them stay organized as they begin couponing. The organizers are divided into sections for various food groups and household items, and also contain printouts of coupon policies from major grocery and drug stores in the area.

"We teach that if you sit down for a couple hours on Sunday and put the coupons straight into the organizer, you are organized and it can go on a shelf or in the car so you always have it with you," Neet says. "The key is that you have to be organized because if you aren't, it's too frustrating."

The organizers also include a master copy of the savings tracking list the sisters came up with and use to record their savings that result from redeeming coupons.

"We did a lot of trial and error to know what to do, and what not to do," says Honnell. "A lot of people don't want to take the time to do the research, and we show a lot of examples in the class of how to put it all together."

Honnell and Neet say they've taught 14 classes since their first session in early February, with their most-attended class topping out at more than 260 people after the Coeur d'Alene Press published a front-page story about the classes. Honnell adds, however, that most classes typically range between 50 and 60 people.

Those interested in attending a couponing class can sign up on the business's website, www.thecouponclippinhousewives.blogspot.com, and prepay for a reserved spot by using PayPal. Honnell and Neet say they encourage participants to pre-register online to ensure they get a seat, though walk-ins are allowed if the session hasn't filled up.

Though the sisters currently only offer one class per week in Post Falls, they say they haven't ruled out expanding to Spokane in the near future. They've taken the first step toward that and plan to offer a couponing course at CenterPlace at Mirabeau Point, in Spokane Valley, on June 6, from 6 to 8 p.m., Neet says.

The sisters say they'll also travel within the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene area to teach their couponing strategies to groups of 20 people or more, at places such as a church or a private residence.

In addition to the weekly classes, another option for those interested in learning the sisters' techniques is a weekly webinar accessible on their website. The informational slide show that's streamed online is the same that's shown in their in-person classes. The webinar also costs $20, they say.

The sisters also consistently update a Facebook page for The Coupon Clippin' Housewives, and say many of their former students post their savings on the page.

"We encourage them to post on Facebook pictures of their savings and their receipts to show people that it's real and you can really save like this," Honnell says.

The sisters also are quick to dispel the myth that the only kinds of coupons out there are for "junk food" and pre-packaged goods. During that big Walmart shopping trip last fall, Honnell says that she and Neet were able to purchase a great deal of meat and dairy products at very low prices. She also adds that in almost every case, using manufacturer coupons for name-brand items will make them less expensive than generic brands.

"It's a very rare day that a generic is cheaper than a brand name with a coupon," she says.

Honnell and Neet say that so far the information they've shared with those who've attended their classes has been well received, and that they've been thanked by many area families who, as a result of the class, were able to significantly reduce their grocery budgets.

"People came to the class and for some it was, 'Do I buy groceries this week or pay my bills?'" Neet says. "Now they have extra money to do other things. It's very rewarding to see that happen."

The sisters also say that the participants in their classes come from all income levels and age groups.

"The way we teach people is smart shopping and that they are using their money wisely," Neet says. "Not that they are desperate and need to rely on coupons. We're helping people view coupons in a different way."

National statistics from The Nielson Co. marketplace research firm show that in recent years affluent households with annual incomes between $70,000 and $100,000 are using more coupons than lower-income families.

Says Honnell, "People need this more than ever and have embraced it because of the economy."

She adds that a recently-debuted series on the cable channel TLC, called Extreme Couponing, also has helped play a role in the resurgence of widespread coupon usage.

Extreme Couponing airs on Wednesday nights and follows families and couples who claim to use coupons to pay for most or all of their groceries. Many of the shows participants also have stockpiles of food and household items in their homes because they buy in bulk quantities to get as many items as they at the deep discounts the coupons provide.

"It has amped couponing up and given it a lot of positive attention," Honnell says of the show.

Recently, a woman from Medical Lake was featured on Extreme Couponing.

Honnell and Neet caution, though, that many of the episodes on the series portray truly extreme situations, and they say that participants in their classes are encouraged to donate unneeded items if they do purchase in mass quantities.

The sisters say running their couponing class business is a full-time occupation. Honnell says she formerly worked as a real estate agent and a part-time substitute teacher for the Post Falls School District. Neet says she was laid off from a job last August and that her own coupon usage, along with starting the business with her sister, has helped her family financially.

"It's a perfect time for this because we know people need this so badly," Neet says. "We get calls thanking us all the time for what we have helped people do."

The sisters say they each spend between two and three hours a week clipping and organizing their own coupons, but assert that the amount they save is equal to what they would earn if they were working a part-time job.

"To me, it's worth every minute I put into it," Honnell says.

While the two say they're putting most of the money they bring in from the class fees toward the business's overhead costs, such as renting the room they teach in, they plan to offer classes in more locations in the area as demand grows.

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