Atlanta woman seeks to redeem ‘Extreme Couponing’

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Stephanie Barr of Buford will appear on TLC's "Extreme Couponing" Wednesday. Her garage houses her stockpiles of groceries from couponing. She says she gets a rush whenever she saves a lot. Vino Wong vwong@ajc.com

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the store where Tai and Tarin Perry shopped. The correct store is Jewel-Osco. Their shopping methods have also been further clarified.

Stephanie Barr is on a mission to redeem coupons.

More precisely, she hopes to redeem respect for the process of using coupons, especially in light of the rather, uh, zealous shoppers on TLC’s “Extreme Couponing.”

Much controversy has surrounded the cable TV show and its featured shoppers, who save hundreds of dollars per grocery trip, sometimes loading up multiple carts and hogging checkout lines for hours.

While many couponers on the show have an obvious talent for saving lots of money, critics cry that some stores featured in the series break their own policies to secure a spot on the show.

In other words, they say, don’t believe everything you see.

“I had seen the show before, and I applied to be on it to show a different perspective than what was first shown,” Barr said. “There was a lot of behavior that I wouldn’t normally do, that I know a lot of couponers wouldn’t normally do.”

Barr, who lives with her family in Buford, will be featured in Wednesday’s episode of the reality TV series, which shows her teaching her 18-year-old son how to coupon before he leaves for college.

“I try to coupon ethically and show what I know of couponers,” she said.

Barr says she practices responsible couponing and teaches others to do the same through the website she co-owns, Our Coupon Home. Her normal weekly routine includes spending 20 to 30 hours a week on the website and about 10 hours on personal coupon clipping and shopping. Her coupon binder is more extensive than some family Bibles.

“One time I weighed it, and it was 9 pounds,” she said.

Barr tries to buy enough groceries to sustain her family for about six to eight months at a time, which means she has towers of toilet paper, cotton swabs, soup and others items filling her garage, plus two extra refrigerators designated for stockpiling purposes. “I probably have about $20,000 worth of products,” she said.

Maybe not reality

Jenny Martin, who runs another couponing website, Southern Savers, has her own reservations about the way stores depict themselves on the show.

One reason for her success is Barr’s organizational skills. After she clips coupons, she arranges them in a binder.

One reason for her success is Barr’s organizational skills. After she clips coupons, she arranges them in a binder.

“Initially, it seems fun and all, but the one holdup I have is what you’re seeing cannot be physically done in most stores,” Martin said. “There are rules that they have to follow.”

When asked, a TLC representative declined to comment about whether the series reflects standard grocery industry practices.

Martin also says viewers sometimes don’t see the whole transaction, citing an April 13 episode featuring twins Tai and Tarin Perry shopping at Jewel-Osco. The two women were depicted using coupons to bring a $385.04 grocery bill down to $13.96.

“They left off that they paid with a series of Walgreens register rewards,” Martin said. “They paid with $50 in gift cards. So really they owed $80 to $90 after coupons.” The Perrys have stated on their YouTube page that the gift cards they used were awarded to them as a result of prescription transfers, helping them to lower the overall bill.

The Perrys, whose website is Double Saving Divas, have confirmed that they used Walgreens register rewards in a YouTube video, saying that their grocer accepts those rewards. They also explain in more detail how they paid for their shopping trip, some of which was not shown in the episode. They wrote in an email that “no rules were bent for the press” during their shopping trip.

Martin says the biggest takeaway from watching the series is to remember you can apply the concepts of couponing to everything in the grocery store, not just nonperishable items.

“You don’t see them buying produce and buying meat,” Martin says of some of the shoppers featured on the series. “They have all the freebies, but the freebies aren’t what you can feed a family with. Floss and Rolaids aren’t dinner.”

‘It was about pushing myself’

Barr is proud to say that although she did alter her habits a bit for the show, her local Kroger didn’t bend any store policies for her.

Buford resident Stephanie Barr gets a little help with pushing her coupon bargains toward the cash register. During a normal week, she spends about 10 hours clipping coupons and shopping. Photos by Vino Wong vwong@ajc.com

Stephanie Barr gets a little help pushing her bargains toward the cash register. During a normal week, she spends about 10 hours clipping coupons and shopping.

“I normally would not do such a large trip,” Barr said, noting she usually breaks hefty purchases into two or three trips so she doesn’t inconvenience the store and other shoppers.

“It was about me pushing myself to see how much I could get and how low my total would be afterward. It’s one of the highest savings amounts I’ve ever had.”

She also tried to find as many coupons for free products as possible. “I bought 30 of one item. I would never usually do that on one shopping trip.”

It’s not that she doesn’t buy in large quantities. Her garage almost resembles a small convenience store — but one that’s so organized she rarely has to worry about expired food.

“That’s pretty much a couponer’s No. 1 rule: rotation of your stock.” Earlier in her coupon career, Barr made the mistake of purchasing an exorbitant amount of salad dressing, which eventually went bad. “I probably had to throw out about 12 containers, and it killed me.”

Now she writes the expiration date on the front of each product and has an organizational system for perishable goods — and the whole family’s educated about the process. “You go from the left to the right, bottom to top,” she explained.

Barr also analyzes her stash every six months and gives extra products to family and friends.

Barr said TLC’s couponing show had an extreme beginning when it premiered in December, but now it’s featuring more believable shoppers.

“The series that they’ve come out with now is more normal. It does seem that every single episode gets more realistic.”

Through her appearance on the show, Barr hopes to inspire others to start using coupons.

“I just want them to know it’s realistic to do it. I’m not special in the fact that I’ve picked this up. Everyone can do it.

“With the economy the way it is, hop on and try it for a couple of months. I would love to see people walking around stores with binders. I want to see more of us out there.”

Stephanie Barr’s couponing tips

  • Know the store policies. It’ll save you hassle and embarrassment.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Couponing takes more time in the beginning.
  • Don’t clear a shelf. Try to leave at least half of what’s left, even if there are only two items.

On TV
“Extreme Couponing”
9:30 p.m. Wednesday on TLC.

On Thursday
Visit the blog to share your thoughts on the show.

37 comments Add your comment

NIKKI

April 26th, 2011
5:22 am

Great article!

Debra

April 26th, 2011
9:52 am

What a great article Stephanie! I will be checking out your site! Thanks!

[...] update: Looking for other ways to save money? Read about Stephanie Barr, Atlanta’s own couponer, who will be on TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” Wednesday [...]

mystery poster

April 26th, 2011
10:12 am

I wonder if she used a coupon for that tattoo on her chest.

Noahsmomma

April 26th, 2011
10:26 am

Great article about how real people use coupons the right way.

Kurt

April 26th, 2011
10:46 am

@mystery poster:
I’m her husband, and we actually did barter for the tattoo! lol

scooby-doo

April 26th, 2011
11:15 am

I’ve been a casual coupon clipper for years and I usually do pretty good. My wife (yup, I’m a guy-couponer…comes from being a bachelor) who hates shopping says I “kill them” at the grocery store. Its all about timing it right with ongoing sales for the products your family likes and applying the right coupons for those products. IMHTGO (in my honest-to-goodness opinion) I think its definitely worth the time to do your homework before you go shopping. Coupons are like cash! I wish I had the extra time like these EC’s (n/a) clipping coupons, grocery shopping and maintaining a stockpile in my garage. DGMW (don’t get me wrong) I have nothing against a little stockpiling (some call it hoarding). AAMOF (as a matter of fact) I am amazed at the cash they save on their stash. WTTW- (word to the wise) there are tons of coupons out there for products that are not nutritional which seem like “good deals” so you have to keep your guard up so you don’t get pulled into purchasing a bunch of unnecessary items. OTOH (on the other hand) these folks will be in great shape if we ever have a national disaster hit us and you have to hunker down for 6 months. BTWIPTDFMSFFWDKATWDKSTBA -(by the way I’m providing the definitions for my shorthand for folks who don’t know and those who do know so they’ll be annoyed) HA! scooby-doo!

Stephanie Barr

April 26th, 2011
11:21 am

Why yes I did get a deal on that tattoo. Thanks for asking Mystery Poster! My husband is an accountant and so he did their taxes in exchange for my tattoo.

Stephanie Barr

April 26th, 2011
11:50 am

Oh man, I only wish my life was that exciting, but thank you for the compliment!

The Truth

April 26th, 2011
12:14 pm

I understand the thrill of saving about $200 on a shopping trip, but if you spend about 35 hours a week hunting and clipping coupons to save that money, it seems like a VERY low paying “job.” Wouldn’t it be more profitable to use that time on a real job and not use coupons. You would come out WAY ahead!

Kypto

April 26th, 2011
12:35 pm

Wow Stephanie! You look hot! :)

Simmons

April 26th, 2011
1:00 pm

@the truth: if you read the article, you see that she only spends 10 hours per week on couponing, so if she’s saving $200-$300 per week by only spending 10 hours, that’s $20-$30 per hour she’s getting paid to coupon. It seems like the website might be her full time job, not the actual couponing.

Mrs_Powell

April 26th, 2011
2:24 pm

@the truth: Like many of us, our “real” job is taking care of our family. I’m a SAHM and so is she. Many of us have small children and that job is unpaid and 24/7. If we were to go out and get a “real” job, our children would have to go into daycare. Do you know how expensive that is??? Check out her website, as well. You’ll learn a lot and be a part of a very caring community. They have worked very hard to help other people learn how to coupon ethically and WELL.

Stephanie

April 26th, 2011
3:30 pm

Yes, I spend 10 hour a week actually couponing. The rest is spent doing my website (additional 20-30 hours a week. I do this around being a wife and mother. The website allows me to work when by back is feeling good and when my daughter is sleeping. I’m a high school drop out so any “pay” is probably better then me working minimum wage while paying for daycare…and besides, who would make dinner lol

It’s definitely not for everyone, but enjoy it.

Stephanie

April 26th, 2011
3:32 pm

Sorry about the typos. Typing on a smartphone is for the birds :)

DP

April 26th, 2011
4:08 pm

I am happy to see they will feature a “real couponer” on the show! From one couponer to another! BTW – I like your tattoo!! :)

Christal

April 26th, 2011
4:22 pm

This is good! I’m with Jenny, you can’t eat off floss and Rolaids. I’m more than happy to use 10 coupons to buy 10 packages of rice to get overage and buy meat and produce. THAT’S smart couponing. So glad your doing this Stephanie. Looking forward to tomorrow nights episode.

Teresa

April 26th, 2011
5:22 pm

I, too, can be a extreme couponer but chose to be more realistic with it. If and when I do it, it is to help and give food to a church or a food bank. I do have a big issue with keeping that amount of food stored in anyone’s house with so many going hungry. I coupon to feed my family saving at least 50% to 70% on every trip. But when getting all those multiple items, no matter what they are, I use that to help others not as fortunate as me. I am actually shocked at the pride these people have with showing off their hoard, and yes I call it a hoard. I stock pile too but not to that extreme, the coupon and the sale will come around again. And if you time it right you don’t need to go to that extreme. Being ableto coupon is actually a gift that most can’t, or won’t, do and we should use it to help others. If you are that good at couponing then giving away part, not all, of your stock pile shouldn’t be a big issue or stress. I work retail and therefore refuse to pay full price fro ANYTHING, because I know the cost to the company and how much they mark it up. I encourage everyone to do the same so that maybe these big CEO’s will quit making so much.

Tina

April 26th, 2011
6:34 pm

I have just seen the last few episodes of the show, and it really peeked my intrest. I don’t really know anything about couponing, but I really NEED to learn. A large portion of my budget is spent on food and household items. I am a SAHM and could use all the help i can get. Any tips on the 1st few steps to get started,& or websites for more info would greatly be appreciated! Thanks.

LB

April 26th, 2011
7:01 pm

I love couponing, but love Stephanie’s awesome attitude even more! Great job!

wendy

April 26th, 2011
7:23 pm

Stephanie, I admire your grace! And your husband’s, too. Some people are so nasty and mean. I don’t know if I could have maintained my dignity as well as the two of you did when responding to the couple of people who felt the need to be rude. And, it goes without saying I’ll be watching tomorrow!

Recovering coupon addict

April 26th, 2011
7:41 pm

I SPEND an average of $125-150/wk (for 6 people) … using ZERO coupons. We eat meat every day, fresh fruits&vegs, 3 squares, snacks, etc… No garden. No freebies either (SNAP, free/reduced lunch). Throw in maybe $25-30/wk for eating out, which is not necessary, just a splurge.

Eating well on a budget… $600/mo

Freedom from Sunday circulars & the coupon organizer… priceless

Frugal Gals

April 26th, 2011
10:01 pm

Congrats on the show! Love to see other local couponers! Like the site as well! We run strictly off facebook, we share deals from hundreds of bloggers natiowide and bring all the deals to our page (linking them back to the blog) Check us out on Star 94 every Friday AM. Congrats again on the show Im sure things are about to be a whirlwind!

Theresa (kiki)

April 27th, 2011
9:57 am

Steph— I’ll be watching :)

Kelsey & Tiffany

April 27th, 2011
10:01 pm

We are currently watching the show now and very impressed with Stephanie. We were wondering does she teach a class on this so others could learn from her on how to extreme coupon. If there is anyway to get in contact with her to find out if she offers class or willing to teach or just mentor we would be glad to know. respond to crookkelsey@yahoo.com
Thanks in advance.

[...] Local extreme couponer Stephanie Barr from Buford was featured on the show teaching her 18-year-old son how to coupon before he goes off to college. When I interviewed Barr last week, she said her son had become interested in couponing very naturally after watching her “do the math” it takes to find savings. In case you missed it, here’s the preview story on Barr. [...]

Connie

April 28th, 2011
11:11 am

To Recovering Coupon Addict, it’s great that you can afford to spend $600 each month on food. Some people either are not that fortunate or choose (or have) to spend their money in other ways. Isn’t it great that you have a choice! I can’t help but wonder why you are reading a couponing blog if you are a recovering addict. That seems like an alcoholic hanging out at a bar!

Piper

April 28th, 2011
8:51 pm

I’m confused as to how the show indicated Stephanie was 28, yet she has an 18 yr old son…….obviously a typo??

Kurt

April 29th, 2011
9:03 am

@Piper
It’s her step-son.

april

April 29th, 2011
8:54 pm

i watched this show the other evening. i just moved from buford, living in dacula now!! so excited to see someone in the area doing the same thing that i am trying to start. just a newbie at this, but wow you definetly have me motivated now!! thanks =)

Ubiquitous

April 30th, 2011
10:40 am

Someone needs to explain to Stephanie that’s not where one puts a tramp stamp…

Rodney Dangerfield

April 30th, 2011
7:05 pm

A couple of weeks ago Publix was running an ad on Gummy Vitamins. With the coupon you could almost get it free. Sad thing was that everytime I went to Publix they were always out of the vitamins. I just kept thinking about the lady that bought 26 jars of mustard probably came to my Publix to buy all the children’s vitamins.

I guess it is a game to these people. But your game is affecting me, so please be a little more considerate. I usually only buy two of whatever is onsale and I have a coupon. If I don’t get to the grocery store early, I get zero of anything on sale and has a coupon.

This coupon craze has exploded.

Nate

April 30th, 2011
8:39 pm

Based on what I’ve seen in the two episodes I’ve watched, extreme couponers are greedy giant bags of douche. If you don’t give away the extras to a homeless shelter or food pantry, the world would be better off without you.

Stockpile

April 30th, 2011
9:20 pm

@ scobby-do Why not just write what you mean , we’re not texting here.

Teri

May 1st, 2011
3:11 am

I spent a few hours researching the folks who ae re shopping by use of extreme coupons. I noticed the grocery carts are filled with prepackaged junk. The kids are not being taught how to grow their own food or eat nutritionally. There are no coupons for fresh organic produce or meats, saving money on junk is not what we should Bragg about. Our society is overweight and unhealthy all due the way we eat. Ou earth is slowly dissolving dur to all the garbage we toss. All this energy is wasted and not teaching our younger generation how to survive off our land. It is really sad to see folks hoarding food when they could be feeding others. Healthy simple clean living should be taught to our younger generations.

Judy Hornaday

May 1st, 2011
12:04 pm

While in the cracker isle, a coupon-er informed me that X brand could be free if I used a coupon in addition to the store’s sale price. The crackers with the deal had 7g of fat per serving and the first ingredient listed was flour. I purchased the crackers that were on my list instead. 1.0g of fat per serving, main ingredient, whole wheat.
Just ask yourself, “Does the benefit outweigh the cost?” A great determining tool for life.

dancinmama

May 1st, 2011
2:43 pm

I was happy to see a little moderation in Stephanie’s shopping trip, but overall I am EXTREMELY disappointed in the show, the stores featured, and mostly some of the couponers featured. I feel as though many of them outed us for the sake of their own personal profit. I have read that the stores have bent their own coupon policies for the sake of the free advertising they get being featured on the show, and of course TLC is making a bundle off the show – all at our expense. It would be different if the show actually spent some time each week helping people learn how to use coupons to save money; but they don’t do that and what they do show is unrealistic and this is supposed to be a REALITY show,

Since the show started, Krogers has stopped offering doubled coupons at some locations. Publix may change their coupon policy, etc.

I have been a couponer/stockpiler for almost 25 years before it became fashionable or a blog was ever imagined. I have focused more on stockpiling non-perishables, but I do have some foods stockpiled that have long shelf lives and donate quite a bit to our local food pantry. If anyone saw my stockpiles they probably would think that I am an extreme couponer, but most of my stockpiles were not acquired during a single sale or in one shopping trip – the items were acquired slowly, over time.

Since none of my stores offer doubled coupons, there has been no change in coupon policies YET at the stores where I shop. But there are a lot of people who have been struggling in this economy and doubled coupons have made it possible for some of them to feed their families – now some of them are going to lose that; and although maybe the changes were coming anyway, I find it difficult to believe that SOME of changes in store coupon policy are not directly linked to Extreme Couponing being aired. It’s ironic that the store are bending the coupon policy for the featured shoppers and then changing the policy for the everyday shoppers.

My personal opinion is that the sooner this show is canceled, the better for ALL couponers