Cut your bills with ‘extreme couponing’

Shoppers in America can save up to 90% off their grocery bills by collecting money-saving coupons. If you want to save money, you should do the same. Merryn Somerset Webb explains how.

There is a reality TV show in America called Extreme Couponing, which makes for fairly addictive viewing. In it, "couponers" spend hours searching for, and clipping out, money-saving coupons and then compete to save as much money as possible while accumulating as many groceries as possible. It works. Check out past episodes on the internet and you get to watch the truly dedicated leaving supermarkets having paid $50 for $500-worth of food. It is also proving to be a pretty popular concept as real wages continue to stagnate in the US not only does the show have millions of viewers but its theme has been picked up by scores of websites that purport to be able to teach people super-couponing skills.

You might think couponing sounds awful. If so, you won't want to read on. Why? Because the extreme money-saving craze has crossed the Atlantic. Visit Motivatingmum.co.uk and you will find a section written by Debbie O'Connor, an accountant and coupon user who attended a talk on extreme couponing in America. Since then she has, she says, used her new knowledge to cut her grocery bill by 35%. She reckons that, should we want to, the rest of us can do the same. How? First you need to know where to find the deals. In America, newspapers and magazines print hundreds of coupons every week. Couponers then cut them out (I remember doing this as a child in the States), and use them as needed.

That doesn't work here we don't have much of a tradition of printed coupons. So while you can pick up a few, if you want real deals, you need the internet. O'Connor recommends regular visits to the top voucher site, including the likes of Savoo.co.uk, where participants both find deals and list ones they have used for others to use too.

She also encourages subscribing to all the retailers' online newsletters. These look like spam, but are "teeming with money-saving offers". So open a special email account for them, she says, and check it before every shop. If you shop at Tesco you should also use Tescopricecheck.com. Pop the details of your receipt into the site and if your shopping wasn't cheaper at Tesco than Asda, the supermarket will make up the difference. Mysupermarket.co.uk is also good for comparing costs and offering voucher codes that cut your bill (£15 off at Sainsbury's, for example).

Extreme couponing will never be quite as lucrative in Britain as in America I can't see Tesco letting anyone cut their bill by 90%. But our shops are entering a brutal pre-Christmas price war. So if you want to save money and you enjoy as O'Connor does the "thrill of the chase", you could find the next few months quite satisfactory.

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