Stephanie Nelson is The Coupon Mom, a grocery shopping and financial expert for ABC's "Good Morning America." Her news segments provide saving tips on everything from groceries and clothing to travel and entertainment. Nelson is the author of Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom, as well as a national columnist for ABC News and for her own newspaper feature, "Supermarket Shopper."
LoveToKnow Save asked Nelson to share some of her theories on saving and how consumers can benefit from using her shopping system, found at The Coupon Mom.com.
Interview with The Coupon Mom Stephanie Nelson
LoveToKnow Save (LTK): You have a degree in finance. Has money management always been easy for you?
Stephanie Nelson (SN): I am not sure that money management is ever easy, but I have always been very interested in the topic. As soon as I could begin earning money babysitting at age 11, I enjoyed the independence of earning money and buying things with my own money. I wrote down what I earned and spent in a notebook, and deposited the extra money in a passbook savings account. I will never forget saving the $115 required to buy my first ten-speed bicycle ($108 plus tax) at the age of 12.
Even now, that is still most exciting purchase of my life. I believe experiencing the financial independence and accomplishment of that financial goal got me hooked on the magic of money management.
LTK: Everyone wants to save more money, but many feel they don't have the ability to do so. What do you believe are the top three reasons for not saving, and what solutions do you have for them?
- Making saving the last priority instead of the first. Solution: Set up automatic payments into a retirement account or a money market savings account. If you don't get it, you can't spend it.
- Spending reactively instead of setting up a budget proactively. Solution: Track spending to know where your money is going, and map out a realistic budget that factors in the automatic savings. Get creative about learning how to stretch your dollars in every category. Read, do research, and stay away from the mall!
- Paying interest on credit card balances. Solution: Pay for all of your purchases in cash and put into savings the cash you would have spent on interest. Save up those "interest payments" that you pay yourself for the purchases you can't live without. If you can't afford to save up for the item, you can't afford to buy it with a credit card either.
Fastest Way to Save Money
LTK: What is the one area where most people can quickly and easily save money?
SN: The highest variable expense in any household budget is food, which includes food eaten away from home as well as groceries.
To save money eating out:
- Be selective about your meals away from home. The daily coffee and bagel or the lunch out adds up to a lot of money over the course of a year.
- Keep a frozen casserole or pot of soup in the freezer to have on hand instead of having to go out to eat for convenience.
- Take the kids for a picnic instead of a fast food drive through.
- Brown bag it or bring coffee and a bagel from home.
You'll save money on unimportant meals out, and will have enough to treat yourself to a dinner out with your spouse occasionally. Just be sure to look for a buy one, get one free coupon!
Plan your grocery shopping to:
- Accomplish as much as possible in one trip. Less frequent trips to the store means less impulse spending, which is the downfall of most grocery budgets.
- Review your stores' weekly sales ads.
- Plan meals around what is on sale.
- Stock up when your items are on sale.
- Use coupons for your items.
You'll be amazed at how a little planning and discipline can cut your grocery bill without too much effort.
Grocery Shopping with The Coupon Mom
LTK: Please provide a brief breakout of the types of savings someone might experience using The Coupon Mom system.
SN: The premise of The Coupon Mom system is that you become familiar with the prices of your common items, use coupons when they hit their lowest price, and stock up with a few weeks' of your items at that point. Once you get in the cycle of stocking up at rock-bottom prices, your grocery bill will decrease dramatically. Half of your savings will come from sale prices, and half will come from coupons.
It's not uncommon to reduce your grocery spending by 25-50 percent without compromising the quality of the food you eat once you get going with the Coupon Mom sale/coupon system. For the average family, that translates to $100 to $200 per month, and some report saving even more.
LTK: Many place quite a value on time vs. "coupon clipping." How do you respond to this?
SN: If you use the "No Clip" Coupon Mom system with the Virtual Coupon Organizer, you'll save hundreds of dollars a year in only a few minutes each week.
The free Coupon Mom website finds and lists the best grocery deals and matches them with coupons for 49 states, and the online Virtual Coupon Organizer is a database of every newspaper grocery coupon that has come out in each state's newspaper.
The site's easy instructions explain how to use the website along with your coupon circulars. You simply cut out the coupons you need right before you shop-the website will tell you the date the coupon came out for each grocery bargain.
Shoppers simply save the entire circular each week and write that day's date on the front of it. You'll never have to cut out and organize all of the coupons each week, which saves hours of time a month.
LTK: Please debunk coupon myths.
- "Coupons aren't available for foods we eat." Roughly half of the grocery coupons issued are for non-food items such as cleaning products, personal care items and pet food. After all, most people use toothpaste!
- "Coupons are only for unhealthy food." Coupons tend to mirror food trends. Today it is common to find coupons for yogurt, cheese, salad bags, whole grain breads and crackers, diet frozen entrees, diet meal shakes, nutrition bars, and vitamins.
- "It's cheaper to buy store brand items than the name brand item with a coupon." The key to using coupons is in the timing. Manufacturers count on shoppers using the coupon when it comes out, when the item is more likely to be at a higher price. It's common for the item's price to drop a few weeks or even months after the coupon came out.
When you wait to use the coupon when the item is at its lowest sale price, you may even get the item free, which is definitely less expensive than the store brand.
The Impact of Saving
LTK: How can we encourage children and young people to get interested in saving money?
- Give children opportunities to earn money, and talk to them about a goal they care about.
- Let them spend some of their money, and then guide them in saving and setting up a bank account of their own.
- Encourage them to give some of their money to help others. Once they experience using money in a positive way, they are likely to become interested in earning and managing their own money responsibly.
LTK: Your site offers innovative suggestions for raising money for those in need. Why is this an important part of your philosophy?
SN: Based on my personal experience, I believe that sharing some of our money with others to make a difference in their lives is extremely fulfilling.
Saving money is positive, but hoarding money can lead to allowing money to play too strong of a role in directing our lives. Sharing with others also helps develop a balanced, healthy attitude toward money.
Even if you don't have a lot of extra cash to give to others, it isn't hard to buy groceries with coupons at no cost, and donating that food to a charity.