She walks into the supermarket like a detective on the trail of a hot case.
With grocery list in hand, Tina Crane lays her purse in her shopping cart and takes out a yellow envelope stuffed with coupons clipped for specials on various products.
“Making a list and having a plan before you get here is key,” the 39-year-old explains, pointing to items written on the back of the envelope.
“My radar (for good deals) is on the minute I walk in.”
With coupons for everything from free yogurt and $1 off two litres of milk to half-off salmon and 50-cent cans of soup, Crane is intent on scouring the shelves to make this another cheap grocery run.
“I don’t need a lot, but if I see a good deal, I’ll buy it and stock up,” she said, displaying a cellphone photo of her pantry at home, which looks more like supermarket shelves lined with cleansers, laundry detergent, pasta, cereal and cat food.
“I don’t do the big shops anymore because I don’t need to.”
Crane is fondly known to her friends and family as the Coupon Queen. She’s an avid coupon collector who has become so skilled at it, she estimates it helps her save an average of 40 per cent on her grocery bill.
Following her around a Dominion supermarket in St. John’s this week, it’s easy to see why the mother of two handles the budget in her family.
She moves swiftly from aisle to aisle, scoping the shelves for sale stickers, stopping occasionally to check out an item, checking her coupon stack and quickly calculating prices in her head.
“You look for the red sale tags, but the pink ones are the best here. That’s the stuff they’re trying to get rid of quickly,” she said. “You also learn to work the perimeters. They’ll put a lot of the stuff they’re trying to get rid of down here, too.”
Crane stops to examine a half-off sticker on salmon.
“My kids love salmon, but it’s so expensive,” she said. “But they can have it when I can get it cheap.”
Crane says from the time she was a teenager she’s been good with money, but she only got into collecting coupons a few years ago after having her second daughter.
“Kids are expensive!” said Crane, who works at a supermarket, while her husband works with the city.
“I’m actually making less than what I did six years ago, so money is tight. A lot of people are finding it tough these days to make ends meet and need to find ways to save money.
“To get better control of our finances, I started to coupon. Now, I’m totally into it.”
She’s gotten so into it, in fact, she has held “How to Coupon” seminars to give other people pointers on how to save. The next seminar is set for March 28 at the Mount Pearl Library.
“I really didn’t think I’d become the crazy stockpile coupon lady, but here I am,” she said, laughing.
“My friends all make fun of me, but then they’ll ask, ‘You got that for how much? Oh, where did you get it for that price?’ ‘What’s that deal? Can I see?’ They mock, but they look.”
Crane is also an active member of the hugely popular Facebook group Coupon Queens of Newfoundland, which has close to 12,000 members, and she’s the administrator of another Facebook group, Newfoundland Coupon Queen Traders, with close to 3,000 members.
“It’s like a support group,” she said. “If there’s a sweet deal around, you’ll see it on the Facebook group. Someone will post, ‘There are only so many left, so get down there now!’ We all help each other out and ….”
Crane’s thoughts are interrupted when she spots the yogurt she wants.
“Oh, I have a raincheck for these, as well as a coupon, so I’ll get lots of these,” she said, piling the containers in her arms.
“Jeez, I look like a lunatic,” she adds, laughing.
When it comes to couponing, Crane says it’s important to be organized.
In a booklet at home, she has coupons from online business and coupon sites, from inserts in flyers and from email discounts from various companies. She also has the Checkout51 app on her phone, which offers cashback for purchases of certain products, and uses store cards — such as the PC Optimum card — to accumulate points for free stuff.
Trading is also big in this province, she said, where members trade coupons for coupons, or coupons for stamps.
“People always ask me advice about what they have to do. I tell them the first thing is you need to sit down and make a list of 10 items that you normally buy and see how much they cost and start looking at how to get them cheaper.
“Families can easily save hundreds of dollars if they do it right.”
She stops again at the french fry cooler, but decides against getting any.
“I have a coupon and there’s a cashback offer, but it will still cost me a buck,” she said. “I can get them cheaper than that when they go on special.
“It’s not just about using coupons. You have to know when to use them, too.”
It’s important to know when to find deals, as well, she said, explaining that the day before a long weekend, supermarkets always have marked-down prices.
“When you start couponing, there are a lot of things you have to learn, so it can be tough initially,” she said. “But once you get into it, it becomes second nature … almost addictive. A lot of it is just knowing your prices and knowing what’s actually a good deal.”
For example, just because something’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s a good deal, she said. And she finds Walmart is always good for price-matching.
Crane realizes many people don’t have a lot of time to make a carefully planned grocery run, but she insists it’s worth it.
“I did so well the last six months of last year, I paid for Christmas with what was left over,” she said. “You can’t beat that.”
Crane said there’s a stigma associated with couponing — some people believe it’s only for low-income families and those on social assistance.
“I find price-matching gets people over that I-can’t-do-that thing because it’s embarrassing. They think only poor people coupon,” she said. “I’m like, whatever! Is it free? Put it in my cart!
“It took me a while to get over that, but once I saw the money I was saving, I didn’t care.”
Before paying for her items, Crane makes a point of going to the clearance rack at the back of the store. Her eyes light up when she sees half-price juice boxes. She grabs six packages and puts them in her cart and then heads to the cash.
“This is the part where everybody hates me,” she said, looking over her shoulder to see if anyone is lined up behind her.
After her items are rung in, Crane hands the cashier a wad of coupons, which the cashier scans, gradually bringing the price down lower and lower with every beep.
When Crane was handed the receipt, it showed that what would have cost her $99.38, she got for $32.34 — roughly one-third the price.
“I get so excited when I leave the supermarket. It’s like a high,” she said, putting her groceries in her trunk. “It was a good day.”
Top 10 coupon tips
“I love couponing,” said Doucette, a new mom who saves on everything from diapers, baby formula and wipes to food and household items. “I quickly got hooked when I saw how much money I can save.
“It has actually acted like a supplement income for me. When I was off on maternity leave, I was able to grab any local deals, so it would literally save us hundreds a month. Now that I’m back to work, it still saves us a couple of hundred, which is still awesome.
“I think everyone should be doing it.”
To get the most out of couponing, Crane and Doucette offer a few tips:
1. Know where to find coupons. Here are some common places:
In the store: tear pads (found near the product); peelies (attached to the product); hang tags (hung on the product).
Print coupons from the internet on various sites — pgeveryday.ca, smartsource.ca, advil.ca, etc. Ensure redemption address is for Canadian stores.
In-the-mail coupons: available on sites that can mail to your door, such as save.ca.
Company mail-outs: email companies directly, let them know you enjoy their product and request coupons. Many companies, such as Dove, Chapmans and Tetley, are more than happy to send them.
2. Get a printer: start printing any coupons from online and keep them in a special folder or album.
3. Price-matching helps: use newspaper flyers or electronic versions on your phone to get the same deal on a product at a store that’s advertised at another store.
4. Download apps to your smartphone:
• Cashback apps — such as Checkout51, Zweet, Caddle and Save.ca — give you money back for buying items and submitting proof (usually photos of receipts or barcodes).
5. Combine your coupons with in-store specials to get the best savings.
6. Check flyers and store websites to compare the best deals.
7. Use loyalty/points programs: collecting from one or two can get you the best bang for your buck. Some programs are PC Optimum, Air Miles, Aeroplan, Scene points, Subway rewards and Canadian Tire money.
9. Never photocopy a coupon. Just as it’s illegal to photocopy a $20 bill, it’s also against the law to photocopy a coupon.
10. Stay organized and have fun seeing all the money you save.