By Erika Webb
Mary Edwards spends $50 or less weekly, buying groceries and other necessities for her family of six. No, that figure is not missing a zero.
The busy DeBary mom has been saving to earn for six years, and teaches free classes throughout Central Florida to show others how it's done.
After the birth of her third child in 2006, Ms. Edwards wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, not an easy feat in these financially demanding times.
That's when she began doing some research and entered the world of couponing, even before it reached all-the-rage status.
"My husband and I sat down to figure out if we could make it work. He told me how much we had to cut in our budget," Ms. Edwards said. "It took some planning and researching and then I realized that I could coupon to cut our grocery and health & beauty supply costs."
Her work paid dividends.
"I was able to almost completely wipe out our grocery and health and beauty costs completely once I got the hang of couponing -- saving 90 percent or more each week," Ms. Edwards said.
Intrigued friends and family members inspired her to start a blog where she offered tips and strategies. Then she formed a small, free class to share what she'd learned with some friends.
"They wanted to know how my pantries were kept full and my closet of health and beauty supplies were always stocked, yet I was living on a very tight budget. So I started adding the deals I got to my personal family website," Ms. Edwards said. "Eventually, I got more traffic and had to start a separate website completely."
She created Couponers United, a website featuring links to all sorts of deals, tips from fellow couponers on storing and organizing purchases, money-saving recipes and more.
The website generated more curiosity, so Ms. Edwards, who has been featured on Fox News and Local 6 News, agreeably took the next step.
"A group of friends then asked for a class, so I taught them, and everyone else in the restaurant (where the class was taught) seemed to take an interest and asked for a class of their own. That is how my classes started," Ms. Edwards said. "I never intended for this to be a business at all."
Extreme couponing is a bargain shopping strategy that saves many families thousands of dollars per year, according to couponing.com. This method of shopping takes practice, skill and smarts, the website reported, but assured novices there is no need to fear.
Ms. Edwards said two hours or less is all the time required to be a serious couponer. Her suggested investment: newspaper subscriptions.
She said on "really good coupon days" the stores might run out of newspapers, so she has them delivered to her home daily.
And it's not just about 50 cents off a box of Tide. Today's advanced and varied savings options shave dollars off of meals, trips, activities and services, instigating "buy one lifestyle, get one lifestyle for half price" fervor.
The biggest propeller of Ms. Edwards' success could be her propensity to pay things forward.
"I'm a very big supporter of food banks. I am hoping that as you learn how to 'super coupon' and save hundreds, your pantries will overflow and you will give to someone in need -- a local food pantry, homeless shelter, humane society or your very own neighbor," Ms. Edwards states on her website.
One site contributor listed the benefits of stockpiling, including having more pocket money as the result of saving on grocery and household items.
"If you happen to be short on cash one week, come up with an 'eat from the stockpile' menu and only use items that you have at home," the blogger suggested.
In some cases, extreme savers walked away from their shopping hauls without paying a cent, according to an online report at abcnews.go.com.
The demographics of couponers may be surprising. According to an online article at mainstreet.com, "affluent people are twice as likely to engage in online couponing as low-income people."
The article referenced a survey conducted by management consulting firm Accenture that revealed 54 percent of people from households earning more than $150,000 a year subscribed to daily deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial.
The trend became popular among the well to do in 2007 when the banks collapsed, according to CouponTrade.com.
Ms. Edwards offered a few additional tips: "Always make a list before heading to the store; learn how to stack your coupons -- using both a manufacturer coupon and a store coupon for the same item."
And, attend a class.
Ms. Edwards' popular and well-attended classes are held all over Central Florida. Times and locations are posted at couponersunited.com.
Groups or individuals interested in hosting a class at a business, church, library, moms group, women's group, or for friends at home are invited to e-mail Ms. Edwards at email@example.com.