August 6, 2010

People across the state are finding a little organization, some planning and a pair of scissors go a long way toward saving money at the grocery store.

And it's not only in Kentucky; couponing is a growing trend across the nation. Family and consumer sciences agents with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service continue to offer educational classes on the subject to their community members.

"Couponing is appealing because of the savings people get on their grocery bills. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to try new products from manufacturers," said Audrey Myers, Green County family and consumer sciences agent, who was one of the first agents in the state to offer a couponing class in 2008. "Another good thing about it is you never run out of anything because you're constantly stocking your pantry."

Saving money is extremely important in a tough economy and is likely one of the reasons behind the soaring popularity of couponing. Fleming County Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Donna Fryman offered a class where the two presenters said they started couponing out of necessity-one's husband had been laid off, and both women had large families to support.

Myers began couponing to try to save some money after the birth of her child. She saved a total of $3,000 on her grocery bill the year she used a strategy of couponing and meal planning.

In Henderson County, Amanda Hardy, family and consumer sciences agent, began teaching classes this past spring. The classes were so popular that she created a monthly club for those interested in fine tuning their couponing skills. Club members meet monthly to exchange coupons, share shopping strategies, remind each other about coupons that are nearing their expiration dates and keep each other up-to-date on products going on sale soon.

"It's an art form really," she said. "It takes a lot of time, and you have to be dedicated."

Myers suggested those interested in couponing start by taking a class to learn strategies, meal planning and secrets of the trade. Sometimes, finding coupons can be difficult for those who live in rural areas.  The agents said people in their counties have found a number of ways to get them, including checking online, asking family in larger cities for coupons from their newspapers and calling product manufacturers' toll free numbers to request them.

While it is time consuming for people to begin their coupon collection and develop a personal strategy, it can only take 20 or 30 minutes each week once you get organized, Fryman said.

In their classes, the agents have found savings vary widely. Myers has class participants keep a log of their savings. They usually average between 30 and 50 percent off their grocery bill. Hardy said one dedicated couple in her club is averaging savings of more than 50 percent.