If you’ve been handed free toilet paper or razors by a neighbour, Heather Anderson probably lives on your street.
The Kanata stay-at-home-mom is a bonafide coupon and price-matching whiz who breezes through the checkout, thanks to her systematic approach.
“It’s really addicting to save money,” said Anderson.
“I don’t think people know that you shouldn’t be embarrassed.”
And she’s proud of never paying for toothpaste.
With full-price coupons arriving each month, she stocks up on Colgate Total for the entire family; Anderson has been couponing for one year.
“We are not a family that must do this,” she said.
“It was more for a hobby.”
And she isn’t stingy about sharing tips.
Anderson recruited friend Marianne Tilton and began a Facebook group, Ottawa Coupon Swap & Price Matching, boasting more than 1,000 members.
“When you first start, it can be really overwhelming,” said Anderson.
Members trade tips, links to freebies, and naturally, coupons.
Each week, the duo organize a grocery list, itemizing deals by sale price and store.
“And you will see lots of people shopping … that will do the same thing as you do, and have the same list as you have,” she said.
After actively seeking discounts for 13 months, she balks at paying regular price for most items at the grocery store.
She’s always armed with coupons and flyers from other stores to score deals via price-matching.
While skeptics reason the idea is appealing, yet far too laborious, “how much time would you spend driving to all these sales?,” Anderson said.
Despite the stereotypical couponers purchasing primarily processed food, as seen on TLC’s Extreme Couponing reality show, Anderson insists she snags good buys on healthy items.
“I’ve never had so many berries,” she said.
“I have fresh lettuce all the time; tomatoes in the middle of winter.”
Buying in bulk is part of the game.
Her basement is full of great deals, or “stock piles.”
Having said that, “I’m not a hoarder. It’s very clean,” Anderson said.
To the dismay of her husband, the habit is catching on in their household.
“Now my children are doing it,” she said.
“They’re like, ‘oh mommy, can I hold the coupons?'”
Her son, 5, and daughter, 3, are also learning to spot coupons for their favourite items or new products they’d like to try.
Anderson believes in “passing on that it’s OK to save money.”
It’s also crucial to give back.
Anderson and Tilton often end up donating items they don’t use, or those rejected by their kids.
For instance, “I donated 150 bottles of Softsoap to St. Mary’s Home and the Youville Centre,” Anderson said.
When the group holds a bi-monthly coupon swap, they select a charity beforehand, asking members to donate products.
Along with contributing to school breakfast programs, they’ve also sent items to the Kanata Food Cupboard, Ottawa Food Bank, and the Mission, among others.
“It makes me feel really good. I don’t get paid for this. I do a lot of this out of my time,” said Anderson.
Anderson’s go-to spot is the Real Canadian Superstore on Eagleson Rd, since staff are accommodating, and unlike many stores, “coupon-stacking” is allowed, meaning manufacturer coupons can be used with the ones posted on the “coupon zone” board at the store entrance.
Given the competitive landscape in Ottawa, “we give that extra advantage to the consumer that uses coupons. This way, it’s a win-win situation Ñ not only for the store Ñ but also for the consumer themselves,” said store manager Jason Euverman.
Add price-matching into the mix, and suddenly “it becomes a convenient shop. They don’t have to shop at multiple locations, they can just shop at one, and time is of the essence,” he said.
In this sense, preparation is imperative to create a smooth, speedy transaction with the cashier.
Even though she’s a pro, Anderson still warns the person behind her it might take extra time to cash out due to coupons and price-matching.
“They usually love you telling them. Some will stay and want to watch, and other ones will be like, Ôyup, we need to leave, because they’re in a rush,'” she said.
“So you give them the option and then they can’t get upset.”
Friday is a good day to shop, said Euverman.
“You typically have all the competitors’ flyers together and that way … you can get all the price-matching done on one day,” he said.
Weekends are obviously busy, he said but cashiers will still entertain couponers.
Traditionally, coupons were used by the poor but the trend is “becoming more and more sexy,” said University of Ottawa sociology professor Diane Pacom.
“We have this bulimic approach with consumption,” said Pacom.
“It takes a huge amount of time,” she said, adding the behaviour can even be categorized as an addiction.
The task requires considerable planning and is “extremely methodic.”
In certain cases, it’s an example of people trying to gain control, she said.
“It becomes a little bit like gambling … It’s like a strategy, like a war.”
Viewed by some as borderline hoarding, couponing could be called an extreme type of behaviour, said Pacom.
With people such as Anderson donating deeply discounted items to charities, the philanthropic element adds seduction, said Pacom.
In that sense, these couponers do it for kicks.
“You get pleasure out of it. It’s like a treasure hunt,” she said.
On a shopping expedition with the Sun, Anderson did a “mini-shop” for her family of four, scooping up five freebies by using full-price coupons.
She selected two tubes of Colgate Total toothpaste, Clorox laundry stain remover, Werther’s caramels, and Orville Redenbacher’s white cheddar popcorn.
The items totalled $17.56.
She paid 23 cents in taxes.
Anderson’s favourite part of shopping at the Superstore is looking at the end of the receipt:
Total % Saved This Visit: 100%.