You do not want to get stuck behind Leanne Mathewson in the checkout line at the grocery store. She’s the one with the file folder stuffed with coupons, holding her phone up to ask for a price match because the chain around the corner has strawberries on sale for two bucks less. She’ll smile to herself when she scores a 24-roll pack of toilet paper for under a dollar. It may take up to 45 minutes to ring her items through. But that time, as she will tell you, is money.
While you’re paying full price for your cart of fish crackers, dish soap and chicken thighs, the stay-at-home mom in Windsor, Ont., will be loading her groceries into her bike trailer – the car left at home, to save on gas – having spent less than $200 to feed her family of five for a week.
That’s an enviable grocery bill in the best of times. But when the latest Consumer Price Index was released Wednesday, Canadians learned officially what they already know: Basic necessities are getting more and more expensive by the day, along with the cost of driving to the store to get them.
Squeezed by rising prices and shrinking container sizes, Ms. Mathewson’s shopping skills have never been so valuable. Good thing she – and a team of inflation-fighting, super savers – are happy to share them.
Ms. Mathewson belongs to the Canadian Savings Group, which posts daily deals, coupons and tips online to help shoppers save their pennies. The group has a website, a YouTube channel and an Instagram account. On Facebook, it has 94,000 members and counting.
A dozen women, all volunteers living across the country, help run the group. There’s a bookkeeper and single mom in Toronto; a baker outside Duncan, B.C. The group was created in 2015 by Pat Hollett, a writer in Barrie, Ont., who started couponing during a tight year and now gets up at 5 a.m. each morning looking for bargains. Ms. Mathewson, who has three kids at home aged 10 and under, became a member in 2016. “I was up all night nursing,” she says. “So I had all this time to start learning how to coupon.”
Collecting coupons, though, is just the basics: Super saving requires a full-on offensive.
“It takes time,” says Kelly Scott, the baker. “And it takes math.”
Group members maximize coupons during sales. They use price-matching apps, such as Flipp and Reebee, and cashback apps. They collect loyalty points and spend them when they’re most valuable. They complete online surveys for free stuff: Ms. Mathewson most recently received a full-sized dog bone, an Aero chocolate bar and 11 full-product coupons. “That was exciting,” she says. A savings of $60, she estimates, for 10 minutes of multiple-choice questions.
It helps to be able to multiply discounts in your head, and divide unit prices to comparison shop. Knowing the regular cost of items is essential, so you’re wise to an overhyped sale. The group is alert to new packaging, which usually means a shrinking amount of whatever’s inside (but bonus: a shelf-clearing discount on the old package).
Ms. Mathewson never buys anything at full price. (One cashier now turns off the “open” light when she see Ms. Mathewson coming, so nobody lines up behind her.) Ms. Scott never brings home anything she won’t eventually use, even if she can get it for free. (Buying useless stuff just because you have a coupon is a rookie mistake.) It also helps to have ample storage space: “I do recommend at least a small stockpile,” Ms. Scott says. For example, she currently has three years worth of dishwasher pods that she purchased for $4 a pack (regular $18.99), six months of marked-down laundry detergent, 20 bags of pasta she found for 50 cents a piece, plus 62 heads of discounted garlic and 14 slightly wrinkled onions, total cost $2.50.
The women tell stories of super deals: Ms. Hollett once paid $6 for $658 worth of groceries. But they also celebrate smaller hauls: a jumbo hot dog six pack for $1.62; 72 boxes of tissue for 22 cents each; a dozen tuna toppers for free. The group’s website has a brag sheet of freebies – 500 items and growing – from every aisle in the grocery store. Saving is a rush, Ms. Hollett says. “Sometimes, it feels like you robbed the store.”
Learning the tricks can be slow-going, and you need a thick skin at the checkout line, says Filomena Bilotta, the Toronto single mom. She once had a woman berate her for wasting time for five dollars. “Five dollars is a bag of milk,” Ms. Bilotta told her, and extra money to spend on her kids.
It now takes her about an hour a week to prep for the grocery store. “If you are sitting at home watching TV, pull out your phone, check your list, price match and find your coupons.”
Super savers have a code: “You never, ever shelf clear, and you never steal all the coupons,” says Kathy Breen, a group administrator in Markham. Group members donate in bulk to local food banks and play “coupon fairy” by leaving deals on random products in the grocery store for other shoppers to find.
But even they still feel inflation’s pinch. Ms. Mathewson recently increased her weekly food budget to $200 from $150, and started biking the seven kilometres to the Superstore to save gas for her daughters’ Highland dance competitions. She budgets by putting the money physically in envelopes. This past week, when she only spent $147 on groceries, she bought gift cards to save for Christmas.
All this effort pays off. Ms. Mathewson keeps a detailed Excel file to track her savings. “Last year,” she says, “I saved $10,000 in grocery costs.”
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