- Associated Press - Monday, July 11, 2011

BOISE, Idaho — The women sat expectantly as Monica Knight told them she once routinely spent $600 a month on groceries for her family of four. Breaking into a broad smile, Mrs. Knight said that figure has been reduced to just $100 to $150 a month.

And now the dental hygienist and mother of two is about to tell them her secret.

The women lean forward in their seats. They’re the latest disciples of extreme couponing, women who carry pictures of their overflowing pantries on their cell phones, savvy shoppers who will spend hours flipping through newspaper and magazine advertisements in search of bargains, and homemakers who have pinched pennies to put food on the table during the recession and need the extra help.

Most have watched the television series “Extreme Couponing,” which debuted on TLC in April and follows shoppers whose intense devotion to finding bargains can whittle a $555.44 grocery bill down to $5.97, to cite one extreme example.

Heather Border, a 36-year-old mother of four in rural Idaho, is new to the extreme-couponing phenomenon. But she was hooked a few weeks ago after coupons and store deals brought her $180 grocery bill down to $40.

“I was feeling a little conspicuous because people were staring at me,” Mrs. Border said. “Then, I felt a rush.”

She was among about 20 women who attended an extreme-couponing class on a recent Saturday in Boise. The three-hour course was taught by Mrs. Knight and her business partner, Cathy Yoder. They own the extreme-couponing blog Fabulessly Frugal.

The women oohed and awwed as Mrs. Knight pulled out the fat binder of coupons that saves her 50 percent to 90 percent on every grocery bill. She showed off pictures of the stockpile of food at her home, where 46 boxes of cereal are stowed in her children’s bedroom closet and packages of breakfast-drink mix are kept under a bed.

In their class, Mrs. Yoder and Mrs. Knight warn against some of the practices that have given extreme coupon cutters like themselves a bad rap.

They instruct their students to be kind to their cashiers. They encourage them to stockpile food to help their families but caution against “hoarding” or clearing grocery shelves of items their families don’t need or won’t use. They also warned against photocopying coupons, which can place stores on alert and ruin deals for everyone.

“I think the stores are a little freaked out because of the television show,” said Mrs. Knight, who advises her students to keep a copy of grocery store policies on hand during shopping trips in case problems arise.

At Fabulessly Frugal, savvy shoppers can find video tutorials and state specific coupon lists. The site boasts nine bloggers, including the coupon-class instructors, Mrs. Yoder and Mrs. Knight, who specialize in specific grocery stores.

Mrs. Yoder started the blog about three years ago for family and friends. She knew Mrs. Knight, who also had started to clip coupons, from her church, and the two started blogging together in November 2008. A few months later, Mrs. Yoder learned that she was pregnant with her seventh child, and then her husband lost his job.

Her family, however, had a reserve of food to fall back on, thanks to coupons, Mrs. Yoder said.

During her best shopping trip, she purchased 165 boxes of cereal for about $14.

It wasn’t long before the pair realized their extreme-couponing website could make money. The site features advertisements, and they get paid per click on about 75 percent of the coupons found on the website, Mrs. Yoder said. They made $35 the first month it featured the coupons, she said.

“We make that in an hour now,” said Mrs. Yoder, who now supports her family with the website, which gets about 30,000 hits per day.

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