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Couponing: Locals' savings is extreme

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Panama City,
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Kari Cassidy has turned girl's night into a couponing party, where ideas, deals and tips are shared over drinks and cookies. Cassidy took a greater interest in couponing after being laid off from her position as a school psychologist for Bay District Schools.

"I've always done it but didn't have time and realize how easy it was to do. I typically save between 45 to 49 percent of the bill," she said.

Her weekly grocery bill averages at about $100 out of pocket after a savings of at least $90 for her family of four, which includes her husband, Dan, and their two children. The most she has ever saved is about $120.

"I did a whole spreadsheet when I started," she said. "I'm about cost per item. I'm not going to go to 15 stores and waste a lot of gas."

Cassidy and a group of friends meet every six to eight weeks to sort and exchange coupons and share their latest triumphs and lessons. The group of working mothers also uses couponing websites, such as Coupon Divas and Southern Savers. They cut out coupons from weekly inserts in The News Herald on Sunday and see weekly specials from grocery stores, such as Publix and Winn Dixie, which are inserted into Wednesday's newspaper.

"Plan ahead," Cassidy said. "Wait until your brand is on sale. The sale cycle is every six to eight weeks."

She spends about six hours a week looking for deals, but no more than an hour in the grocery store.

"I think you're more organized if you're couponing," said Deborah Viera, mother of one son.

All of the women in the group grocery shop weekly and each has her own organizing system. Lora Rhodes, mother of three daughters, uses a binder, while Cassidy and Tami Dinan, mother of three boys, have small pouches with a filing system. Dinan's fits neatly in her purse, divided up into categories, such as frozen food. Her CVS file within the pouch has her card handily tucked inside. Cassidy also likes to shop drug stores for deals, once spending "10.88 for $40 worth of things," from toothpaste and toothbrushes to toilet paper and paper towels.

"I stick to Publix and Walgreens, but I'm not afraid to go somewhere else to get another deal," Cassidy said. "With couponing, the smaller the package, the better the deals."

But there are exceptions to every rule.

Viera said she finds some of her best deals buying meat in bulk at Walmart or Sam's Club. Winn Dixie has a lot of buy-one-get-one (BOGO) deals on meats. If Cassidy gets a BOGO, she considers it overage for produce.

"I don't want people to think you have to get all processed food," Cassidy said.

For the best savings, match up a BOGO deal with a manufacturer's coupon and a store coupon for each item. Couponing has taken on new popularity with TLC's Extreme Couponing. The series follow shoppers' journeys from finding deals to capturing savings.

"The show's been the death of me," Cassidy said. "I hate the show. Everybody's changed their rules."

Because of the popularity of "Extreme Couponing," many grocery stores began changing their couponing policies. Unlike the extreme shoppers on TV, Cassidy and her friends don't clear shelves or have rooms filled with enormous stockpiles

"My No. 1 rule is don't buy something unless you need it," Cassidy said.

If there is a long shelf life, then go ahead and stock up on things such as body wash, toothpaste and shampoo.

"You can never have too many snacks, because kids go through them," she added.

Cassidy has found such a niche that she started her own business, Coupon Shopping For You, to coupon and grocery shop for working mothers and professionals.

See a video of the local couponing group.

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