Surviving the grocery store with extreme couponing

Published: Jul. 12, 2011 at 6:27 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 14, 2011 at 3:00 AM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) High food prices, long lines, lugging all your bags from cart, to car, to house.  Grocery shopping is a chore, but a new wave of shoppers is turning a once mundane activity into a sport.

Imagine having a 22 foot receipt print out after you finish grocery shopping.  The total bill, more than $2000.

Dale North made that happen.  He is an extreme couponer who lives in North Myrtle Beach.

"It's fun; it's almost like a hobby," North exclaims. "The thrill of the hunt of going out there and finding that coupon."

Extreme couponing is a household phrase now, but North says getting started isn't as easy as clipping a few coupons and heading to the store.

"It takes time, but once you have everything organized, it's just bam bam bam.  It really becomes fun," North tells WMBF News as he prepares to take us to a local grocery store to show off his skills. "It's just like anything, the beginning stages are aggravating but once you get it, it's a lot of fun."

WMBF News Anchor Paula Caruso followed North on an "extreme" trip to the Kroger store in the Galleria.  He stocked up, saving 100 percent on his grocery bill.

But he went to the store armed with a plan. Caruso asked him how many hours a week he spends couponing and he said it actually takes several hours a day.

"It's every day.  I devote maybe 2-3 hours a day," North said.  "I'm probably lying.  It's probably about 4-5 hrs. But it's fun!"

North starts with the coupon packs in the Sunday paper.  If there's a good one, he orders more online.  Then, it's on to his nightly ritual of cutting and matching the offers to the weekly sale papers.  He also prints off online coupons, especially the ones right from the manufacturer.

If there's a product you like, North says to check the company's website and also look for a Facebook page.  All of this hard work has led to stockpiles of razors, body wash and lotion in North's home.

On the extreme trip North took our cameras on, he started his shopping by stocking up on Kool-Aid.

North said he had a $2 off coupon and waited for a good sale; he found one.  Kroger was offering the Kool-Aid for 10/$10, meaning North would get each canister FREE plus get $1 to spend on anything else in Kroger.

He wasn't about to let that money go to waste.  North planned to coupon every item, including sports drinks and protein bars.

Here's the deal he put together for protein bars: Kroger was having a sale offering the bars for $1, marked down from their original price of $1.49.  North had a coupon for 50 cents off, but some stores, Kroger and Bi-Lo, for instance, always double coupons up to a certain amount, making North's coupon good for $1 off. He also had a coupon for buy one get one free, so instead of getting just one bar for free, he got two; or in this case, 30 free, because he had 15 coupons.

North is a new dad and one thing he's already noticed is people like to save on baby items.

"If it's a great deal, that's the first thing to always go [from the shelves]," North said.  "People rack up all those."

At the checkout, North had nine carts lined up.  People stopped to watch with amazement as thousands of items were rung up.  The total amount, creeping higher than any of us would spend at the grocery store.  People gathered near the register to see how much North would end up paying.  As slowly as we watched the total go up, the cashier started scanning North's coupons and slowly, the total started coming down.

His total was more than $2,300 before the coupons, but North paid just $54.67. Other shoppers clapped while North looked relieved and let out a big sigh of relief.

North's overage went toward the tax he owed.  He saved 100 percent on his bill and says he actually made money on the trip, since he got $62 in fuel perks.

He has now started a CouponDad Facebook page where he shares all his tips on how to save money.

Copyright 2011 WMBF News. All rights reserved.