Times are tough. Incomes are low. Families are struggling.
So when it comes to grocery shopping, a lot of people are cutting corners wherever they can. They're buying generic instead of name brand, looking for sales and clipping coupons.
Hilton Head Island mom Beth Petro spends about 14 hours a week perusing coupons online, clipping them from newspapers and planning her shopping trips. And that has paid off for her family.
She does it to save money, but couponing has become a hobby for Petro, a property manager at Beachside Getaway on Hilton Head.
She and her husband, Matthew, have a 3-year-old son named A.J.
Question. How long have you been couponing?
Answer. To my own extreme for about a year. But I've always been a couponer casually. ... Sale racks, clearance racks -- those are always my first go-tos anyway. I just kind of learned how to add on to that. Well, I definitely started watching the TLC "Extreme Couponing" show and saw some of the things they would do. And I was like, "I could do that." I don't need to do it to the extreme of 900 rolls of toilet paper or anything like that, but the more I looked into it, the easier it was, and I just kind of rolled with it. It's been a great help.
Q. How did you get started using coupons?
A. I just kind of took baby steps. I picked my favorite stores. The first thing I did was get their coupon policies. ... I tried to never put myself in a situation where I was just kind of guessing if they took this coupon or if they did that with it. ... And I would always have a backup plan in case I was wrong until I got used to their different policies. But honestly it's fun. I mean, I love the idea of putting all of the different scenarios together and making them work.
Q. Do you get your coupons online or from the newspaper?
A. I do go online a lot. I spend probably a couple hours a night online after A.J. has gone to bed. That's kind of how I relax. You can get so many deals online from Coupons.com, CouponNetwork.com, SavingStar.com, SmartSource.com and RedPlum.com. Those are the main ones.
Q. Do you have any other tips for people who want to coupon?
A. Don't try to become an extreme couponer overnight. Pick a certain item that you need a lot of -- or not necessarily a lot of, but something you are going to need -- and try to focus on that. Knowing the store staff is helpful. Not all cashiers are happy to see you with your coupons. And the time of day that you go to the store can help, too, because it can be very stressful at the register when you've worked all these scenarios out in your head. ... I think the biggest thing is just taking your time and finding what you're comfortable with. ... As the people that work there get to know you, they get a kick out of seeing what you can do. They get a kick out of seeing your transactions get down to zero. So it becomes fun for them. ... It's more than just groceries and things like that. I mean, you can get a coupon for almost anything now. ... But I will say this. There is a very fine line between hoarding and couponing. And it did take me several trips to the store. I think I was on my 30th bottle of shampoo when I was like, "I can probably back off on this."
Q. How much money do you save?
A. Before I started couponing, I was probably spending $300 to $400 a month on groceries because I would go every day. ... In the past year, I don't think I even spend $50 a month.
Q. Why is couponing important?
A. It allows me to do more with A.J. when it comes down to it. I either have more money available, or I've found activities that we can do affordably. And it's fun. There's a definite rush when you know that you've got a normally $10 bottle of Tide that you didn't pay anything for.
Q. So, what is something you are not so great at?
A. Getting going in the mornings. No matter how early I get A.J. up, we are constantly late.