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How to Shop for Free

How to Shop for Free
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Every week Kathy Spencer does the impossible: For her family of six, she spends just $4 a week on groceries. No, that’s not a typo. Spencer, who lives north of Boston and is the author of How to Shop for Free (Da Capo Press), is a master when it comes to coupons and rewards programs. “If someone is behind me at the checkout counter,” she says, “I’ll turn to them and say, ‘Look, I have this big stack of coupons. I’m going to be here for a while. You might want to switch lanes or take notes.'” Many do take notes. And no, her kids aren’t eating bologna sandwiches for every meal. “Since I started doing this, my family has never eaten better,” Spencer says. “My kids all wear designer clothes.” How does she do it? We sat down with her to find out.

Coupon Finds
Coupons are everywhere: at the dentist’s or the vet’s office, grocery stores, and the pharmacy. You can buy coupons on eBay, too. And don’t forget newspapers, which, not surprisingly, Spencer doesn’t pay for, either. “You can go to convenience stores Sunday night or Monday morning and just ask them if you can take the coupon inserts out of the unsold Sunday papers,” she explains.

Bulk Up
The key to frugal shopping is bulk shopping. In other words, find a great deal and take advantage of it for all it’s worth. The easy targets: pasta, toothpaste, cereal, and health and beauty items. “I have five years’ worth of laundry detergent,” Spencer says.

Think Beyond Groceries
Spencer brings her money-saving ways to more than just the grocery store. “You can do this at department stores and at mall stores,” she says. “Even a quick Google search will show you ways to save money at a store you’re going to.” Example: Spencer recently bought her son Guitar Hero World Tour Band Bundle for the Xbox at Sears. It normally sells for $190; she got it for $18.

Reward Yourself
Spencer believes in the power of store rewards programs. By taking advantage of store credits and buying only items that offer additional credits, her total cash outlay is often just pocket change. “It’s like being at a casino,” she says. “You want to keep playing with house money as long as you can. And if you add coupons to it, it starts to snowball.”

Follow the Money
Saving money begins with getting a handle on how much you’re already spending: Track all your expenditures and study your receipts. Spencer also stresses bringing only cash to the supermarket. “If you’re on a $150 budget, that’s all you’ll spend,” she explains. “When you don’t have your credit cards, it stops you from buying spontaneous items that look or smell good.”

Start Slowly
Spencer tells all thrift newbies to begin with baby steps. Pick a store–she recommends a drugstore–and master its deals. “Get a friend involved,” she advises. “It’s easier [if you] have a shopping buddy to bounce ideas off of and to keep you motivated.”

For more about Kathy Spencer, visit:

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Updated Friday, February 10th, 2012
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