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Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - 1:30pm

Coupon Swappers Save Big

Since 2008, the cost of store bought food has risen nearly 10-percent. In that same period, many people have been out of work. That’s driven some savvy Georgians to change the way they pay for groceries.

Six women and a baby sit around a table at the Atlanta Bread Company restaurant in Warner Robins. Amid the small dinner crowd, this group has ordered soda and water in paper cups. It sounds like a poker game, but rather than cards the table is piled high with coupons.

“Hey Erin, I didn’t see the Jack Daniels barbecue sauce?...Jack Daniels? It’s only in the Atlanta one.”

The women, who attend church together, have been meeting to swap coupons since October. Rya Stewart, who joined them four months ago, is their newest member. It didn’t take the wife and mother of two long to be converted.

“I asked if I could come see how to do it and they let me join in on a couple nights, and after my first trip I was hooked.”

Stewart opens a notebook to show where she files her coupons and saves receipts.

“Tell me about this receipt we’re looking at right here? Oh man, this was my biggest sale. I spent $91 and I saved $111. So, I got almost $220 worth of food for $90.”

But saving that money takes effort. The women drive 70 miles to Henry County every Sunday to buy 24 copies of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. They say the AJC has the most coupons, and buying multiple copies allows each group member to get several coupon inserts.

Nikki Bland is here with her infant daughter. She left her job as a nurse when the baby was born to stay home and raise her four kids. She says going from two incomes to one, she had to cut expenses.

“You’ve got to put time into it, but the money you save is amazing. I mean it’s phenomenal to me because whereas my grocery bill used to be $300 and that would be maybe every two weeks, I mean maybe I spend $100, if that every two weeks.”

Rachel Mercer started out like the women in Warner Robins, and now she’s turned her passion for couponing into a business. She owns a website called Saving Centsably and travels throughout Middle Georgia teaching couponing classes that are growing in popularity. She says most of the people who come are women.

“People like me who have lots of children, or any children, it just makes it where there’s room to breathe in other areas of the budget if I’m not spending it all at the grocery store.”

The Telegraph newspaper sponsors Mercer’s classes because it helps sell newspapers. But she says there are also deals available online.

“There are many online coupon printing sites where you can print multiple coupons. Most coupon sites will allow you to print each coupon two times.”

A recent survey also found four in ten smart phone users have redeemed coupons on their devices.

But the women in Warner Robins are still relying on paper and scissors. Tina Holland says with coupons she is able to stock up and spend more time and money doing other things.

“I can’t remember the last time I had to go grocery shop. I just don’t have to go, because I have everything. I have to go buy milk and fresh fruit and vegetables, but that’s about it. I don’t have to buy anything else.”

Latora Hodridge sifts through a pile of coupons looking for deals on frozen pizza for her two and four year old. She says group couponing is about more than money.

“We want each other to save. Times are hard. So saving money is the way to go. If we can help each other do it, then that’s awesome.”

For GPB News, I’m Josephine Bennett in Macon.