MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Next to matters of personal finance, and often on this program we talk about mutual funds and insurance and stuff like that. How about saving money with coupons - from a woman who calls herself Miss Coupon Diva? How big of a diva? Joyce House says she has not paid for toiletries in years. And with the money she's saved using coupons she has pursued a nursing degree.
Now she gives consultations and seminars to people who want to learn how to save big bucks. Joyce House joins us now for our Money Coach segment. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
Ms. JOYCE HOUSE (Miss Coupon Diva): Thank you. I'm glad to be here.
MARTIN: So how did you get hooked on coupons?
Ms. HOUSE: I had an incident where I bought a box of Pampers for my daughter and several of them weren't usable and I took them back to the store and asked a grocer manager, you know, I really need to be able to use the entire box. And he looked at me and he was very kind and suddenly said, well, I got a dime for you. And I didn't like it. So I came home and I wrote to Proctor and Gamble, 'cause back then you didn't have the emails and the 800 numbers that we have now, and a couple weeks later I got a letter from them saying that it was something wrong with it because I had enclosed one of the diapers so they could see what I was talking about. And they gave me a coupon for a free box. Every so many months they sent me a coupon for another free box. So I never had to buy any more diapers for my daughter. And when I had twins 10 years later, I still had coupons to buy diapers for them.
MARTIN: What? Those coupons had not expired?
Ms. HOUSE: Not back in the '70s. They had no expiration date on them.
MARTIN: So that was one thing. So you had your diapers taken care of. How did you decide to kind of keep it going?
Ms. HOUSE: Well, I realized the money that I didn't have to use to buy diapers gave me money to buy other stuff. And I learned to utilize the coupons to stretch my budget so then I'd be able to start saving money, which enabled me to go to nursing school. And then there was an interim where I had to be laid off because my job closed and I was pregnant. And coupons literally fed my family until I found another job.
MARTIN: Give us an example, if you would. Because I think one of the reasons that some people say they don't use coupons is that they're constantly getting coupons for things that they don't really need or want.
Ms. HOUSE: If you're looking through the coupons and you have products that you are - consistently buy, every product now has the contact information on it. Call the company, email the company and say, I like your product, however I never see coupons for it, can you help me out? And most times they'll send you coupons or tell you how to get them, 'cause they normally have emails now where they will inbox them to you.
MARTIN: Well, give me some other tips.
Ms. HOUSE: I'm a person that is not really brand specific, so when you're like that, you can really save money. It's interesting you ask, because recently I saw on the news where people notice that products are being downsized. The 64-ounce bottle of orange juice is now 59 ounces. But when you utilize coupons and you pay attention to unit pricing, you can still get the same amount that you used to get when the sizes were largest. For instance, I used to get three cans or two cans of chunk white tuna for a dollar.
Well, now you know if you can get one(ph) for a dollar, it's a good deal. Well, I'm getting solid white tuna for 38 cents a can because I'm paying attention to the sales and I'm combining them with the coupons. So I'm actually paying less, even though the can of tuna is smaller.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're having a regular money coach segment. Today we are talking about how to save with coupons. And we are visiting with the Coupon Diva, Joyce House, who is telling us how to score big with those little coupons.
So what about the time factor? I mean you spend a lot of time comparing. Do I have that right? Like, you'll get circulars for more than one store and go through them.
Ms. HOUSE: Right. I'm a single mom who worked night shifts and went to nursing school during the day. But if you need to save money, you'll figure out the time. So I probably now, because I've been doing it now for 35 years, spend tops 20 minutes a week going through the circulars, because you have an eye for what you're looking for and what you have a coupon for and you're done with it.
MARTIN: How much have you saved, do you think, in one shopping trip? Like, what's your best score?
Ms. HOUSE: My best shopping trip was $300.68. And I only had to pay 52 cents.
MARTIN: Stop it. Fifty-two cents?
Ms. HOUSE: Fifty-two cents. And the reason why I remember that one so well, it was the time of the year when you have to spend $300 to get your free turkey, and I still got my free turkey, only though I only spent 52 cents.
MARTIN: How is that possible?
Ms. HOUSE: Because coupons are money. So when you present them to the cashier, it's as if you're giving them your money.
MARTIN: And how do you get these coupons? Do you mainly go online now? Or do you still use the circulars or the coupons that they give you at checkout, which sort of keeps track of what you buy? What do you primarily do now?
Ms. HOUSE: Steal(ph) the newspaper. I'm networking with my neighbors and friends. People give me their coupons and say, you know, I'm out of blah, blah, blah, so if you see it on sale, can you pick it up for me?
I did a lifestyle change back in 2002, so I try to walk, weather permitting, five to seven miles a day. Literally, people buy the Sunday paper and they don't look at the coupons and I can pick them up right out of their bins.
MARTIN: So how much do you think you've saved over the course of time?
Ms. HOUSE: Well, I can tell you in '95 I bought(ph) a van, it was $22,000 cash. And recently my daughter needed a car to get to law school and I paid for her car cash - new cars. I've never had a used car.
MARTIN: So that's where all that grocery money's going.
Ms. HOUSE: Yup.
Ms. HOUSE: It's been our cruises, all our family vacations. You know when you see at the bottom on your receipt that said you saved? I always bank that money and that's how we live.
MARTIN: And here's a sensitive question, but I do have to ask it. Sometimes the food that is heavily discounted is not the food that is healthiest for you, for example. I don't know that they're often doing a lot of discounts on, like, fresh fruit and apples and such like that. So how's your diet?
Ms. HOUSE: Well, I've lost 85 pounds. Now, if I have a $300 bill and I only paid 52 cents, can I buy fruits and vegetables?
MARTIN: I see your point.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: I don't know, if you're keeping all those 20 boxes of pasta that you had, maybe...
Ms. HOUSE: Who says that I'm not?
MARTIN: You know, that's what I'm concerned about here.
Ms. HOUSE: But I'm buying the pasta that has vegetables already in it. I make my own bread every Sunday. I don't buy canned vegetables. I buy the ones now that are fresh steamed. I eat very healthy. I have a little girl now that I took in because she needed a home. And she has a history of ADD in her family. She is on no medication. She gets no artificial fruits, colors, any of that stuff because I make all our stuff.
So - no, you can eat very healthy using coupons, and that's the thing that people tend to think when their finances are a little lower. They buy those convenience foods that are chucked with sodium and all that other junk when they actually can use coupons for the necessary things they have to get, so it gives them more money to buy the healthier things.
MARTIN: Do you always shop with a list?
Ms. HOUSE: I never need to shop, so I never have to pay with the regular prices. So when I'm going to the store, it's always cherry-picking to get what I can get for less than nothing and just keep my pantry stocked.
MARTIN: All right. Joyce House is Miss Coupon Diva. And she was kind enough to join us from Philadelphia with her couponing expertise. Miss Diva, thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. HOUSE: And thank you. And they can look me up at MissCouponDiva.com.
MARTIN: All right. But are you going to offer a discount?
Ms. HOUSE: Um, we'll talk.
(Soundbite of laughter)
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: All right. Take care. Thank you.
Ms. HOUSE: Thank you.
Ms. HOUSE: Bye-bye.
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