OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Coupons have been around for years, but most people don't think it's worth the time, or are too embarrassed to use them. But coupons can cut your grocery bill in half. Or you can get items like toothpaste and shampoo absolutely free.
Many people are scoring some great deals and discounts just by clipping coupons. Reagan Collum of Ocean Springs has developed a system that saves her family thousands of dollars a year. And more people are clamoring to learn her money-saving secrets.
"This is my stockpile," Collum said as she showed us her utility room.
One shelf is dedicated to all sorts of household items.
"This is all of my cleaning products and shampoo and deodorant and shaving cream," she pointed out.
And in her pantry, there's enough food to last her family of four through hurricane season.
"I try to stockpile for about three to six months. That to me is the best way to do it. Then you're not overrun with products and things that are going to expire," said Collum.
Believe it or not, many of those products were absolutely free, or cost her just pennies.
"Only twice it has happened that the stores actually owed me money," said Collum. "I usually get pretty close. One trip that I did here at a Target just a few weeks ago, I paid like $2.00 and something for about $30.00 worth of groceries and health and beauty stuff."
And all that's required is a pair of scissors, a few hours a week, and a lot of organization.
"I have everything kind of alphabetized in some little category to help make it easier to find," said Collum as she pulled out her coupon binders.
The Ocean Springs mom started taking couponing seriously two years ago.
"After my youngest daughter was born, I had to quit work and started coupons to save money," said Collum.
Her budget started off at $150 every two weeks. That included groceries, diapers, dog food and other necessities. Now, she has managed to cut her budget in half.
"I love it!" she said. "It's becoming a game now. It really has, just to see how much I really can save and how small I can get that budget."
Collum starts the process by creating a menu for the entire week.
"I buy two to four newspapers each week and take out the coupons," said Collum. "I have a list of what I need. I look at the sale ads, the coupons I have that match-up with those sale ads, and those are products that I buy. If I don't have my list down of exactly what I want, how many I want, and what I'm doing, it would be a catastrophe."
Collum also searches the internet for online coupons and amazing deals. The savings really add up when she combines coupons with in-store specials and rebates. For example, Collum showed us a recent grocery ad.
"So there's .70 off Kellogg's Corn Pops. They're on sale for $1.97 at Rouses. So that'll make it $1.27 a box," she explained.
Eventually, people started calling Collum, asking about her money-saving technique. So, she started posting her tips on a daily blog.
"I post a blog called Coupons and Coffee, and it's all the new coupons that are available to be printed online, any freebies that are available, giveaways," said Collum.
Collum also has a following on Facebook.
"We're up to almost 700 people on Facebook, which is amazing to me. I never in a million years thought that 700 people that I don't even know wanting to know what I say," said Collum.
For those who want to learn more, Collum holds 12 couponing workshops every month. Those free classes are held at Vancleave Library and Hancock Bank, and they're always booked. She also offers private lessons in people's homes for a fee.
"I think couponing over the years has taken a bad rap, because so many people do it the wrong way. Reagan really has fine-tuned it, legally and ethically do it the right way, maximize the savings," said Shannon Lewis, who recently hosted a class at her home in Jackson County.
"I'm a nurse and lately they've been cutting our hours at work," said Angie Smith, who attended the class. "So with gas prices increasing, I'm out to save money like everybody else."
Amy Weaver has taken Collum's classes before, and has reaped the rewards of clipping coupons.
"Oh, it's an awesome feeling to see your bill shrink," said Weaver. "I was really embarrassed at first, and the more and more stores I went into, I was running into other moms and other women with these binders and their coupons organized neatly. It's kind of like a hidden underground secret club."
And eventually, you're going to end up with a bunch of coupons that are outdated. But don't toss them. Collum says there's a way to give those outdated coupons new life.
"Our troops overseas can use them for up to six months past their expiration date and some of the people that come to the classes will bring their expired coupons," said Collum.
Collum never imagined that her savvy couponing skills would change so many lives. What started as a personal goal to cope with her family's tight budget has blossomed into a mission.
"I've been given a talent to be able to do this, to show other people how to save some money and to provide for their families the best that they can," said Collum. "If you've got $10 left in the checking account until Friday and you need groceries, then I'm glad to be able to share this with you to help you stretch that."
Collum encourages people to save as much as they can, but not to abuse the system. Recently, clipping coupons has gained popularity, thanks in part to shows like "Extreme Couponing." Collum says she's actually been asked to appear on those types of programs, but she declined, saying she doesn't believe in hoarding products.
Be sure to check out Collum's blog: http://houseofcollums.blogspot.com/.