By BETSY BETHEL , For The Times Leader
The first time Dena Anderson of Wheeling armed herself with a binder full of coupons and hit the grocery store, she came home with $128 of groceries and her wallet was only $27 lighter. She was hooked on couponing. "I actually went and woke up my husband and said, 'We can really do this! I can make this work!'" said Anderson, a former human relations director who decided to quit and stay home after the birth of her fifth child three years ago. Her husband works as a special education teacher in Pittsburgh. The large loss of income spurred the family to find ways to save money, including owning only one car and clipping coupons. In the three years since she started, Anderson estimates couponing has saved her family $10,000 in groceries, toiletries, household items and even clothing. Like the Andersons, many families with young children find that couponing has become a necessity. Scrimping and saving has become the new norm, considering the state of the economy, unemployment rates and the fact that the price of food went up by 4 percent to 5 percent in 2011 and will continue to increase, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Clever couponing can be used to combat those statistics. Anderson may have a stash of toothpaste and deodorant to last another year, but she doesn't horde her couponing knowledge. She shares it on her blog at www.sensationalsaver.com, where she offers couponing tips and often shares the week's best deals from local stores. For this article, she agreed to share some of her expertise. The first thing a coupon maven should do, she said, is sign up for store loyalty cards - those cards the retailers use for market research but that ring up savings for customers at the checkout. Some stores also offer their cardholders the option of loading additional coupons electronically from the corporation's website. In addition, popular drug store chains periodically offer customers register receipt coupons that can be used like cash on a future purchase. "When you do all that, and you couple that with manufacturer's coupons, you can achieve a really high level of savings," Anderson said. Next, start a stockpile of coupons. "The Sunday paper is the best source for getting coupons," Anderson said.