October 24, 2011

Sharing their love of couponing

AUGUSTA — Amanda Fontaine swung open the cupboard doors above her washer and dryer to reveal shelves packed full of deodorant, shampoo and body wash.

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Amanada Fontaine takes a call on her smart phone Thursday in the garage of her Augusta home where she stores excess groceries purchased with coupons. Fontaine and her friend, Jen Barrows, run the Coupon Chicks of Maine and operate a Facebook page devoted to locating deals with coupons. Fontaine said she often utilizes the smart phone to find deals online.

“If I need deodorant, I don’t go to the store, I come down here,” Fontaine said.

The Augusta woman and her friend, Jen Barrows, of Manchester, call themselves the Coupon Chicks of Maine.
They got hooked on couponing after watching “Extreme Couponing” on the Learning Channel.
They said couponing is a way of life and it saves money.

Fontaine said her grocery bill went from $125 a week to $30 with coupons.

Stored in her garage is a freezer full of food she bought with coupons and stacks and stacks of dry goods on a metal shelf, including boxes of cereal, crackers, paper towels, beverages, cake mixes and frosting.
“All my cupboards in the house are full. The linen closet is full of salad dressing and barbecue sauce. But this is where I keep the bulk of my food,” she said, patting boxes of toothpaste piled on top of each other.

“This is my toothpaste stash,” she said. “They’re 80 percent free. I’ll never need to pay for toothpaste again.”           
They wanted to share the love and skill of couponing, so they decided to teach a class in how to search for the best deals and find “awesome” freebies.

When 26 people showed up at their first class, they decided to hold them once a month.

Barrows said 50 couponers signed up for Thursday night’s class at the Manchester Fire Station. The next class is 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 29, at the station.

“We have the same personalities and mindset, and the idea was just like a train, it picked up speed and took off from there,” Barrows said. “We both excel in different areas. She takes care of our Facebook page and I stay more in the background.”

Their Facebook page offers links to other couponing sites and blogs.

On a recent Thursday, Fontaine took a break from arranging her shelves to show off her coupon binder stuffed with coupons clipped from newspapers and magazines and printed off from the Internet.

“She has a handle on hers,” Fontaine said about Barrows binder. “I’m dying for a handle.

“We use baseball card holders, and there’s nine (holders) in each sheet. With all the sections it holds well over 1,000 easily.”

Fontaine said she had tried occasionally to use coupons, but never really took it seriously until she saw “Extreme Couponing.”

Then it became an addiction.

She admits she went overboard at first. But now, instead of spending 20 hours a week, she only devotes five hours to clipping coupons and running from store to store.

“It’s very addicting,” Barrows said. “It’s a high. It’s a rush to see money you can save your family. She calls me and says, ‘Look on Facebook what I got. I got this and this and this.’”

Fontaine said they post the best deals at local stores on Facebook. To be successful, she said, people need to pick up a few more Sunday newspapers each week.

“A lot of people say the way to succeed is to buy two to four papers a week, you get two to four coupons (for one item) every week,” she said. “That’s how you get free coupons. Some are ‘buy one, get one free’ while others are 50 cents off.”

Fontaine said it’s a misconception shoppers can’t find healthful items with coupons. She said, for instance,
Whole Foods stores accept coupons.

“One of the things you hear is that you can only get sugary foods and unhealthy items with coupons, but my daughter has a peanut allergy, so I have to be careful,” Fontaine said. “I only get healthy foods. Another misconception is that stores lose money. That’s not true. They get the money back from the manufacturers.”
One of their main goals with the classes is to help others, and that includes collecting donations for food banks and shelters.

“In this economy, I like helping my family and friends out,” Barrows said. “We make donations to the animal shelter. I’ll go in and get huge amounts of cat food and bring them to the shelter. My son is a big animal lover.”
“It’s a good way to give back,” Fontaine added. “I save almost $100 a week on groceries, so to be able to give back a little from what I have is important.”

To register for the next class call Fontaine at 620-4644 or    email couponchicksofmaine@yahoo.com.
The cost of the class is $25 for those who preregister, and $30 at the door.

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

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