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It's more than clip and save, says the coupon queen

Susan Samtur, the Original Coupon Queen, at Shoppers on on Monday. (Bonnie Benwick/The Washington Post)

As saving money on food is of keen interest these days, I accepted a morning invitation to the Shoppers Food & Pharmacy at Potomac Yard, where Susan J. Samtur, the Original Coupon Queen, was holding court (read: being taped for a local TV news report).

The Washington area was just one stop on a mid-Atlantic tour for Scarsdale, N.Y., residents Samtur and her husband, Stephen. They and their oldest of four grown sons, Stuart, are looking to reenergize the coupon business that Susan began 37 years ago.

Now, I’m a failed coupon clipper/refund getter, and I suspect folks fall into these one of three groups, in decreasing numbers: a) never use coupons; b) occasionally use coupons; b) always use coupons. The Samturs figure now’s the time to introduce a new generation to the “supershopping” strategies outlined in Susan’s advice DVD, Refundle Bundle magazine and Select Coupon program. This year, some 300 billion (yes, with a b) coupon offers will be available to American consumers, and coupon usage is on the rise, Susan says.

The Queen’s comments along the aisles were practical and made sense; I’ll share in a bit. Commitment’s the key to this approach, clearly, but the Samturs say “saving $5 is great. With a little more focus, you can save $50. So why not do that?” Hard to argue the point. Susan figures she spends one hour in organizational/clipping mode each week, and two to three hours sending in refunds for all sorts of purchases. Do what you have time for, she says.

The bottom line: their bottom lines. The Samturs, in their mid-60s, figure they have put at least one kid through college on the money they have saved at the grocery checkout (conservatively, 40 to 60 percent off the cost of each trip), plus an average of $200 per month in refunds from office supply stores, drug stores, big box stores and national manufacturers.

Keep coupons organized and you'll be rewarded. (Bonnie Benwick/The Washington Post)

Their business had been fairly low-tech (a shopper-type magazine; sending clipped coupons via snail mail) until Stuart made their subscription service Web-friendly. A two-year subscription ($23.87; gets you $25 of the specific coupons you want/use each month (as in, if you eat a lot of Pepperidge Farm cookies, they’ll send you coupons for those). It’s interesting to note that the coupons the Samturs send are clipped by people they hire to do so – from circulars that don’t get national distribution and not from the manufacturers.

Tips from the Queen:

  • Check out supermarket flyers in print and online. Be sure to note whether double-coupon deals are in effect. When you get to the store, check for an in-house coupon booklet.
  • Make a categorized shopping list, organized by aisle if possible or alphabetized, that includes the sizes of items on sale. That way, you won’t be misled or confused by displays that feature similar items that are not on sale.
  • Organize your stash of coupons while you’re watching TV. Susan uses a checkbook folder her mother made for her 15 years ago, with itemized tabs.
  • A good deal on a national brand with a coupon offer trumps a generic product. Also, forego brand loyalty when a coupon is offered on a trial size. You might find a product you like better.
  • If kids come along on shopping trips, limit their “wants” to things you have coupons for. (Good luck with that line of reasoning, Moms.)
  • Large grocers tend to more more lenient about coupons for, say, the “blue” label product when you wish to use a coupon for the “green” label item from the same manufacturer.
  • Compare labels on the same products. Some may offer "20 percent more" or special 2-for-1 deals.
  • Fifteen years ago, 98 percent of all food coupons had no expiration dates. Today, just about all of them do, with average time limits of three to four months. Military commissaries often will honor coupons that are up to six months past their expiration dates.
  • If you’re interested in shopping mainly for naturals and organics, sign up for coupons at

Was I convinced? Sure. Will I follow the royal bidding? Count me squarely in group b (occasionally use coupons) -- with more guilt. The Queen rolled up to the checkout stand with $168 of fresh and frozen food and cleaning products. She used her coupon stash, took advantage of store specials and spent a total of $18.05.

And, if you've read this far, you deserve something: The first to raise their hand in cyberspace* for the Queen's "Supershopping" tips and tricks DVD, gets the thing.

* Means sending your mailing info to

-- Bonnie Benwick

By The Food Section  |  February 22, 2010; 4:30 PM ET
Categories:  Shopping  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, coupons, shopping  
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We have a winner.

Posted by: benwickb | February 22, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Dang! Any consolation prize for the runner up?

Posted by: cbr1 | February 22, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

One thing we are trying recently in an effort to get our oldest child ( age 10) more aware of budgets and how to shop more carefully is to put the kid in charge of coupons and whatever we save, we give a portion back to the kid as part of their allowance for the week. It encourages comparing prices and shopping carefully and we only allow coupons for items we would normally buy. This has been a big hit with my kid.

Posted by: soleil2000 | February 24, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

But can coupons really work for those who simply do not buy processed food? Are there ever coupons for milk, onions, peppers, cheese,lettuce, flour, sugar, etc?

Posted by: SAF_dc | February 24, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Sure there are, SAF_dc. Especially in the in-store booklets and flyers. The Coupon Queen's advice extends to working the store specials, etc., too.

Posted by: benwickb | February 25, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Yes, I have found coupons for milk, healthy cheese products, bagged lettuce, etc.

And stores in our area such as SuperFresh offer triple coupons during select weeks, along with online clipless coupon savings, zavers, instore coupon books, and other nifty ways to save big bucks.

Saving money takes discipline and organization. Careful shopping can save you from 35 to 50 percent off your weekly food total, if you do your homework.

Posted by: ziggyzippy | March 1, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

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