Kelly Nelson knows what it’s like to be hit with hard times.

The Jay resident had her work hours cut at a local medical facility. And with gas prices rising, her trip to the supermarket in her SUV was making her budget even tighter.

But unlike a lot of people, she decided to do something about it.

Nearly a year and a half ago, Nelson was introduced to couponing by a coupon class that came to her house.

Because Nelson was losing $600 a month in income, she figured that saving at the grocery store could be one way she could cut back.

And after a year and a half, the coupon queen is cutting her grocery bills by 55 percent, all by spending 15 minutes a day browsing for coupons.

Start to finish

Nelson has a method to her madness, and it all starts with a pattern, that is beautifully executed from start to finish.

Nelson prefers to shop at Publix because they are more lenient with coupons.

“I use and, which has a lot of the coupons I use at Publix,” Nelson said. “Also, Publix allows me to use coupons on free items.”

Her first stop as she enters the grocery store is to the customer service counter. There she asks for any coupons the store may have.

And whether it’s morning, noon, or night, the couponer has to be wide awake so she doesn’t miss any good deals. So her second stop is to the front of the store to grab a free cup of coffee.

Then, it’s time to get to business.

“Some people can’t tell you how much they spend on groceries and things like cleaning supplies a month, but it adds up,” Nelson said.

So when Nelson first started couponing, it took her about three months to get everything stocked for her house.

“Not every store has everything on sale all at once,” Nelson said.

And for her, organization is key when couponing. Most couponing reality shows portray couponers bringing books and books of coupons in the store with them.

Nelson has just one folder with all her coupons for the trip. She also uses a checklist, that she prints off of Publix’s website to help make her shopping trips easier.

“They have it organized by aisles (on the shopping list), so it’s easier to find what I am looking for,” Nelson said.

Let the games begin

After pouring her cup of coffee, Nelson makes her way to the closest deal, which, on this shopping trip happened to be liquid gel pain relievers.

Normally $6.69 a bottle, the pills were on sale for $4.99. She also scored the pain relievers on their buy one get one free cycle. As if the savings weren’t already enough, she also had a coupon for $5 off of two. That means she got both items for nothing.

“I try to organize all of my trips,” Nelson said.

Nelson, who is married and has five children, said the savings are well worth the effort, which has become effortless to her.

The couponer said the best coupon trip she remembered making was when she scored $250 worth of groceries for $52

She has also learned the best way to make the most of her trips is to stock up when she can score a deal.

“When you get a good price on something, and it’s something like toilet paper that you know will never go bad, you should stock up on
it,” Nelson said. “Because you never know when you will get a deal like that again.

“I try to never spend less than $.20 a roll on toilet paper.”

Another tip Nelson said was to never go grocery shopping at peak business times. Nelson usually makes her trips in the mornings or evenings.

Not your typical couponer

Unlike most couponers, Nelson isn’t about scoring on bags of processed foods. She is one of the few people that have learned that just because she is a couponer doesn’t mean she has to eat like one.

Months ago, her daughter was diagnosed with diabetes. That change also made a big change in what she buys for her family.

“I try not to buy processed foods because they aren’t good for you to begin with,” Nelson said. “I try to buy healthy foods, and foods that my kids will like.”

And with that in mind, her next stop after picking up pain relievers was the frozen food section. Publix had frozen smoothies for two for $4. With her coupons, Nelson was able to snag the smoothies for $.25 a piece.

Another trait that viewers see on the coupon reality shows is the hoarding of items that they don’t need.

Nelson doesn’t believe in that. And unless she scores a huge deal on something, she feels she has no need for unwanted items.

“The people on the reality shows don’t make people follow the coupon rules,” Nelson said. “It’s just reality.”

In Nelson’s reality, when she sees a great deal on something she doesn’t need, she gives it to the people that do need it.

“One time I got a deal on disposable undergarments for $.10, and I ended up donating them to a poor man I know that needed them,” Nelson said.

The couponer also remembers a time when she was able to get free dog food with coupons she had and she donated them to a pet food drive.

“I never buy things that are family won’t use,” Nelson said. “If I do, I usually end up giving it to someone that does need it.”

Nothing wrong with a little extra

Since living out in Jay can be quite a haul for her, Nelson has learned that there are more things than just coupons that can save her money.

Stores like Winn Dixie have what they call Fuel Perks. Depending on the amount of money a customer spends on one trip to the
grocery store, they can save money at Shell gas stations on gallons of fuel.

Nelson has utilized that, and has also scored $50 gas cards for $10 off. After her trip around Publix, she did just that.

The couponer’s husband originally thought that the idea was anything but good. But now, she says, he is seen accompanying her on shorter shopping trips. She also says he can’t argue with the savings.

“I remember about three months after I started doing this, he went to pay the bills and we had all this extra money in our bank account,” Nelson said. “He couldn’t believe it.”

And it’s been that way ever since Nelson said.

“It took me a good three months to get good at this,” Nelson said. “It took me that long to actually say ‘I don’t need to go shopping today, I have plenty of stuff at the house.’”

Nelson also stocks up for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, even though they are weeks away. In one trip, she bought enough candy to get her children through Halloween and then some. During her trip to Publix, she also picked up canned items like Cream of
Mushroom soup for green bean casseroles, which she says she makes during the holidays.

“As long as it doesn’t go bad before then, there’s nothing wrong with getting it now if it’s on sale.” Nelson said.

The Jay resident also uses coupons to get free items that are new.

“Usually when a company comes out with something new, they will have a voucher to get it free,” Nelson said.

And she also hits the free sample tables if she’s at Publix at the right time.

The results

Nelson made her trip through the supermarket look extra easy, but she says it takes time to develop a method.

“I organize all my coupons at home based on dates,” Nelson said.

Most of the associates at the local Pea Ridge Publix know Nelson and turn checkouts into competitions.

Without coupons, and just sale and buy one get one free items, Nelson saved $86.61 on what would have been a $213.67 grocery trip.
After adding the coupons, Nelson saved an additional $46.95, bringing her grand total to $133.56 in savings on a $213.76 grocery bill.

And to her, that was a mediocre trip.

“I just love to save,” she said.