Q&A with 'Coupon professor' Kim Bergeron
As coupons find new favor among consumers who, in some cases, have drastically cut grocery bills by aggressively working the system, the Extreme Coupon Professors have been finding a wider and wider audience.
The "professors" are Kim Bergeron and Alice Morette, two moms from Weare who have become known for their classes, which teach what they've been doing for years: saving a lot of money and, in many cases, even getting their groceries for free. They've also found a way to share some of their excess products with community food banks. NHBR spoke with Bergeron recently.
Q. Your coupon efforts go beyond grocery shopping, right?
A. We don't just focus on getting food deals. Our deals spill over into our lives. Clothes for the kids, their school supplies. With four kids, that's a lot of shoes. When it comes to doing fun things with the kids, we always make sure we have a deal. We always go where the deal is.
Q. Your website (extremecouponprofessors.blogspot.com) shows pictures of a $250 shopping spree at Old Navy. You paid $160, but then you got $70 worth of "super cash" from Old Navy, which means by time you're finished, you will have only spent $90.
A. We found the deal and posted it. Pretty much everything we do we put on the blog. We put it on to show everyone else it can be done.
Q. How did you get started with extreme couponing?
A. I've been doing shopping like this for eight years. I have four kids — the youngest is eight. So pretty much this is how we shop. Our grocery bill would have been astronomical, and with doing the coupons, we were able to get it down to $50 or $60 a week.
What happened was all my friends were seeing all my groceries and how I paid hardly anything and their grocery bills were $300 or more and they'd ask, "How did you do this?" I was showing them all how to do it, even to the point where if they still didn't get it they'd say, "I want to follow you shopping." So, they'd actually follow me while I was grocery shopping.
Finally, when all the kids were in school, I thought, "I think I want to do this." I pretty much just popped it on my Facebook page saying, "This is what I'm going to do," and I had a whole long line of, "It's about time. I've been telling you to do this for four or five years."
Then Alice Morette, who was more of an acquaintance at the time and had couponed the way I did said, "Are you doing classes on this?" And I said, "Yes, do you want to join me?" And that's basically how it happened.
Q. Do you realize immediate savings or do you have to let it build over time?
A. Certainly the first time after you take a (public or home) class, we will teach you how to shop and you will have savings right away. Our class is $20, and the first time you'll pretty much save $20 on your first shopping.
To be able to shop the way that we do takes a whole year because of the store cycles. For instance, ketchup is going to be the cheapest you can get it in June, which is barbecue season. You won't get cheap ketchup in January, so we teach people how to shop with the cycles of the store, and you're able to get your prices down a lot lower just following that.
Q. You and your partner Alice each buy 20 copies of the Sunday paper. Do you recommend that for the average person?
A. We do ours as a business, so let's say you were to host a class at your house, the person who hosts the class and has 10 people come to their home, gets $50 or $60 in free items.
We've been doing four or five classes a week, so it's a lot more we have to give away as well. Typically I tell people starting out for their family to have at least four Sunday newspapers for the coupons. In our class, we teach you to get your coupons out of the paper. We also do some clipping services as well. It's about 50/50. Four is a nice number if you want to stock up on something. You want to have those coupons handy.
Q. You say this kind of couponing can be done in 15 minutes a week, which doesn't seem possible.
A. Before the business, with four little kids, I had 15 minutes I'd set aside to get my grocery list ready and my coupons ready and then I was done until I was ready to go shopping. And then when I went shopping, I went shopping with four little kids. They were all babies, very close in age, and I was in and out of that store because there's no way I wanted to be in the store for hours, and I didn't have time to be on the computer and figuring out the grocery list.
Indeed, 15 minutes a week was all I put into it for years. And my house was stocked most of the time for free. The other thing I tell people is that I hate shopping. People think it's funny that we do the coupon classes and we do all the shopping. I can't stand going to the grocery store so I want everything to be done very quickly, very efficiently and I'm out of there.
Q. What classes do you offer beyond grocery shopping?
A. We offer specialty classes, like the one we (had) for getting ready for school, helping with clothes shopping, all the school supplies, the snacks and breakfasts. We also had another specialty class around Thanksgiving called "The giving back," because as you know with the extreme coupon TV show, you see people going crazy buying all this stuff.
We teach to provide for your family and then be able to give some back. And this is especially the time we like to help people and give things back around the holidays, with Thanksgiving baskets for people who are losing their jobs.
It's a great feeling to be able to help a lot of people too.
Q. Extreme coupon reality shows are getting some bad press because some coupon users are hoarding products, making them scarce for other shoppers.
A. It's true. We don't hoard, I mean in my class people will ask, "Where do you put the stuff?" We pretty much buy what we have room for. I have a couple closets. I have a small kitchen with a few cabinets. Indeed, my kids would love it if I took their clothes out and put them in Ziploc bags and then put cookies in their drawers instead (laughs). We have things where they belong and we shop for our family and we shop to give back a little bit. By any means, we don't waste.