For Detroit's Faatima Evans, shopping with coupons is like having sex.
"When you get to the checkout and everything is free or nearly free," said Evans, 34, "it's like an orgasm."
A self-proclaimed coupon addict, Evans began scouring for deals in 2009, when an illness prevented her from working her day job as a tax adviser. With only her husband, a Greyhound bus driver, to bring home a paycheck, Evans urgently needed to cut costs. After about three months of experimenting, she was nailing deals.
By September 2011, Evans had gone public with her couponing habits, having scored a profile on TLC reality show "Extreme Couponing" after sending in a video how she knocked a $900 grocery bill down to $100. Evans, who was not paid to appear on the show, said she didn't think anything would come of her submission. "I'm an ordinary person," she said of her thinking back then.
But Evans' spending habits are anything but ordinary: On her public Facebook page, The Coupon Addict, Evans shows off what looks like a small convenience store in her basement -- with dozens of jugs of laundry detergent, piles of razor blades, bars of soap, scores of bottles of hot sauce, hundreds of bottles of water and a large stash of Hamburger Helper and other packaged convenience foods. (See photos below.)
Evans hardly ever lays out cash for goods, she said. "I always stock up when they're free or nearly free." She saves $1 per gallon of gas by using her supermarket's loyal shopper card, she said. "Milk -- I would use my store rewards so can get it free or dirt cheap," she said. "Cereal -- I have a stockpile of as well, and it was all free."
"I'm not a hoarder at all," Evans said. "My slogan is, An extreme couponer is an extreme giver." She sends some items to her niece living in London and donates excess items to local food pantries.
These days, Evans spends less time clipping and shopping for herself. Couponing now occupies only three hours of her day, and most of her time is spent sharing deals via her website and Facebook page.
But when she was first starting out, Evans would spend 40 hours a week looking for deals. She would spend more than 10 hours a week shopping. When a store was out of something advertised in a coupon, she would return again and again until the inventory turned over and shelves were restocked with discounted goods.
She has used coupons to help pay for everything from beauty products to a trip to Hawaii, Evans said.
"Extreme Couponing," which premiered in December 2010 and will begin airing a third season this May, profiles people who competitively hunt deals to score the best discounts. The show has garnered criticism for encouraging shoppers to hoard items, often buying more than they need and wiping out stores' inventories.
The New York Times journalist Virginia Heffernan described the show as a "deceptively simple look at the complex drama of American spending and the paradoxes of parsimony."
Couponing, of course, is nothing new. But today, the Internet makes it easy for companies to disseminate coupons and encourages those who track them to share deals with one another. On top of that, the recent recession resulted in people becoming more thrifty. According to the Wall Street Journal, the number of coupons used in 2009 at the peak of the recession grew 27 percent to 3.3 billion from the year prior.
But some retailers have cracked down on the trend of buying in excess and using coupons. Stores such as Rite Aid, Target and Publix have revamped their coupon policies so as to restrict the number of items that can be bought on discount in a single visit.
Evans is less aggressive whenshopping at small businesses because she says these shops have families to support and bills to pay, she said.
Her advice to coupon newbies? "Do not be afraid to ask about coupons, deals or rebates. You'll never know until you ask!"
Plus, it takes time to master the art of couponing, she said. "Some people just run out because of what they see on ["Extreme Couponing"], she said. "If you want to start learning how to coupon, first thing you need to do is learn about coupon policies."
Check out Evans's stockpiles.
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more