Hard Times Turn Coupon Clipping Into the Newest Extreme Sport
Penny Pinchers Deal for Discounts; Mr. Engels's 6-Foot Tower of Jell-O
Article By TIMOTHY W. MARTIN
Under a futon in her Charleston, S.C., apartment, Stacy Smith has stashed boxes of soy bars, bags of potato chips, bottles of vitamin water, canned vegetables, soup, barbecue sauce and antibacterial wipes. Her bedroom closet is jammed with soda and shampoo, her bookcase with garlic salt and meat marinades.
No, Ms. Smith isn't stocking up for a hurricane. The 39-year-old's apartment is stuffed with groceries because she's one of a growing flock of "extreme couponers."
These discount devotees have formed vast online communities that collectively unearth and swap digital, mobile-phone and paper coupons. The cleverest shoppers combine dozens of coupons and go from store to store buying items in quantity, getting stuff free of charge.
"If you can get 100 packs of toilet paper for free, you're going to," says Erin Libranda, 38. When the resident of Katy, Texas, has amassed enough coupons to buy many months' supply of eggs, she puts tiny cracks in them, adds lemon juice and freezes them.
Jill Lansky, 34, of Kalamazoo, Mich., likes to amuse friends by opening a cupboard to reveal 150 bottles of Powerade she bought for 25 cents each, thanks to coupons she collected on CouponForum.com.
Jody Wilson, 33, got turned onto the couponing Web site AFullCup.com last March. Since then, she's posted nearly 9,500 messages to the site's forum. "I became extremely addicted," says the credit analyst from Battle Creek, Mich. "There's deal after deal after deal."
Couponers trade deal information and coupons themselves through cellphones, Twitter, Facebook, and message boards on Web sites like Slickdeals.net and TheKrazyCouponLady.com, motivated as much by competitiveness as by frugality.
Some sites, which tend to make their money from online ads, organize contests to see which member can spend the least cash in a month on essentials. Some couponers brag online about stockpiling free groceries, then selling them at yard sales.
Proud shoppers post photos of themselves posing with their latest hauls. Nathan Engels of Villa Hills, Ky., can't resist loading up on free products. Mr. Engels recently erected a 6-foot-tall tower featuring the 1,142 packages of Jell-O he had got for nothing. He brags about his jam-packed freezer holding 30 pounds of meat, 50 pounds of cheese and 200 bags of vegetables.
"I'm going to buy as much as I can—I don't care if it's a year's or two-year's supply," says Mr. Engels, 28, who is married and has a young daughter.