By Emily Kittle
Though nowhere near as obsessed, Northeast Iowa has its own extreme couponer.
Mary Kenyon, a Manchester, Iowa, mom of eight, once auditioned for TLC's hit show "Extreme Couponing," but it turned out she wasn't extreme enough.
"They wanted and have people with entire rooms full of stuff they got for free," says Kenyon, a Dupaco Community Credit Union member. "In the show, they have people throwing a hundred deodorants in their cart for free."
So she didn't make the cut. But Kenyon has long been passionate about saving money.
She started using coupons in 1979 as a newlywed college student trying to save pennies where she could. Kenyon says those were the "good old days," when it was much easier to find stores in Iowa that offered double coupons, matching the face value of the manufacturer coupon.
There was a time when Kenyon and her husband would each head into Dubuque's Kmart with 75 coupons in hand (the double coupon limit at that time). They would leave with more than $200 worth of merchandise, having spent only $5 or $10.
"I can see why they didn't continue that practice," she says.
When she had better access to double couponing, Kenyon typically shaved 30 to 40 percent off her grocery bills. Today, the 51-year-old woman's coupon use nets her about 10 to 20 percent in grocery savings.
She fares better on health and beauty supplies. She never pays for toothbrushes, toothpaste or deodorant, thanks to coupons, diligent monitoring of store sales and register rewards.
Kenyon, who never travels without her coupon box, estimates that she spends a couple of hours each week studying store sales, ordering coupons from online sites and clipping coupons.
"All of my children have grown up knowing there are certain things that I'm not going to buy unless I have a coupon. I won't buy cereal without a coupon. And we usually don't buy candy bars, but every year, usually in the fall, Hershey's will put out a coupon for buy one get one free. That coupon is something the kids look forward to," she says, laughing. "It's been part of my life and part of their life, too."
Kenyon stores items in bulk in her kitchen, a hallway cabinet, her attic stairs and, most recently, on her back porch. When the cupboards are stuffed, she thins her collection through food pantry donations, an annual garage sale and gift baskets for her adult children.
She also shares her extra coupons while shopping. She sometimes leaves them on a shelf next to the product or offers some to the shopper behind her at the checkout. For Kenyon, the art and etiquette of couponing is second nature.
"I will probably always use coupons just because it's so much a part of my life," she says.
Kenyon is putting her 30-plus years of couponing knowledge into a book, which will detail the history and culture of the practice. Stay tuned for our next post, which will feature Kenyon's tips for couponing newbies.