Shoppers launch a coupon d’état

Bargain-hunters are teaming up online to cut their weekly supermarket bills by up to two-thirds

“Extreme couponing” has hit Irish supermarket aisles, with some customers paying for up to two-thirds of their weekly shopping bill with free or “money-off” vouchers.

In the past six months, online communities have been established in which hundreds of shrewd shoppers share grocery coupons and advise on the best ways to bargain-hunt for household provisions.

“Thank God for extreme couponing: I can actually get a premium [brand] bread for 40c this week, 25c less than any supermarket ‘own brand’, and I can fill one of my freezers,” said Jenny Ní Chofaigh, a self-confessed “extreme couponer” from Co Meath, who stockpiles on discounted products by combining coupons with supermarket offers.

“I was shopping for detergents another day and filled the trolley and all I got was a running commentary from others in the queue . When I told them I was getting €210 worth of goods for €53, you could have heard a pin drop. I wouldn’t give away the tricks I have picked up to others, but I am happy to promote the ethos of shopping around for the best value.”

Extreme couponers admit to spending up to three hours seeking out coupons and cross-checking against supermarket websites for bargains before hitting the shops. Via these online communities, couponers share vouchers retrieved from supermarket websites, product websites, or online deal sites like Pigsback or Groupon, which carry “money off” or free grocery tokens.

“We’ve seen a doubling of the number of grocery coupons printed, so there is a huge interest in it now,” said Michael Dwyer, of Pigsback.com. “We’ve 125,000 people who have opted in to receive our grocery coupons newsletter, and 60,000 new people joined the service last year. In the grocery coupons section, a consumer can come in and select a coupon that could be anything from money off on the latest Nestlé coffee or John West tuna.”

While couponing is new to Ireland, with fewer than 72 types in circulation, it is well established in America and parts of Europe.

Giovanna Venguiri, who is originally from Florence, Italy, but lives in Wicklow, started the first thread on couponing on Boards.ie, an online portal, in May of last year, to find out if others, like her peers in Italy, were shopping with vouchers. The response was so great — it has generated more than 2,500 posts — that by the end of last month the topic was given its own forum.

Venguiri said she has daily online interaction with 50 other couponers, who swap new coupons that shave 50c or €1 off grocery products, and advise on how best to stockpile on products and sniff out supermarket bargains.

“The trick is to match your coupons with in-store offers,” said Venguiri. “Between the two of them you should buy if your savings are more than 50%. Anything less is not worth it. My personal best was saving 60% on a shop.”

Peter Dargan, from Dublin, started couponing 14 months ago, after he lost his job. He is set to launch his own couponing website, Bubblegum.ie.

“People take this very seriously,” he said. “There are different types of coupons. There’s a retailer coupon, like the kind you get in a Tesco magazine, where the retailer, in conjunction with the supplier, is doing a promotion in-store. Then you have a supplier coupon that can be redeemed in any store. If this product already has a reduced price in a supermarket, then you can bring it right down even more with a coupon.”

Dargan recalled when both Persil and Comfort detergents were at a third of their normal price in Dunnes Stores at one point last summer.

“I think Persil, at its full price, was €9.50, and Dunnes had it at €3.50. There was also a €1 coupon floating around, which brought the price down to €2.50. I bought about 22 over a three-month period, and I still have two left,” he said.

Amy McBride, in Leixlip, Co Kildare, started couponing after watching Extreme Couponing on the Discovery channel, and contacting Venguiri’s forum thread.

“It’s mad when I see people putting things in their trolley and happily paying over the odds for the same item I got 75% off the week before,” she said.