Click it or clip it: How do you save at the checkout?

Coupons! Coupons! Coupons!

In these tough economic times, everyone is looking for ways to save money. From cutting back on the daily lattes to at-home “staycations,” people are getting more and more creative in the ways they choose to spend – or not spend – their money.

One trend that seems to be really taking off lately is couponing: clipping out and saving up those little 20-cents-off and buy-2-get-1-free offers that grocery stores put in the inserts of the Sunday paper.

Recently, TLC network aired a new reality show about this very topic, “Extreme Couponing.” This isn’t your momma’s coupon-clipping, however.

In “Extreme Couponing,” we get to see folks who are crazy-good at saving money on their groceries. (Or maybe they’re just crazy?) Some of the people on the show spend up to six hours a day clipping out and organizing coupons for marathon shopping trips. Others stockpile enough food and non-perishables to last up to six months.

How do we do it in Sacramento? Are we jumping on the couponing bandwagon? Or is “Extreme Couponing” a little too extreme for our tastes?

Here’s what some Sacramento-area shoppers had to say when asked, “Are you an “Extreme Coupon-er?”

Sabrina Ratkowski

Sabrina Ratkowski, 40, a scheduler at UC Davis Medical Center, lives in Sacramento and has never seen “Extreme Couponing.” Ratkowski said she does use coupons sometimes, but doesn’t put a lot of effort into it.

“I find coupons online with Raley’s sometimes,” Ratkowski said. “You can go on (the chain’s website) and find some deals.”

If she doesn’t find what she wants or needs online, Ratkowski said she occasionally turns to co-workers for a little help.

“I share coupons with the girls at work,” Ratkowski said. “If someone finds a good deal on something but they aren’t going to use it, they let the others (in the group) know about it.”

More often than not, though, Ratkowski said she shops at a different store near her office to pick up a few things, so she uses manufacturer’s coupons instead of the store-specific ones. It’s worth the effort, though, she said.

“Just this past week I spent $20, and I saved $5,” Ratkowski said. “That’s a pretty good deal to me.”

Margaret Minjarez

Margaret Minjarez, a 57-year-old homemaker from Sacramento, has also never watched “Extreme Couponing,” and it doesn’t really interest her much.

“I use coupons sometimes when I find them,” Minjarez said.

Minjarez doesn’t have a computer but said she knows that online coupons are gaining popularity. Without access to online savings, Minjarez said she relies on newspaper inserts and store mailers for opportunities to save on groceries. When she comes across coupons that seem interesting, she takes them to the store with her.

“Sometimes I’ll look at the coupons I have with me, and maybe I can’t use (the item) now,” Minjarez said, “But if I think I’ll use (the item) later, I’ll just buy it anyway.”

She’s a pretty good shopper already, she said, so even without doing much clipping, she said she saves about $20 per week.

Pete Wedel

Pete Wedel, a self-described “ageless” artist from Sacramento, said he doesn’t use coupons for one reason: “They’re nothing but a hassle.”

“First you have to search ’em,” Wedel said, “Then you have to clip ’em out, keep ’em with you, sort ’em out – you see? Hassle.”

When asked what it would take to get him to use coupons, Wedel said the coupons would have to be more convenient.

“Have ’em in the store next to what you’re buying,” Wedel said. “I look for the deal that’s right there.”

Jolene Wilson

Jolene Wilson, 31, a pharmacy technician from Roseville, is one who clearly prefers clicking to clipping when it comes to saving money on groceries.

“Safeway has the ‘Just for U’ program now, and it’s paperless,” Wilson said. “You go online, sign up, and click on the coupons you want. Your Safeway (club member) card tracks the list, and when you get to the register, you don’t have to have a bunch of coupons in your hand.”

According to Safeway Store Manager Keith Cristobal, the Safeway online coupon program was one of the first of its kind and is now one of the largest in the nation.

“It’s just been a wonderful program,” Cristobal said. “A lot of our customers use it.”

Wilson said the Safeway ad comes out every Wednesday, and she uses it regularly.

“It saves money in this recession,” Wilson said. “If it weren’t for that program, I wouldn’t use coupons.”

Kelly Schmidt

Not everyone we talked to was quite so laid-back about couponing, however. For some, it’s an important way to keep within their tight family budgets.

Kelly Schmidt, 33, case manager for Placer County Office of Education, said she uses the “Just for U” program to save money on groceries every week.

“I love it,” Schmidt said.

Online, store-specific coupon programs require shoppers to use the store website and select the items they want to buy from a list of that week’s available special deals.

“You have to print out the list,” Schmidt said, waving a handful of papers. “If you don’t, you’ll never remember which items you really wanted.”

Making up the list took less than 10 minutes, Schmidt said – significantly less time than the coupon-clippers on Extreme Couponing seem to take each day to prepare for their shopping.

Schmidt said she didn’t use coupons before she heard of the online program.

“I didn’t have time,” Schmidt said. “I have kids, I have a full-time job. If I had to cut out coupons, I wouldn’t use them.”

Schmidt said she saves about $100 per week using the store’s online coupon program, and it’s worth the small amount of effort she expends.

“I don’t pay full price for anything,” Schmidt says. “I refuse.”

Are you a coupon-clipper? Or maybe a coupon-avoider? We’d love to hear from you on this one. Leave us your thoughts in a comment below about your own money-saving style.

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April 15, 2011 | 6:51 PM

I generally don’t clip coupons, but there are other strategies to use. In a supermarket, use your neck to look up and down: typically the items at eye level are the most expensive brand names, with the brightest packaging. Above and below are often store-brand items with more subdued packaging and far mellower prices. The main exception is the cereal aisle, where the most colorful and expensive cereals are about knee height, the perfect height for a child to notice, call attention to and grab. And anything “on sale” on an end cap is suspect–it is the easiest to grab because it’s not the cheapest item of its kind in the store.

June 13, 2011 | 4:13 PM

It amazes me what lengths some people will go to to save money in this economy – particularly on the show “Extreme Couponing.” I think the bottom line is always be an informed consumer… and perhaps don’t go shopping on an empty stomach.

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