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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Coupon Killers

A small community of rabid, frugal shoppers springs up around one grocery chain’s near-giveaways.

By JESSICA JOHNSON

At 6 a.m. on a recent chilly Saturday in front of a local Albertsons, about two dozen middle-aged women gathered, their attention focused on the entrance. They weren’t nervous, just a little anxious. At the stroke of the hour, the automatic doors slid open, and the women rushed in. Polite madness ensued.

The good people at Albertson’s weren’t giving anything away — not quite — but even if they had been, there probably wouldn’t have been nearly as many scampering legs and frazzled faces here as there were. For many loyal customers of “Albies,” as the mega-chain store is affectionately known, the reward is in the hunt.

Once a month, every month since last summer, Albertsons’ stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth region (plus parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana) have been letting customers triple their coupons up to an unheard-of 75 cents per item. A lot of grocery stores offer customers double- and triple-coupon deals, but never for so much savings in one swoop.

And the folks who normally take advantage of Albertsons’ specials aren’t your everyday shoppers. While many people clip coupons and double or triple them up when we can, Albies’ triple-coupon devotees have got the savings game down to a science. In a world of grocery green belts, they’re ninjas.

One regular of Albies’ “TCD” (“triple-coupon day”), Paula Higgs, gets a rush out of the competitiveness. “It can be stressful but exciting too,” said the 38-year-old stay-at-home mom from Fort Worth. “I’ve found that the sooner I get in the store to get the products, the easier it is because things get picked over, and I may miss out on good deals if the shelves are already cleaned out.”

Like a lot of hobbyists, coupon clippers have an internet component. There are entire forums devoted to clipping, and they let users exchange information and arrange coupon trades. “Especially for people who don’t have a lot of time to find deals on their own, they can look for the good deals of the week on message boards,” said Michelle Yarnell, a 24-year-old stay-at-home mom from North Richland Hills. You can also buy and print coupons online. (Black marketeers sell coupons to the highest bidders on auction web sites.)

Yet for all of their knowledge, nobody knows when TCD is going to happen — it’s usually announced at the last minute in an Albies advertisement and, later, on the DFW Couponers’ web site (groups.yahoo.com/group/DFWCouponers). Not that the TCD crew needs time to prepare. Like the pros that they are, they’re almost always ready.

Their playbook is the coupon binder, a huge repository of glossy clippings. “I spend a lot of time putting it together,” said Higgs. “I thumb through each pocket to take out expired coupons and to review my coupons, so as soon as I see an item on the shelf, I’ll remember the coupon I have for it.”

As you can imagine, Albertsons isn’t in the philanthropy business — the national chain needs to make money. Offering TCD’s is just another way of doing business, the high-volume way. When shoppers realize they can save a lot of money, they end up buying a lot of stuff — they naturally think they’re increasing their savings. Most transactions on TCD’s soar into the triple digits. So for every few dollars that Alberstons “loses” from bunches of tripled-up coupons, the company rings bundle after bundle of sales it may not have otherwise made.

For a lot of TCD-ers, taking advantage of the specials is the perfect way to help take care of their families and exorcise any competitiveness demons.

But the best reason? Saving money, of course. One 21-year-old woman from Watauga, carrying a blue-eyed baby and stylish black binder (neatly divided into coupons for food, baby, beauty, and household), claims that on some purchases she’s saved up to 70 percent. She also said she knows of some folks who’ve saved about 90 percent.

They’re undoubtedly the clipping community’s gold-medalists. l


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