Like most consumers, I love a deal.
When I know I’ve saved money, it helps me justify the purchase and feel good about it. My husband and kids will tell you that I’ll often look through our fundraiser coupon books before we spend money and that my driver’s side door pocket usually is stuffed with coupons — just in case I need them.
More likely, however, the coupons are sitting on my kitchen counter, waiting to make their way into the coupon wallet — like this week — and I end up getting to the store without them.
I think I score a good deal when I use five coupons at the checkout, buy my yogurt on sale and double my 60-cent coupon, or combine store-based coupons with some manufacturer’s coupons and a sale.
My scores are no match for Chad Mallory’s.
Chad is a 16-year-old extreme couponer from Barberton.
He’ll be the first to tell you that he knows he is not a typical 16-year-old, nor a typical extreme couponer, for that matter.
“Middle-aged women are my competition,” jokes Chad.
Most of Chad’s teen friends don’t understand his extreme couponing.
“They think I go in with a few coupons and save a few bucks,” he said. “I’m probably more friends with their parents than the kids themselves because they want me to teach them.”
Chad doesn’t save only a few bucks. His goal: leave the store having paid nothing for his goods.
He has kept spreadsheets for the past two years of his three-year “sport” — as he calls it — and estimates he has saved $40,000 off retail prices.
Yes, you read that right.
For all of last July, for instance, he spent $91 for $2,614 worth of groceries and goods, a savings of almost 97 percent.
One Giant Eagle receipt Chad and his mom, Tammy Mallory, showed me was so long, I asked them to estimate its length. Tammy said 7 feet.
It was nearly 10 feet long. For the 214 items, Chad paid $7.87.
“[Paying] retail is the ‘F-word’ in our house. You shouldn’t have to pay for anything full price,” Chad said.
Tammy confessed that she has sneaked into the house after stopping at the grocery store without coupons.
“It’s definitely role reversal here,” Chad said. “I do the grocery shopping.”
Chad started couponing on a whim when he was 13 and watching the Extreme Couponing show with his mom.
“I thought, ‘Can this really happen?’ I saw that she was struggling financially. She works so hard every single day. I needed to help in some way,” he said of his mom, single and raising Chad and his two older siblings.
So Chad and his mom, who was never interested in couponing, went to a Deals store with seven $1 coupons for Degree deodorant, which was on sale for $1. They paid only the sales tax.
“We thought we were the cat’s meow; ‘Ooh, we got seven deodorants for free!’ ” recalled Chad. “From there it just blew up. ... It’s a natural high.”
Said Tammy: “We could not wait to get out of here and go to the grocery store as soon as I got home from work,” she said, of her job at a Copley Township nursing home. The residents often give their extra Sunday coupons to her, and she in turn brings in free goodies Chad has gotten for them.
When they first started, they would time their mornings around the weekly start of the Giant Eagle sales. Chad had to be at school — he’ll be a junior at Manchester High School, where he is a 4.0 student — by 7:30, so they would get up at 4:30 to get to the store when it opened at 6:30.
They would clear the shelves of their targeted items, but soon realized that wasn’t fair to other shoppers. Now, Chad calls ahead to ask the store to order what he intends to buy.
For instance, this week, Chad will stock up at Giant Eagle’s yearly cereal sale. The sale, which offers 3 boxes of cereal for $9, also is offering 20-cent Fuel Perks, up to 30 gallons. Chad figures that will save him $6 overall on gas, so that brings the cost of 3 boxes to $3 or $1 each. He has 90 coupons worth 75 cents for cereal, which will be doubled to $1.50, so essentially Chad will net 50 cents on each box of cereal. He did buy the coupons from a coupon clipping service online for about 7 cents each, or $6.30 total, so the savings is slightly less.
As a growing teen who loves cereal, Chad estimates that he will keep 40 of the 90 boxes to eat himself, or with his family over the next year, and donate the rest.
Often, other shoppers ask for advice, which he gladly gives. Also, he and his mom will take a bag of groceries and “pay it forward” by giving items to a shopper behind them who has had to wait while they check out.
Giant Eagle spokesman Dan Donovan said the chain believes it provides value to its customers with its pricing and perks.
“We have a generous coupon acceptance policy in place that permits customers interested in utilizing coupons to obtain extra savings, while being mindful of the grocery needs of fellow shoppers,” he said. The doubling of coupons, up to 99 cents is “an investment made by Giant Eagle to reward customers for their loyalty in shopping with us.”
The Mallorys have a “Stockpile” room, with shelves laden with such items as shampoos, feminine products, spaghetti sauce, toilet paper and laundry detergent. Chad estimates it’s about one-third of the items he’s gotten at stores, and all were either free or less than $1. The family uses a portion of the products, lets friends and family “shop” the room and donates the majority to their church, High Point Christian Church in the village of Clinton, and its ministries.
Since 2012, Chad has helped with a church ministry that gives a week’s worth of groceries — free with his couponing — to more than 20 families at Christmas.
This spring, Chad taught a couponing class at church, offering it for free but asking people to bring three food items to donate. More than 100 people showed up, including two people from West Virginia and one person who brought Tammy flowers for her son’s skills.
Chad also has taken his free goodies as “care packages” on mission trips to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.
Cèsar Zamudio, a Kent State assistant professor of marketing and entrepreneurship who has researched couponing, said Chad’s type of couponing and Chad as a young male teen couponer are extreme examples.
“Usually what research will tell you is there’s a trade-off between the hassle of actually trying to get a coupon and the probability it is redeemed,” said Zamudio, who finds Chad’s “social couponing” — sharing his skills with others — fascinating. “Ordinary consumers generally find some amount of hassle when they’re deciding whether to redeem a coupon.”
While coupons certainly can bring an economic benefit, William Baker, marketing Department chair at the University of Akron, said that often manufacturers offer coupons for processed foods that might not be the heathiest, so consumers need to keep that in mind. Also, for traditional couponers, Baker said, consumers should compare prices because a different brand or store-brand still might be cheaper.
Chad said he doesn’t overspend or buy things the family doesn’t need or that he can’t donate.
“Do we need 50 toothpastes? Not at all. That’s where you can donate,” he said.
Chad acknowledges that extreme couponing takes a lot of time — he estimates he spends 20 hours a week — to really succeed , but says that anyone can learn.
Tammy Mallory said she knows she’ll need to coupon on her own when Chad goes off to college. He hopes to attend Liberty University to major in marketing. She doesn’t think she’ll be as extreme.
“I wouldn’t go get the big hauls,” she said, “but I can definitely handle my household.”
As for me, it was fascinating to watch and learn from Chad, but I’ll try to pick up a few tips and probably stick to my novice couponing and leave the extreme couponing to people like Chad.