Local Mom & Author Shows Secrets Of How To Shop For Free

By Kate Merrill, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) – The weekly trip to the grocery store takes a big chunk out of just about any family budget. That is unless you are Kathy Spencer. She spends $4 or less every week for her family of six. It’s all about coupons but Kathy is looking for more than just a discount. She gets dozens of items every week absolutely free.

Kathy shares her secrets in her new book, How To Shop For Free. Her first secret: Go for the BOGO, or buy one get one free. She showed us how it worked with Perdue chicken nuggets. “These are $3.40. They are buy one get one free. So with my two $2-off coupons, they are free,” she explained.

WBZ-TV’s Kate Merrill reports

Notice she said coupons. That is the second secret to shopping for free. You have to have multiple copies of the same coupon. The Sunday inserts like Smart Source and Red Plum are Kathy’s bread and butter and she collects multiple copies of the inserts every week. Kathy says she sometimes finds copies at recycling centers. She also suggests trying your local convenience store. Some will let you take the coupon inserts from the unsold papers on Monday mornings.

The third secret is to learn the rules and make them work for you. Kathy had a handful coupons for $1 off fresh seafood. In order to make them work out free, she had to ask the clerk to cut small pieces of fish in separate packages, each 1/8th of a pound and each costing less than $1. It took some time, but she walked away with five pieces of fresh haddock and more than a dozen fish cakes all for free.

Kathy keeps a close eye on expiration dates and stockpiles items she knows her family will use. She also has an entire linen closet filled with hundreds of rolls of toilet paper. When her family’s needs are met, she goes to work helping others. Her pantry is filled with rows and rows of top quality grocery items, everything from peanut butter to baby formula. She donates to individual families, shelters and food pantries.

At the end of our trip through the Shaw’s supermarket in Newbury the clerk rang up a total of $210.89. Kathy’s loyalty card knocked about $60 off the total. Then it was time for the coupons. People in line behind her were more curious than annoyed as they watched the clerk scan through dozens of coupons. When it was over her total was just $0.68.

Kathy admits it does take some time to get the hang of it, but she believes coupons can change lives. “On paper we’re poor,” she said. “But coupons have basically made us rich.”

Kathy’s website is a great way to get started if you are interested in learning how to shop for free. It includes a database of coupons and there is a great online forum where shoppers let each other know about great deals.

More from Kate Merrill
  • emom

    To some point I see how this works.. Have used coupons for years, HOWEVER<< I hardly see coupons for meats never mind seafood.. That would be great…. But I have snagged some great sales,…I recently purchased old spice body wash,, was on sale bogo half of… at %4.99 each , the 2nd was about $2.50.. Next I had a bogo free coupon,, leaving the $2.50 then I used a coupon for $1.00 final cost for 2 16 ounce old spice body washes $1.50… 75 cents each bought 4…next 2 packs of dentyne for 50 cents had a coupon…. willy wonker hollow chocolate was $4.69 the store had a $2.00 coupon and I had a $1. making it $1.69 . today I snagged, colgate toothpaste 2.64 each used a $1. 00 coupon paid $1.64,, godiva chocolate bars from easter, discount ,, was on sale 87 cents,, I had coupons for 50 cents, so end price 37 cents each bought 4….Box of cereal , on sale $2.50 used a $1.00 end price $1.50 …. there was more between different stores. Tomorrow will be going to another store for more great sales..I know it can be done BUT where in the god does one get some of the coupons large enought to help get free stuff purdue chicken patties,, have never seen that coupon…… happy sales

  • Charles

    I am unimpressed by this “free” shopping because the food was mostly processed junk and for want of saving a few cents she had to use extra plastic and paper packaging for the fish and other items. NOT GREEN!

    • Kate Scarlett

      You are exactly right Charles. I am quite sure that in order to adhere to this woman’s method you must first sacrifice quality and severly lower your standards in terms of the type of food that you are buying.

  • lisa

    these coupon information segments are helpful, but they NEVER go into detail, as to how or where she got the seafood coupons, etc. That is what we consumers need to know.. Real Examples of the clippings would help.

  • emom

    charles I might agree however, the paper is recycleable and the containers are also recycleable…. it gets turned into products we use every day…. newspapers, and trash cans. But I do agree with you on the processed food … that is not alwasy a great thing…however the detergent , which I love, getting those free is a big bargain and their containers are also recycleable, and I believe that company uses recycleable materials to hold their products.. at least she got fresh fish. and milk// a plus

  • emom

    Lisa coupons are available in the sunday papers and on line.. I know what you say,,,I have been doing it for years YET have not been able to find those awesome coupons,, FISH that I would so love to have… But I see how she managed to get it free…. as long as the coupons do not specifiy how much you much buy it can work but on fish,,, she had to have it cut up to equal the coupon price….. its work to find these coupons I have been doing it for a number of years, but until now had not found those great coupons…. still looking too… maybe this will help… but start with a few coupon web sites and the papers,,,, also look at the stores they sometimes have coupon boxes on the isle for certain foods, and they are usually large coupons… BUT becarefull some of those can not be doubled,, andother KEY pay off. also coupons can be used on discounted items , sale items and if a store like a drug store has their coupons on a item you can also use the manufactures coupon to raise the discount of the item…. have been doing that and snagged some great deals.

  • SJ

    One thing though…does this family eat FRESh FRUIT & VEGGIES???? I am an avid coupon clipper, and i have NEVER in my life seen COUPONS for FRESH fruit & Veggies!!!!! I wonder if there is anything in her book about these items, or do they just eat canned and processed foods????

    • aj

      most of the time to get cheap produce, just price match Aldi. Aldi usually has it on sale with no brand. With overages from other coupons, it can make it essentially free.

      Also, a lot of the salad kits go on sale with coupons. I have one coupon 1.50/1 of the Dole Salad

      So it is possible to eat healthy…

      • Kelley King

        AJ, you are right about the salad kits. A lot of stores do the BOGOs on those. And sometimes there’s coupons.
        Where do you have an Aldi in MA? I had them in FL, haven’t seen them here yet.
        I usually haunt the fruit & veggie stands in downtown Boston, especially toward the end day, as well as Quincy Market. Also go to the back of the stores where the “day old” stuff is. I got a bunch of bananas for only $.60 and out of about 7, only threw 2 away. Bananans are usually $.49/lb up so I made out quite well.
        The food battle is really tough, no matter how you doit :(

    • Kelley King

      SJ, I was cwondering this also. I never see coupones for fresh fruits and veggies, and certainly not meat or seafood. Perdue chicken nuggets are not what I’d consider healthy. And what about the gallon of milk I saw her with? You can be part of Stop & Shop’s milk program, but how much could you actually buy?
      Nice concept, but not practical for most people.

  • Lee S

    Charles – are you kidding me? First of all, I didn’t see mostly “processed junk”. Second of all, my kids happen to like processed junk now and then (and although I like for my family to eat healthy food for the most part, occasional processed junk is OK with me). Third, you’re joking about the extra paper on the fish, right? Fourth, where did the extra plastic come from – she was going to buy groceries anyway – and many people who want to practice green grocery shopping re-use their plastic bags, either at the market or at home. And finally, if I have to make a choice between providing for my family and going green, sorry Charlie – my family comes first.


    • Thomas Coulombe

      Lee S

      Think about it ? Going green is all about saving the earth from pollution and leaving the planet for future generation . So I guess your family is not important !

      • Lee S

        If you’re referring to future descendants of mine who do not yet and may never exist, then I guess you’re right, I don’t care about them.

        I’d rather feed my spouse and children than save the world Thomas. Your comment “So I guess your family is not important” sounds like something a high school freshman would say.

        And just because you believe that “going green” will save the earth doesn’t make it true. This planet has survived many cataclysmic events before humans ever existed and will survive plenty more when humans are long gone – whether I “go green” or not.

        So lighten up, Thomas. Why don’t you try to enjoy those people who are important to you today instead of worrying about those who don’t even exist yet. You know, those future people you care so much about.


  • emom

    SJ you can get fresh fruit and vegetables, BUT either frozen with no salt or suger in them or in cans with no salt or sugar,, HOWEVER>> I thought in this state they did not allow free milk coupons, and getting milk coupons is usually on special milks like chocolate or silk that other kind of milk….. I too am an avid coupon person,, but I hardly make a dent in my groceries… would love to but dont have the spacve like some of these folks do….

  • SJ

    emom, sorry, but i don’t consider frozen or canned to be “FRESH” fruit and veggies…..i will occasionally eat fruit canned in juice, but you can often times taste that preservative they use…..it has an aftertaste and burns your throat a little…..and i don’t like to get the “fresh” fruit in plastic bottles because of what is in the plastic, not to mention some of the brands also have that same burning taste from whatever they use to bottle it. There is also disturbing new research about the danger of canned foods as well. Nothing beats FRESH foods!!!!

  • emom

    SJ ,, I totally agree,, But frozen is flash frozen from the fields and vines, so they are as close to fresh especially in the off season… But even that said still the coupons for them are rare and they usually are about 50 cnets to $1.00 and you have to buy more than one… I rather look for the bargains I know I can save on and still use.,,Like the body wash 2 bottles for $1.50 not bad at all,,,, same for deoderants, and the toothpaste only $1.64 and it was the large tubes that will last for awhile… with the saving s I get on the stuff I use most I can afford to purchase the fresh stuff , like fruit in season and on sale onlyl,,, same for vegetables.. I do use the frozen vegetables, but its only vege’s no additives…I wont get the additives in that…. sometimes I will buy the ones with cheese for my kid… but the frozen are close to fresh…. tomorrow I plan on getting a few good bargains, thinks I need like paper towles and toilet paper… they are on sale and I have a good size coupons for them..and its a new brand that is made from recyclables I beleive…. so all is good. plus to save as much money with out coupons, I will only buy food or products that are on sale,,,, NEVER FULL PRICE>>>> I know better.. But I still will work toward the lowest price as much as possible, Before I even go shopping I go online to scan the adds, then look up the coupons I have and see just whats a good deal.. then plan my shopping and plan out my shopping trips according to where I am at during the week… never make a trip to that store unless I am in the area ,, that way I save on gas as well… and I plan on several trips in a row so makes it even more of a savings… I also understand about the taste of foods, I have noticed the difference from when it was in glass or fresh… it is so differnt… I love whole foods but again unless its on sale I will not venture thereeither…

  • Kevin

    Seen her in person. If you like to buy 30 boxes of cereal at once and 20 gallons of ice cream, it’s a fine system. She is a borderline hoarder. Don’t waste your time ever signing up for her meetings


      Dry beans , cerals, SUGAR, Flour, macaroni, and spices ALL GO BUGGY or WORMY after a long tine a year or more

      • Maureen

        True but if you can buy enough cereal to feed your family before the expiration date isn’t it worth it? The trick is having a good system to ensure you use before the end date on the product.

    • Maureen

      I know this woman and she is not a hoarder. Once she has what her family will consumer she gives the rest away. That’s right..gives it away to local food pantry’s and elder centers. She is a very generous woman in that respect.

  • bp

    A note to those who download coupons. Quite often when you download coupons to print you are also downloading spyware which slows the speed of your connection considerably.
    Also, I know firsthand that you can save a lot with clipped coupons but it’s best to buy what you need, not just buy for the sake of saving money on things you don’t need or aren’t healthy for you.

  • Larry

    A question I have is does this woman have a regular job? Does she work for a living? She obviously has plenty of time on her hands to clip all these coupons and to methodically plan her trips to the grocery store. I would guess most people, like myself, don’t have all the time after work to clip coupons and scan web sites. You would have to decide if the time invested in saving this money at the grocery store is worth it or not. And also if you have room to store hunders of rolls of toilet paper.

    • BJD

      I have a full time job, take care of my household and familiy, and I clip coupons, scan websites, and make my shopping lists. It takes a while but I think the amount of money I’m saving is worth it.

  • L

    you can find those fresh meat and produce coupons on wine tags that say “no purchase necessary” – unfortunately they are not around the grocery stores of MA much but if you took a trip to NH you’d probably find a bunch! the free milk coupons come around a lot, even here in MA. Purchase a certain number of cereals and get a free milk coupon deals. If you use coupons on the cereal, you can end up with both the cereal and milk for free!

  • Shawn Palmi

    My high school Business Club (I am a teacher) is hosting Kathy this Wednesday the 4th for a seminar at West Boylston High School in Central Mass. Check out her web site for more information.

    My wife has been reading Kathy’s book and we are following her advice. I agree that meat, veggies, and fruit are tougher to get for free. However, getting the items like shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, conditioner, deodorant and all of the process food for free or near free has dropped our families grocery bill by $50-$100 a week.

  • kelly

    Totes with you Charles. Who even has time to cut coupons, do pple still do this?

  • highlandbird

    As I do not eat PROCESSED food much, these coupons do me little good. I’ve rarely seen coupons for produce and fish. In addition, my loyalty cannot be purchased as I am not a “brand” shopper. I shop local (farmers markets, CSA) to support local farmers. I shop in bulk (from the bins at Whole FOods for example) which keeps cost down. Sometimes I shop Trader Joe’s to avoid the “brands” at supermarkets. But my biggest reason for not shopping with coupons is that my time is worth a lot more than the coupons would save me!! And I seriously doubt even a family of 6 eats $60,000 worth of processed food, so this woman is full of it. And did you see her pantry!!! Processed food to the max, full of sugar (toxic), canned goods with BPA in the liners, salt, MSG, hydrogenated fats, etc. Her poor family! Good grief! Perhaps this channel should rerun their spots on the dangers of BPA and hydrogenated oils.

    • OC Mom

      Thanks for being so self righteous! I guess you’d rather her family starve. I”d rather my family eat processed food than no food. You really must not watch the news much and see what is going on in our economy. We’ll all be lucky not to be standing in a breadline starving soon.

      Don’t deny this woman and others the praise they deserve for providing for their families in these difficult times.

  • BJD

    I am a pretty avid coupon clipper. I get tons of items for free. I never get free produce or meats, but with the items like soap, toothpaste, paper towels, toilet paper that I do get for free, I spend the money I saved on fresh produce and meats. The fish coupons she was using were probably STORE coupons. Sometimes they print out at the register after you’ve checked out, sometimes they’re online, sometimes they’re in the flyer.

    My husband and I eat a lot of canned vegetables, mainly because I shop twice a month and don’t buy fresh produce every week. It goes bad by the next week’s meal planning. I only get the salt free canned vegetables. We don’t eat a lot of processed foods. I cook fresh meals almost every day (it’s getting harder now that I’m 7 1/2 months pregnant)

    It’s very easy to coupon. You get the flyer, you write down what you need or what’s on a good sale. You have to know whatprice is “good”. Sometimes a sale is not a good price!! Then you get your coupons and match up the sales to the coupons. I go online a lot and search for coupons, too. I print them from work, and my 2 computers at home. I’m not as good as the woman featured here, but I have gotten quite a few items for free or for pennies. It does take time and organizational skills, though!

    Check out Shaws on facebook. They generally have coupons they post on facebook that I print out and use. And there are a lot of people on the web that do match-ups from the store flyers to the coupons for you. Mavenofsavin.com being one of them.

    • Maureen

      I agree with you. I save most of my money at CVS, Rite Aid etc so the money I do spend goes to high quality fruits and veggies, fish etc. But I have gotten great deals with meat. I typically can get 4 packs of perdue chicken (perfect portion for $2 with coupons and other savings incentives. I think $2 for 4 packs of meat is worth it.

  • PolishPrincess

    Am confused by her ability to use coupons that require a purchase of 2 items – on a BOGO – what store does that?? The ones I shop at require you to ‘purchase’ ie pay for 2 items and with BOGOs you are only ‘purchasing’ one item as the other is ‘free’

    • BJD

      Most stores that I shop at allow 2 coupons on a BOGO. I print their policies and keep them with me when I use my coupons, so if they give me trouble I show them their policiy. I never really have any problems with it.

      Actually at Shaws one week, I purchased one frozen chicken item, got a bag of fries for free. I had a coupon for the chicken and for the fries, so I got the fries for free and then the chicken was $2 less because of my coupons.

  • Adriane Gilder

    I’ve gotten as much as a third off the bill. I didn’t see any fresh veggies or fresh fruit in her cart. Saw a bit of convenience foods. I’d be careful about that. I like coupons for healthcare items. Pharmacy wouldn’t take the coupon for $3.00 off a prescription.

  • Spencer

    How would you like to be behind her at the seafood counter or in the check out line? Must be nice to have the time to master the art, but it takes everyone else’s valuable time to make it work (and those that stand in wait while she get’s her fish nuggets). Have to say, very tolerant store that should make 1/2 pound minimums because it is incredibly wasteful packaging, so much for the Green movement. What’s next, a couple dozen slices of bologna individually wrapped and weighed? Oh yeah, sliced extra thin!

  • Vince

    Enjoyed reading the comments. I will give Kathy Spencer’s system a try for a few months to see what kind of savings are realistic. Any money saved will be applied to my son’s college fund.

  • OC Mom

    I’m surprised by all of the negative comments. I think a lot of people feel they are above coupons. When they become a necessity for your family you’ll feel differently. Women who coupon are able to provide a higher standard of living for their families. They are truly Proverbs 31 women. These proud, self righteous commenters should brace for the time they may be humbled and have to coupon out of necessity.

    • L

      I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for speaking up!

  • OC Mom

    BTW, Maybe she has a garden and some fruit trees. That would be the smart thing to do in this economy. The less reliant we are on our Government to take care of us the better off we will be until the economy improves.

    Kudos, to all self reliant couponers who are giving their families a higher standard of living and providing food and clothing for them. You are to be praised!

    • Linda

      She does have a garden. Check out her website to gain some insight on her methods.

  • Diane

    Produce and meat have fewer coupons. But there are coupons for those items. Another way to pay for needed items when one has no coupons for them, is the Catalina deal.

    For example, today, after using Splenda $3 off coupons sent by my Internet buddies with the Splenda Catalina deal, I spent $5.85 on twelve packages of “Splenda To Go” and received six $3 CATs ($18) to spend on my produce, meat, bread and eggs and other items. All in all, I bought $98 worth of groceries for $23.50. AND I found a NBPR rebate offer for $10 to pay for meats and Cinco de Mayo party foods.

    One may wish to join our lively community on http://www.howtoshopforfree.net to learn about Catalina deals, BOGO free sales, coupon etiquette and how to shop for free or nearly free.

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