It’s just plain smart to get the most for our money. Being frugal allows us to have extra money to spend on some special things. Couponing is a free and easy way to trim our expenses, and it can be done well without becoming a compulsion. Gina Juliano needed to adjust to a new budget in 2009, when the Hartford School System laid her off, and her $100,000 income as assistant principal at Weaver High School, became a $26,000 per year unemployment salary. With three kids and a husband to feed, it was a challenge.
“I was close to losing my house and had no money. My mortgage alone was more than I took home in unemployment. I realized I had to cut down our expenses,” says Gina who is also known as the Connecticut Coupon Lady (www.ctcouponlady.com).
She went on line and discovered she couldn’t find the coupon resources she was looking for in Connecticut. The deals and coupons posted in other states weren’t always valid in Connecticut. “So I did it myself. It started out as a blog and it grew and grew and grew. Now I have 50,000 followers across the nation. I learned everything on my own. No one taught me.”
But Gina also just likes to help people. She wanted to share her research to make the couponing experience easier for others. So she started a website, and called it www.Gina’sKokopelli.com. The site’s name was inspired by the Native American symbol for joy and happiness, Kokapelli. She thought it apt because it way joy that came into her life when she began this quest to help others, reduce her own expenses and generate a little income along the way. After getting her website on line, she began teaching couponing classes and volunteering at Master’s Manna, a faith based, non-profit organization in Wallingford, CT. Master’s Manna serves the homeless and low to moderate income families, who struggle to eat well on a budget.
Her version of couponing is not extreme although it may well be extremely helpful. The Extreme Couponing show which airs on TLC, has painted a picture about couponing that bothers Gina.
“That show frustrates me. People see it and think it’s real. It’s not. They see people spending hundreds of hours at home, and then 6-10 hours in the grocery store. You see people filling carriages with tons and tons of crap. No real meat, dairy products, or fresh produce. I teach people to eat healthy and to do it on a budget. My website has natural, organic and gluten free options. I eat healthy myself. That doesn’t mean you won’t find a coupon for Cheetos. Everyone likes Cheetos once in a while.”
So what’s the trick to healthy eating on a budget? One thing Gina suggests is being consistent. She goes to one store regularly to shop. It shouldn’t take any more time than it takes to shop now she says, including creating a list, clipping coupons, shop and get out. She maintains a small stockpile of regularly used items because it’s better to get them when they are on sale than paying full price as long as you use them often and before their expiration date. A box of pasta for example goes on sale for $.50 so if you use pasta she recommends getting 6-12 weeks worth, at that sale price. Why pay twice that, or more?
“Backing your car up to your garage to unload your own mini-mart…now that’s crazy!”, she says. But a little stockpile of commonly used items that are on sale can go a long way in savings. Being frugal can be a beautiful thing.
“I’m completely frugal,” she says. “I’m not cheap. Frugal is practical. Frugal is being careful with how I spend money. I’m frugal with grocery shopping but that doesn’t mean I can’t treat myself and get my nails done. You want to be able to splurge and care for yourself. Do that, but be frugal in other areas.”
She recommends starting your new frugal lifestyle by taking a couponing class. They are often free and offered at libraries and community centers in your area. Taking a class not only motivates and spurs you into action, but it’s informative. Next, she suggests that people find a buddy. Or find someone to go to the class with you. This is also helpful when someone is single and you want to take advantage of the “buy one get one free” deals. Shop with a friend and split the total cost on the item. The holiday coupon classes are geared at getting deals and sales for holiday shopping and how to utilize freebies to cut holiday costs. She fills her kids’ stockings every year with items she gets completely free.
Happily, Gina has found another position, as principal at Rushford Academy School, but she continues with couponing. Why? You might say it’s in her blood. “Some people quilt. Some people scrapbook. I coupon.” She is a monthly guest on Channel 8 Connecticut Style where she sits down with Teresa Dufor to talk couponing. In addition to the joy of helping people, she appreciates the feedback she gets and the difference she knows she is making in the lives of others. Although she hasn’t always been an avid couponer, her grandmother was. Josephine Pratson of Manchester was a widow for more than 30 years before she passed away six years ago at the age of 88. “She used to coupon like a fiend,” says Gina. “She didn’t drive and we would drive over to Manchester and she would say, “take me to Walgreens, I have a coupon,” and we would roll our eyes. She had a little stockpile of a few things like spaghetti sauce. As computers became more common she went on line and printed out her coupons. I regret I hadn’t started this when she was alive. She would have loved it.”