For extreme kosher couponers, it's about the money and the thrill
SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (JTA)—Anita Batt’s weekly grocery shopping goes something like this: First, she checks several online coupon blogs, which offer guidance about the best sales and coupon combinations in stores such as CVS, Kroger and Target.
Next, Batt prints the several dozen coupons she will use and places them in her organizer sorted by store. Then she visits about six stores, sometimes performing multiple transactions at the same location to maximize savings.
Her purchases are stored in her basement, where stacks of toilet paper and paper towels are piled to the ceiling. About 20 shelves hold items like 34 bottles of barbecue sauce, 18 boxes of coffee packets, 20 bottles of shampoo, 16 bottles of salad dressing and about every type of cleaning supply imaginable.
“It looks like I don’t need all that stuff,” acknowledged Batt, 43, who works full-time and keeps kosher. “But I get it when it’s on sale, so I never have to buy something that’s not on sale.”
When the economic downturn and the success of TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” bolstered the popularity of clipping coupons, many Jewish consumers struggling to cover their own big-ticket items—like day school tuition or summer camp fees—discovered coupons could help them make ends meet, too.
“There used to be a certain stigma within some circles of Jewish people who would not coupon because there’s a feeling that we shouldn’t have to do that,” said Lesley Zwick, 36, a self-described shopaholic who lives in Huntington Woods, Mich., and created her own couponing and bargains blog about a year ago, ShoppingWithLes.com. “But I don’t see that so much anymore. Now people think differently about couponing.”
Mara Strom says interest in couponing in the Jewish community is growing. Her blog, KosherOnABudget.com, receives more than 125,000 hits per month, she says. Strom hosts online webinars with hundreds of students from all over the United States and Israel, and has lectured about couponing to Jewish communities throughout the country.
“While we may not get coupons for our kosher meat and cheese, we can save a fortune on the rest of the items in our grocery cart,” said Strom, who lives in Kansas City, Mo. “These savings create margin in our total budget, which means that the $12.99-a-pound cut of kosher brisket is less of a financial burden.”
Jodi Samuels, co-creater of the New York-based JDeal.com, also has seen the appeal of coupons throughout the Jewish community – and not just among those who keep kosher. The site has a database of 85,000 names and offers more than 30 deals a month on products and activities, most of which have Jewish themes.
The most popular deals, Samuels says, are those involving charities or food. Such coupons can spur hundreds of sales in one day.
“The old saying that Jews never pay retail is true,” she said. “They are happy to have a deal.”
Batt agreed. “I see more and more of my friends couponing than they have done in the past,” she said.
Meanwhile, Orthodox coupon bloggers are helping to dispel the notion that keeping kosher and clipping coupons are mutually exclusive.
“I hear a lot of incorrect assumptions that there aren’t coupons for the kosher products people use,” said Miriam W., the 23-year-old founder of a Philadelphia-based blog, TheKosherCouponLady.com, which launched in May and gets about 2,500 views each month. “People just need to know where to look. Even with the biggest food restrictions, you can always focus on saving money on non-food products like toiletries and paper goods.”
Serious couponers say the savings can add up to a lot more than a few pennies. Miriam, who asked that her last name not be printed, recalls with pride the time coupons whittled her $255.88 bill to a mere 11 cents.
Batt, who buys only items that are on sale and have coupons, says she typically pays 70 percent to 80 percent less for each item—and that’s if she pays for them at all.
“I never pay for toothpaste and dental floss,” she said. Combining coupons and store sales often can yield free merchandise—or even a profit.
Batt spends about $100 a week on groceries for her four family members living at home. Before she started clipping coupons, her typical weekly groceries cost three to four times as much. She said the savings have allowed her to dramatically reduce debt and save toward a family trip to Israel.
The impact of serious couponing can go beyond one’s own household. Batt’s stockpile, for example, has benefited many members of the Detroit Jewish community: When a young couple gets married, she invites them to take what they need from her supplies.
“I let them take four to five shopping bags full of medicine, toothbrushes, sunscreen or whatever they need to help them start their life,” she said. “That’s my favorite part about doing this.”
Miriam does something similar.
“Real ‘kosher’ couponing,” she said, “is about giving, not about taking.”