FRESNO, Calif. — Getting $1,000 worth of body wash, toothpaste and other personal products nearly free with coupons?
Not according to “extreme shoppers” who got the items by paying only sales tax.
The shoppers are part of a new breed of bargain hunter who scour the Internet for creative ways to use coupons that can cut a $300 Target shopping trip down to $150, and bring some bills down to zero.
Inspired by the new TLC show “Extreme Couponing” and the economic downturn, the trend is taking hold across the country.
“We can find coupons for anything,” said Jen Dote of Fresno, Calif. “You never should pay for toothbrushes and toothpaste.”
Dote says she isn’t as extreme as some of the couponers featured on the show — like the woman who has a 40-year stockpile of toilet paper or the man with 1,000 tubes of toothpaste.
But she and a friend donated the $1,000 worth of products to the Marjaree Mason Center and the Fresno Rescue Mission last month.
“Everything that we donated we received for free and we just paid sales tax on, or we made money on” via register rewards that shoppers can use like cash in the store, Dote said.
Many shoppers give up on coupons when they realize generic versions are often cheaper even without coupons. But extreme couponers say there’s a method for even bigger savings than buying generics.
They troll blogs and websites devoted to couponing and visit multiple stores.
They combine manufacturer and store coupons. They hold onto their coupons for future sales they learn about online. And they get money back from drug store register rewards.
Dote and friend Rebekah Hescox, both stay-at-home moms with five kids between them, started extreme couponing after seeing the show in February. When they realized they could get items for free, they began donating them to charities and families dealing with layoffs.
The friends collect between 20 and 50 Sunday newspapers each week — buying some, collecting some from friends, and asking Starbucks for leftover newspapers.
After the kids go to bed on Mondays, they clip coupons and put together their game plan. Throughout the week they hit up stores, usually one a day.
The two run a couponing blog, fresnocouponing.com, and have started teaching other shoppers how to find deals.