Reality Stars on TLC's 'Extreme Couponing' Save $40,000 on Grocery Bill

Dumpster diving for coupons can boost your savings at the register.

April 5, 2011, 3:20 PM

April 6, 2011— -- In the two-episode premiere of TLC's "Extreme Couponing," families reveal their money-saving tactics and coupon prowess by taking coupon-clipping to the maximum.

"Why pay for something tomorrow when it's free today?" Nathan Engels, who operates the website, said in an interview with

The coupon clippers on the new episodes of the TLC series aren't lifelong coupon savers, but at the cash register, they often cut more than 90 percent from their grocery bills.

The strategy of free frequently forces extreme couponers to stockpile enough food and supplies to feed an army for years -- but it works. Tiffany Ivanovsky, a preschool director who appears on the first episode, said she has accumulated two years' worth of supplies for her family of nine, and it has saved her around $40,000.

"We use coupons because we don't want our kids to have to pay for college and take out student loans," said Ivanovsky.

Engels said his obsession with coupons began more than three years ago while merging finances with his then-new wife.

"We combined our finances and realized we were deeply in debt, so we started cutting up our credit cards," said Engels. While trimming their debt, the couple began looking at other ways to save, which included the grocery store, their second largest household expense after the monthly mortgage payment.

The basic goal of stockpiling is to remove items from your grocery list and shrink your weekly shopping list. Then, meals and other needs are planned around the stockpile items.

Since welcoming a daughter 14 months ago, Engels has not made a single stop at the store to buy a pack of diapers, thanks to his stockpile.

"I don't ever want to be out of something because that means I'm forced to buy it at the store's price," said Engels. Thanks to stockpiling, Engels said, "Our daughter hasn't affected us [financially] in any way except those darn hospital bills."

Don't Pay Retail

"My 11th commandment is, 'Thou shall not pay retail.' It's not necessary with the use of coupons," said J'amie Kirlew, who keeps coupons valued at $40,000 bound and sorted in her home.

For the savings-obsessed, supermarket inserts are the most valuable assets of the shopping experience. Kirlew, nicknamed "the diva" for her coupon use, calls her stacks of coupons her "100 Holy Bibles."

Kirlew took to extreme couponing after her husband lost his job, leaving her to fret about their lifestyle and their three children. Living in an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C., she seeks to avoid the stereotype of an obsessed coupon user by getting dressed up for outings to the grocery store.

I think it's important to be completely done and prepared before you go to the grocery store," she said. "My image is very important to me and I think it's very important to me when I'm shopping," said Kirlew. At the grocery store Kirlew believes her image projects money to the cashiers and store clerks. "That's totally fine because they're none the wiser," said Kirlew.

Engels, who has earned the nickname "Mr. Coupon" for his money-saving efforts, is less concerned with image. The father of one has found a way to save on the purchase of 5 to 10 newspapers by taking a peek inside dumpsters.

In the summer, "I don't spend any money for newspapers. I dumpster dive," said Engels. "I jump in and I find money in those dumpsters in the form of coupons."

Last year, Engels supplied pointers on coupon clipping after competing in "Nightline's" coupon challenge, which pitted him against fellow super-couponer Jill Cataldo.

He says anyone can do it.

"If you want to throw your money away, you're more than welcome to do that," said Engels. That's not his preference, or an option for the other extreme couponers who have palpitations at the cash register.

At times, he's only actually paid one percent of a $680 grocery bill. "It does take time but if you have the time and are willing to put the effort into it you can do it, too."

It's their new-found expertise. One, Rebecca Routson said, "I have been blessed with this talent. Being able to coupon is what's allowing me to enjoy my life."