Newspaper Thefts on the Rise, Couponers to Blame

Newspaper thefts are on the rise, due to extreme savers who want more coupons.

Aug. 11, 2011— -- Desperate times, desperate measures. Sign of tough times hits the newspaper stands.

Newspaper thefts are on the rise, thanks to extreme savers who want more coupons.

Moultrie, Ga., has seen a dramatic increase in thefts, especially of the Sunday edition that typically has more coupons than the weekday papers.

"There is like a coupon ring that they're doing. They want the coupons and get very obsessive with them," said newspaper carrier Michaelyn Blackwell who believes popular TV shows such as Extreme Couponing are to blame for the recent thefts.

Some thieves, she says, have started taking the entire newspaper vending machines that can each weigh as much as 100 pounds.

Blackwell says she now chains the machines together to make them tougher to steal.

The report of rising newspaper thefts follows the arrest of an Arkansas woman on August 7, who stole approximately 185 newspapers, worth $231.25, to feed her coupon habit.

Jamie VanSickler was charged with misdemeanor theft. She told officers she is part of a coupon club and that she did not know she was doing anything illegal, according to her statement on August 5. She claimed she was just trying to save money.

Extreme couponers behind the thefts who are preoccupied with price may want to consider the hefty cost of the crime.

If caught stealing a newspaper, violators can face fines up to $1,000 over a paper that might have cost them 50 cents.

Here are some tips from coupon enthusiasts who save legally:

Become organized and get online:"I saved our family of seven over $8,000 last year by using coupons — and I only spent 1.5 hours a week doing it!" says Ellie Kay, the author of "The 60 Minute Money Workout." "It's easy, if you are organized."

Newspaper inserts are still the primary method of coupon distribution, but the Internet offers more deals and time-saving tools.

Get organized by creating a solid system for listing things you need, and cross-check the list online to see what coupons are out there that offer deals for the products.

There are multiple sources such as We Use Coupons, Savings Angel and Coupon Mom that provide printable coupons and easy-to-use searches to match coupons with great store sales.

Stock up when appropriate:"People say stockpiling is crazy," says Nathan Engels, founder of the website We Use Coupons. "But it's about understanding what you consume and pushing that to make a smart financial decision."

Engels says he has 32 toothpastes at his house, because his family uses 15 toothpastes a year. He found a deal in which the toothpastes were on sale for $1, and he had a 50 cent off coupon that doubled. Toothpaste has a long shelf life, and Engels is confident his family will use all the tubes.

Know your stores and store policies:Regardless of tighter restrictions on coupon usage announced by such stores as Target and Rite-Aid, there are plenty of opportunities to save.

For example, according to Kay, most Super-Walmart stores match competitors' ads. Just take in all the local sale ads and have the store match the sale price from the circulars.

Engels says that since stores modify their coupon policies all the time, it's best to understand the policies. If there is a grocery store your family frequents, understand its policy. "Sometimes it's good to even bring a copy of the policy," says Engels. "Sometimes even the store managers are unaware of coupon policies."

Here are other simple tips from coupon enthusiasts Kay and Engels to keep you from breaking the bank:

Use a list: An organized list minimizes time spent in the store, keeps the "buy" on target, helps avoid impulse buying and serves as a reminder of sale prices.

Never shop when you are hungry: You'll be tempted to buy products you don't need.

Leave your children with a neighbor: "Children are always hungry and will bully you into buying junk they don't need — take it from a busy mother of seven," says Kay.

Search high and low for bargains: Many of the bargains are located on the top and lower shelves. The pricey, expensive items are at eye level.

Download apps such as Coupon Sherpa and Yowza to regularly save 30 percent or more in the stores: These apps use ZIP codes to bring you the good deals, show you the stores that accept coupons and help you find the best values.

WALB contributed to this report.