Just a year ago, Chrissy Pate and Kristin McKee were two Kansas City, Mo., moms struggling to reduce their grocery bills. The two friends collaborated and managed to cut those bills in half. And today, they're sharing their new-found knowledge with others — hundreds of others.
As they learned how to get groceries cheap — or even free — Pate and McKee started blogging about their biggest bargains.
Their families are similar -- husband, two kids, two dogs each. They laughingly admit that they competed with each other to see who could spend the least.
"Yeah, a little bit," Pate told "Good Morning America."
"Our husbands were more competitive about it in the end than we were, I think," McKee added.
They started telling other friends about the great deals they were getting and those friends told more friends. Soon, people were asking Pate and McKee to teach them how to save big on groceries and the coupon parties were born.
The women call them Be CentsAble Workshops. It costs $25 to attend, and they say their guests will make that money back in their first shopping trip.
How do they do it? By layering several savings strategies together.
"This is really important," Pate told about a dozen people at a coupon party in Lee's Summit, Mo. "You don't just take your coupon out of the Sunday paper and go use it because that's what the manufacturer wants you to do."
First you should look for sales.
Then check to see if there are coupons for those same sale items.
Better yet, go to a store that gives double coupon credit.
Best of all, combine the manufacturer's coupon with a coupon offered by the store.
Trickier Coupon Tips
The tips get trickier — and more lucrative — from there. For example, if a coupon is good for an entire line of products, match up the bar code, not the picture.
"A lot of people take that coupon in and they match up the picture," Pate said. "The manufacturers know that and they put the most expensive item on there."
By matching up the bar codes, you will often find the coupon is good for less expensive items, and thus represents a larger percentage savings off the price.
If something is buy-one-get-one-free, you can still use two coupons because technically you're buying two products.
"And, if you have a buy-one-get-one-free coupon, and it's a buy-one-get-one-free sale, cha ching! -- you can get them both free," Pate said.
Her favorite example is that she once got six big bottles of Pantene shampoo for free using this trick.
Here's a fun one: Say you have a store coupon for $5 off a $20 purchase and you also have some individual product coupons.
Hand over the $5 off coupon first while your total is more than $20, then use the other coupons to lower the total even more.
"If I gave them all of my other coupons first, they'd say, 'You can't do that,'" Pate said.
Helping other families
Taking notes in the audience were Tiffany and Adam Speck of Raytown, Mo. The Specks have four kids under age 6, two with severe food allergies. Even though Adam works three jobs and they live in a tiny 900-square-foot house, they are struggling.
"I've certainly gone without food a night or two so my kids could eat," Adam Speck said. "It is a struggle, in this economy, to try to make ends meet."
Tiffany Speck, a registered nurse, added, "I do worry. These are their formative years, their critical growth period, and I want to provide them with the best nutrition, but I don't always feel that we're able to do that."
After listening to the Be CentsAble presentation, the Specks agreed it would make a difference for them.
"I think so," Tiffany Speck said.
"Absolutely," said Adam Speck.
The Specks and the rest of the participants all questioned whether they would have to spend a lot of time in order to save a lot of money.
Pate and McKee said they get that question all the time and that they have developed savings systems for people with limited time to plan. They suggest doing what you can and adding new strategies as shopping this way becomes second nature.
Pate said that, at first, learning how to layer her savings was time consuming. But now, she spends just four hours a month and saves $400.
Plus, she and McKee save other people time by sharing the best deals they find on their Web site, www.becentsable.net.
"We just saved our families so much money that we felt we had to share it," McKee said.
Another time-saver: Instead of clipping coupons, they save all recent Sunday circulars. And when they need a coupon for a specific product, there are Web sites that tell people which circular it's in.
For example, there's www.couponmom.com, founded by Stephanie Nelson, who got her start on"GMA."
And also, there's www.hotcouponworld.com, which is updated by participants.
Chris West attended her first coupon party in November 2008 and said already she has saved more than $600 on groceries and household items.
She told a funny story about the first time she checked out using her new skills. A teenager was working the register, and when West's price dropped from $56 down to $4.53, he panicked, thinking he had made a mistake.
"He was like, 'Oh, my gosh, I did something terribly wrong,'" West said. But she told him, 'No, you didn't. It's me.' I was so excited!"
"A lot of people compare it to, 'Teach someone to fish and they can eat for a lifetime,'" Pate said.
"That's kind of what we do," McKee added. "We come in. They learn all the strategies and they can use it forever."
Pate and McKee are in such demand that now they are training other people to hold coupon parties. They have already signed up people to teach in 20 different states.
Price Match at Wal-Mart:
Wal-Mart stores will match any price offered by a competitor within 60 miles. So, if you have limited time, one easy savings strategy is to look at the online circulars for local grocery and drug store chains, jot down prices for items you need and then make only one stop -- at Wal-Mart.
Hot tip #1: Pate puts her price match items in a different part of her cart, so they are all together and she can easily read them off to the clerk.
Hot tip #2: Wal-Mart will match other stores' sales on house brands by selling you its own house brand for the same price.
Target Coupon Generators:
Target posts store coupons on its Web site for two weeks, but they are actually good for six weeks and often the same items will go on sale during those six weeks, so then you can double your savings by taking advantage of the sale and using a coupon.
Drugstores have the biggest potential savings:
Many drugstore chains offer their own store coupons and incentives. And many brands also offer manufacturer coupons on drugstore-type products. So, it's a chance to double your savings. Plus, often personal care and household products are pricey, and whenever a product is more expensive, there's more room to discount it.