PORTLAND — When Chrystie Corns of Portland goes shopping, she can leave her pocketbook at home.

But she’d better not forget her coupon book.

Corns, 33, is one of a growing number of “extreme couponers,” discount-hungry shoppers who combine coupons with manufacturers’ rebates and store sales to buy goods at rock-bottom prices.

“I match coupons with sales and store deals to get things ridiculously cheap,” Corns, a social media consultant, said Monday, sitting in her Exchange Street office behind a pile of hundreds of coupon clippings. “I became addicted to it. If you save money on things you need every day, it frees up other money.”

In recent years, coupon redemptions have soared as recession-pinched Americans have focused on saving money.

The number of coupons redeemed rose 27 percent, to 3.3 billion, in 2009, the most recent year for which numbers are available, according to the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based coupon processing firm Inmar.

The jump followed years of declining redemptions. From 1999 to 2007, redemptions fell from 4.6 billion to 2.6 billion.

Coupon clipping is now getting media attention. Late last year, TLC launched a television show called “Extreme Couponing,” profiling shoppers like Corns.

Coupon-aggregating websites and blogs have also popped up in recent years, including SmartSource.com, Afullcup.com and Slickdeals.net.

Another site, CouponMom.com, reported its biggest increase in Web traffic in January, with membership growing by 250,000 to 3.1 million, according to a media release.

CouponMom.com, which claims to be the country’s largest grocery savings site, said the rate of membership growth in January was three times the average rate of 2009.

Corns runs a blog called Ilovetogossip.com, which includes videos, couponing tips and a coupon database. She said she gets about 20,000 hits per month on the site.

Corns starts her search for good deals every Sunday, when she buys four or five copies of the Maine Sunday Telegram. She pores over the paper, cutting coupons and filing them in a folder. She also checks retailers’ websites and visits the online aggregates.

Corns said she gets the best deals by combining coupons, like a manufacturer’s discount and a coupon from a store like Target.

She’s also patient. It’s best, she said, to wait for the store to have a sale before redeeming the coupon.

This week, Corns plans a shopping trip to stores including Target, where she hopes to pick up Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut cereal on the cheap.

She said Target is selling the cereal for $2.50 a box when you buy two. And she has a buy-one-get-one free coupon from Target and two $1-off coupons from Kellogg’s. So, she’ll pay a total of 50 cents for both boxes.

But wait, there’s more.

Corns said some boxes of Crunchy Nut cereal are marked “Try me free.” If she finds one, she’ll get $2.50 back from Kellogg’s in the form of a rebate check. She’ll make money on the deal.

Corns estimates she has saved hundreds of dollars since she started redeeming coupons in September. She likes buying goods that don’t spoil, such as toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, conditioner, makeup, lotion, soda and vitamins.

Pharmacies are some of the best places to shop because they offer generous rewards programs, she said. Customers in Rite Aid’s +UP Rewards program, for instance, get discounts on future shopping trips.

“Because of those rewards, I actually make money. I might pay $3 and receive $10 in +UP Rewards,” Corns said.

Corns uses the notes program on her iPhone to stay organized. She makes a list of everything she plans to buy and how much she will save. Keeping good notes, she said in a video on her website, helps prevent “mathematical confusions at the cash register.”

A single mother of two, Corns said her savings help her provide for her kids and enabled her to open her own consulting firm, Thirteen Thirty Marketing on Exchange Street. They also help her afford nice handbags and dinners out.

Corns said coupon cutting saves money and is exciting.

She said, “I am a treasure hunter of sorts.”

 

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: [email protected]