How to Fill Your Pantry for Pennies? Yep, There's a Class for That

And This Teacher Can Make Her Shopping Students a Brand's Allies

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Gina Lincicum's latest effort to foil marketers' designs to pry more money out of consumers' strapped pocketbooks? Teaching couponing classes. At one, organized for my visit, she taught a group of neighborhood friends and members of her moms' group the tricks of her trade. A desire to save money brought them all to a conference table in a Springfield, Va., professional center.

Of the three young moms present, two are visibly pregnant with their second or third child. Two more women around Ms. Lincicum's age also settle in. One working mom admits she likely spends $800 to $1,000 per month for her family of three.

Ms. Lincicum starts: "Where do coupons come from?"

She goes over a lot of tips I saw in action early in the day: check the newspaper ads, search online, check what's on sale before planning a menu. For the women wary of giving manufacturers an email address, she recommends a separate account. She addresses privacy (she's not worried about it if the deals are good enough) and brand loyalty (forget it!).

"We try to avoid brand loyalty, but my kids just won't do it," says one woman, citing preference for Oscar Mayer lunch meat over all others.

That's not, however, an endorsement of private labels. Ms. Lincicum rarely buys store-brand products any more. She saves more on brand names anyway. She knows which marketers are great at coupons (General Mills) and who's not (here's looking at you, Kimberly-Clark).

That's where Ms. Lincicum may end up an ally to marketers after all: With grocery spending projected to be sluggish this year, shoppers are turning to store brands, according a June report from merchandising firm Acosta Sales & Marketing. But not when Ms. Lincicum's doing the shopping. With coupons, Cheerios are indeed cheaper than store-brand-Os and they taste better, too.

Her offhand gems are frequently met with quiet wows and mild disbelief that what's she's saying is actually true.

"You know, you can always get Colgate for free," Ms. Lincicum says, when explaining coupon layering. The surprise is palpable.

The conversation weaves from organic foods to how more coupons are becoming available for produce, thanks to brands like Driscoll's berries. Ms. Lincicum chimes in with tips, such as buying the giant pork loin when it's only $1.99 per pound and getting the butcher to slice it into chops to throw in the freezer.

After class, I ask the military mom new to the neighborhood: Why was she here?

With her giant pregnant belly between us, she tells me she saved $18.50 the other day. "I stay at home," she says. "This is a way I can earn for my family."

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