It started innocently enough. Ms. Lincicum's first forays into
couponing started at the drugstore. Hands full with twin babies,
she was more concerned with getting diapers, soap and shampoo for
pennies. She'd share her deals with her family and moms groups and
send out emails. Later, she folded those tips into a blog,
MoneyWiseMoms.com, which today attracts 45,000 hits a month and
specifically outlines how to side-step marketing lures and traps in
stores. Her readers are primarily moms age 20 to 45, half working
and half stay-at-home, who live around D.C. and other high-cost
urban areas in Texas and New England. Ms. Lincicum has begun to
host small classes to teach couponing face-to-face, too.
What brought me to the Lincicum doorstep was a quest to observe
an "extreme" couponer and witness the fervor that 's gripped
America -- or at least viewers of cable network TLC -- up close.
Coupon redemption saw strong double-digit quarterly increases since
the recession started in late 2008 and then began to decline some
in the second half of 2010, according to Nielsen panel data. The
number of overall coupon clippers in Nielsen households did
increase slightly last year, largely thanks to growth among the
highest echelon of coupon redeemers: "enthusiasts." This group was
responsible for 70% of units purchased with a coupon last year (see
With 14 coupons redeemed during one trip to one store, Ms.
Lincicum is , unequivocally, an enthusiast. She's also typical by
Nielsen's measure: she's below age 54, has well above $70,000 in
annual household income and lives in an affluent suburb.
Yet this is not a woman with hundreds of cans of free tuna fish
holed up in her basement. What I did witness is , however, is
almost scarier. Ms. Lincicum is one savvy shopper who knows a lot
about marketing. She can out-maneuver any marketing ploys or
enticement you throw at her and she's teaching scores of others how
to do just that .
And she's not alone. Ms. Lincicum is one of many bloggers
spreading the coupon gospel online. Two such bloggers, CouponMom
and TheKrazyCouponLady, were top-five traffic drivers to hot
digital coupon outpost Coupons.com in June, ahead of all retailer
or manufacturer sites, according to Experian Hitwise.
"Many mom bloggers are extremely marketing-savvy, some much more
than the brand managers," said John Andrews, founder-CEO of
Collective Bias, a social-media unit of Mars Advertising.
But are they a threat to brands? "A direct impact of [coupon]
bloggers is creating a new awareness about offers," said Mr.
Andrews. "I don't think that 's dangerous to brands, but ...
[marketers] need to get coupons to someone who has potential to
convert into a loyalist, otherwise [they're] just giving away
Loyalty, however, is the last thing on the mind of Ms. Lincicum,
who spends less than $500 per month on groceries, toiletries and
cleaning supplies for a family of five. To compare, the average
American family of five or more spent $836 per month on all food,
including eating out, in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor
Statistics. In the D.C. metro area, the average household spent
$653 on all food. But that household was 2.6 people on average --
about half the mouths Ms. Lincicum has to feed. She does it by
saving 40% to 60% off her weekly grocery trip.
I booked a trip and hotel to see firsthand exactly how she does
"Did you use a coupon?" an editor asked.
Clearly, I have a lot to learn.
Settled in her front room, Ms. Lincicum shows me the tools of
her trade set out on a wide, sun-drenched dinner table. In a
plastic accordion folder small enough to fit in her purse, she
files coupons for items she knows she's always going to buy --
Cheerios, Betty Crocker and Colgate among them -- behind neatly
labeled tabs: "cereal/bread/pasta," "meat" and so on. Pocket-sized
scissors and a calculator hold permanent residence in the front
pocket. A large filing box, also plastic, houses the RedPlum,
SmartSource and P&G Brand Saver inserts from The Washington
Post, organized by week.