The Blogger Beat: Frugal Friends in Northern Virginia

This week, we save some serious coin with coupon-obsessed blogger Laura Harders.

By: Emily Leaman

Okay, we know it isn’t exactly the sexiest blog of all time, but there’s something to be said for a site that can help you cut your grocery bill in half. Or better yet, walk out of a store with a bag full of freebies. Interested? We thought so.

Frugalista Laura Harders knows all the tricks. Each week, she scours Web sites, newspapers, and circulars for the best deals in town and posts them on her blog, Frugal Friends in Northern Virginia. She also alerts readers to freebies at area restaurants and special store promotions—such as double-coupon days—and posts tips on how save hundreds of dollars a year on groceries. “I’ve always liked the thrill of finding good deals,” says Harders. “Now I have a place to share my frugal finds.”

We caught up with this Manassas mom to get her best pointers for boosting your bottom line. Read on for where to find coupons online, the best Twitter deals, and how to score free grub on your birthday.

Amount of money you’ve saved in coupons over the past year:
“I’m going to guess around $2,600, or about $50 a week. That’s from combining sales, coupons, double- or triple-coupon promotions, and rebates. A few years ago, I was spending about $75 to $100 a week on groceries for just my husband and me, and now for our family of three we spend about $40 a week.”

The most you’ve ever saved on an individual item:
“This is going to sound crazy, but I often save 100 percent on grocery and drug-store items, and sometimes I even make money. Harris Teeter frequently has double promotions, in which they double the value of manufacturer coupons up to $1.98, and other stores will sometimes have triple-coupon promotions. I often have to pay only tax when I plan out my trips for free-after-coupon products.”

Three tips for wannabe savers:
“1. Make a monthly budget and meal plan. Start by monitoring how much you spend on groceries and other expenses for a month and figure out what’s out of proportion. Set goals for yourself, and cut out unnecessary purchases as much as possible. But make sure to set aside a part of your budget for entertainment or fun—you don’t want to feel too stifled by your new budget.

“2. Get to know your grocery store better. Start marking down what a good sale price is for staple items at your store; this way you’ll know when to stock up. Find out your preferred store’s coupon policies; many stores in our area automatically double manufacturer coupons up to 99 cents. Some stores also offer a small credit toward your total bill if you bring a reusable bag.

“3. Start clipping coupons, organizing them—I keep most of mine in a filing cabinet sorted by date—and learning coupon strategies. Here’s one: When I get a coupon for a free item, I’ll hold on to it to see if a local store has the product on sale for buy-one-get-one-free. Some stores will allow you to combine your manufacturer coupon with the sale to get two products for free!”

Three stores or Web sites with birthday deals to sign up for:
“With Austin Grill’s Rewards Club, you get a $10 credit just for signing up plus a free meal on your birthday. Coldstone Creamery offers its Birthday Club members a coupon for free ice cream during their birthday week. And Caribou Coffee offers their e-newsletter members a coupon for a free beverage.”

Where to get coupons, besides the Sunday paper:
“Coupons are all around us—you just have to keep your eyes open! When you’re at the supermarket look for peelies (peel-able coupons located directly on the product), hang tags (coupons on a hanging tag directly on the product), blinkies (machines located in the aisle that dispense coupons one at a time), tear pads (these are often on special product displays near the end caps of the aisles), and catalinas (coupons that print off at the register with your receipt). You can also print coupons from your computer thanks to great Web sites like Coupons.com, SmartSource.com, and Redplum.com.”

Grocery store with the best deals:
“Aldi is one of my absolute favorites. It’s no-frills, but it’s clean, and they have good produce. I do a lot of my regular shopping there. My local Aldi regularly has a gallon of milk for $1.99, a dozen eggs for 80 cents, and bananas for 39 cents a pound. For folks that don’t want to hassle with coupons, a store like Aldi is a great place to save money on your main grocery shopping.”

Most surprising store with good sales:
“Probably Harris Teeter and Wegmans. Overall, Harris Teeter tends to be more costly in comparison to other grocery stores, but when they have good sales, you can find ten to 20 free items in the store. I’ve always considered Wegmans to be more gourmet in its selection, but I’ve been impressed by their low prices on family packs of meat and the quality of their Wegmans-brand items.”

Best thing you’ve ever scored at a yard sale:
“I think my best score was probably at Purcellville’s Town-Wide Tag Sale. We happened to arrive at the tail-end and went to a garage sale that had just ended. The family was boxing things up for Goodwill, and when I asked if we could look around and still buy something, they told us to just take whatever we want for free because they were going to give it away anyway. We walked away with a box of boys clothes, almost-new toddler shoes, and a forward-facing car seat—all for free.”

Best free-meal deal you’ve ever seen:
“That would have to be a three-way tie between a free lunch at Ted’s Montana Grill last October, Austin Grill’s free birthday dinner, and Chick-Fil-A’s Free Breakfast Thursdays. Ted’s was promoting their new $8 lunch menu with a trivia game on their Web site: If you answered the questions correctly you’d be e-mailed a coupon for a free lunch. Both my husband and I did this, and we were able to redeem our two free lunch coupons in November. Chick-Fil-A has been heavily promoting their breakfast menu recently, and in January and February they offered a free breakfast item every Thursday. That promotion was a big hit for my family, especially for my son who already adores Chick-Fil-A’s fries and indoor playground.”

Favorite Web site for finding online deals:
“RetailMeNot has a great list of coupon codes; I always check it to see if I get a discount or free shipping on my online purchases. Slick Deals, a user-driven deal-sharing site, and Deals Plus, another online community of bargain hunters, both feature great deals that go quickly. If you’ve been holding out on purchasing an item and notice a hot sale reported on those sites, you’ll want to act fast.”

Best store or Web site with Twitter deals:
“I just joined Twitter a few weeks ago (finally caved in) and am still very new to it. But I’m definitely enjoying how many companies are using Twitter and Facebook to promote their products. Chick-Fil-A (@Chickfila) and California Tortilla (@caltort) frequently feature trivia questions on Twitter and award prizes for the quickest follower to respond with the correct answer.”

Must-have rewards card:
“I love my CVS card; they have a great program for customers in which you can essentially earn free money. I also registered my zero-balance Starbucks gift card that was given to me as a gift, and by providing my address and birthday, I’ve received a complimentary Starbucks beverage on my birthday and last month I received a postcard in the mail for a free oatmeal.”

Where we might find you when you’re not clipping coupons:
“When I’m not couponing or shopping at the store, you might find me taking a walk outside with my toddler or hanging out with other moms of toddlers, especially from our playgroup and friends from church. I also enjoy baking and decorating cakes, figuring out ways to keep my toddler from smashing his hands and face into the cakes, helping my husband with his blog, and following other frugal blogs on the Web.”

Favorite local blog besides your own:
“It’s too difficult to pick just one, but some of my favorite frugal bloggers from the DC area have to be Coupon Cravings, Money-Wise Moms, Redemption Unlimited, Frugally Blonde, and Red Berry Deals. These ladies know about all the best deals in the area!”

Next week, Janice, the self-proclaimed Capitol Fashionista, gives us a fashion lesson. Check back Wednesday for her tips on spring-wardrobe staples, must-have accessories, and lots more.

Earlier:
Cosmopolitan Conservative
Capital Spice
All Blogger Beat interviews

Have a favorite blogger you’d like to hear from? Send an e-mail to eleaman@washingtonian.com with suggestions.

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