To Koupon Karen, everyone deserves a deal

Karen Wilmes knows her way around a deal.

But as founder of KouponKaren.com, a blog devoted to the emerging art of couponing, Wilmes needn't haggle her way to savings. As a shop-savvy mother of two, she already knows where to find the best prices for anything - anything - online and in a slew of stores.

"I don't buy anything without getting a deal," Wilmes notes.

From printable/clippable coupons to store fliers, daily deals and giveaways, Wilmes' site demonstrates there's more than one way to save a few bucks on everyday sundries and more than a few luxuries. On a recent day, KouponKaren.com featured a deal for a year's subscription to Golf Digest for $3.99 a year. Alongside that deal was a coupon for a free box of Tide Pods and a free sample of Eucerin hand lotion. Visitors who scrolled down the page would find the week's sales at Stop & Shop.

Elsewhere on the site, viewers are invited to pass on the proverbial savings by submitting deals they've found in their shopping travels. Wilmes also welcomes other feedback and questions from visitors, along with tools for those new to the couponing scene.

And now the Rhode Island native is sharing her wisdom with those outside of the blogosphere with her new book, "The Everything Couponing Book," just released in March. The book compiles Wilmes' prime strategies for saving money on the necessities, along with recipes for all those grocery-store goodies.

She'll also appear in person tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center to answer couponing questions and offer some basic strategies to local thrifty shoppers. We asked Wilmes five questions in advance of her visit, with shopping list in hand.

1. What do you say to people who see couponing as overwhelming and a ton of work?

Start slow. … There's coupons everywhere (online, the newspaper, magazines, etc.), and there seem to be more and more every day. What I recommend is pick one source and use those coupons, and that's it. Say you always get the Sunday paper…just go through those inserts and cut out the coupons for the products you know you're going to use. File them away, alphabetically, get a little folder or an envelope, something simple that will organize those coupons. And then when you do sit down to make your shopping list, go through the coupons, and see if there's anything there that you are going to buy. I wouldn't go searching for coupons for items you're going to buy, I would just use the ones that you have on-hand, just to kind of get the hang of using coupons.

2. What prompted you to start your site?

I had discovered the whole online world of how to really save money and get things for free, and I was shopping every single week, and I was just getting killer deals…. Some of my closest friends, and my parents, mostly my father, were like, "There's no way you only spent this much and got all that." … So, I already had a personal blog that I used to write so my family could keep up with our children, so I kind of already knew what blogging was and I knew there were some deal blogs out there, so I decided to make my own… to show my family and friends how I'm actually doing this. … And people started finding me through Google. So I decided maybe I could make something of this, because I was a stay-at-home mom, and while it may sound odd to say I was bored, I was kind of bored. Not there wasn't plenty of housework to do, I just needed something more than just being a mom, and having the blog gave me something that was for me.

3. The coupon database on your website is amazing. Can you explain it to the uninitiated?

Since there are so many different places you can find coupons, especially online, what the database does is, say you're looking for Quaker Oatmeal … you would go to the database and in the search bar put in "Quaker Oatmeal." Once you click "enter," any Quaker Oats coupons that have been found by the people who maintain the database will be listed there.

(Note: Results include coupons in store circulars, websites and clippables from all over the U.S.. Newbies are advised to read Wilmes' helpful notes and instructions, posted on the database page of kouponkaren.com.)

4. Several coupon sites ask for personal information. Any advice on privacy protection online?

If it's a company you know then you really can't be too afraid to give them your information, because they're going to keep all that secret and safe. They have privacy policies on their websites that you can read to see how they do keep everything private. … In a lot of ways, what they're doing is gathering your information because they're giving you something. So, they're giving you these coupons to save money while in exchange you're giving them a name that they can now use to contact you in the future for something else (often for an email newsletter). …What I suggest to people for the emailed stuff is because a lot of people are afraid to give their email because they get lot of junk mail … set up an email account - because there's so many ways to get a free email account through Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo - and have an email account you use just for when you sign up for newsletters. This way, they're not flooding your personal inbox and you're not giving out your personal email address. … and you can always unsubscribe from these emails.

5. If nothing else, what's one thing people can do to save money?

Wilmes advises shoppers on a budget to toss aside brand loyalty and shop store sales.

"Buy the items that you need to shop for that week, and just (pick the brand that's) on sale," she notes.

"The Everything Couponing Book" by Karen Wilmes is $15.95 and available through KouponKaren.com and Amazon.com, Books a Million and Barnes & Noble. For a daily round up of deals featured on the site, sign up for Wilmes' newsletter through her website.

If you go

What: Couponing workshop with Karen Wilmes

Where: Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center, 27 Chase St., Pawcatuck

When: Wednesday from 10:30 to
11:30 a.m.

Info: The event is open to the
public, but registration is required
by calling Maura or Mary-Beth at
(860) 599-3285, ext. 23.

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