In a world where holiday shopping can sometimes feel like entering a war zone, one woman rises above the rest.
Joni Meyer-Crothers doesn't allow anything to stand between herself and a bargain. She has become such an expert at saving money that she's even been featured on TLC's hit show "Extreme Couponing."
These days, she uses her command of coupons to donate mountains of free goods to local charities and even runs a fully stocked food bank out of her own garage.
"Last year ... we donated $100,000-worth of stuff [retail value], and we only paid $500 for it," Meyer-Crothers said.
There's no bigger test for Meyer-Crothers than the holiday shopping season. She plans for months, recruiting a small army of soldiers - whom she calls her "coupontourage" - to fan out to a dozen stores on Black Friday with the goal of saving thousands of dollars on goods that will go to underprivileged children.
Here are some of Meyer-Crothers' best secrets for saving during the holidays and all year round.
Watch the full story on "20/20: Holidays Unplugged" Friday at 10 p.m. ET.
- The 10 days before Christmas account for 40 percent of retailers' holiday sales. So, if you missed Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there are still good deals to find. Many online stores will start offering free shipping and other discounts. Many retailers will start marking down their products to clearance prices a few days before Christmas to boost end-of-year sales figures. The only problem with waiting until then is that "hot ticket items" may be scarce, so make sure you plan accordingly. Another great thing to take into account is that many stores offer gift cards with special promotions, including (but not limited to) purchasing a $25 gift card and getting an extra $5. Or, some grocery stores with fuel stations will offer gas rewards for every $50 gift card you purchase. These gift cards can also be used to make online purchases, thus increasing your savings.
- Find stores that will price match a competitor's ad. This is a huge time saver, because you can shop at one or two stores while still benefiting from the sale prices of other stores. This year, Target has been price matching many popular online stores, such as Amazon.com and Bestbuy.com. Some stores will also adjust the price or refund the difference of an item if it goes on sale within seven to 30 days after your purchase. Just make sure to hold onto your receipt.
- Be organized and stick to a budget. If you go into a store with a plan, it is more likely that you will stick to your budget. Most people overspend when they shop without a plan because retailers target those consumers with fancy advertisements that entice them to purchase more than they initially intended.
- Purchase clothing and accessories at the end of the season, when stores are clearing out excess inventory. For example, purchase your winter coat for next year in January when they are 75 percent off or more. Do the same with Christmas trees and decorations. This is also a great time to purchase popular toys for next year, like Legos, Barbie dolls, Matchbox cars, etc. We have a gift closet with these popular toys that we can access at any time, so when our kids get invited to birthday parties we already have gifts to give.
- To save on food, hygiene and cleaning supplies, first collect as many coupons as you can. A great way to do this without purchasing multiple papers is to ask friends, family and neighbors to give you the coupons they are not using. Then use these coupons to start stockpiling the above products when they are cheap or free. If you can purchase toothpaste when it is free, get enough for six to 12 months. This saves you more than $60 per year on just one item. Imagine the savings annually if you did that for multiple items. Most sales cycle every 8-12 weeks, so stockpile free to cheap items for at least 3-6 months. Since the shelf life is much longer on hygienic and cleaning supplies, these items can be stockpiled for upwards of one year.
- Take my weekly 5-item challenge by donating 5 items (either nonperishable or hygienic) to a local food bank/shelter or family you know in need. So many people around the holidays and Thanksgiving are very generous with giving and help the less fortunate, but hunger knows no season and people are still in need the other 11 months of the year. Consider donating five items every week and watch how lives and communities are changed by your generosity. Many people are unaware that food assistance programs only cover food and not cleaning and hygienic needs. These are great items to donate.
- Follow my blog, www.freetastesgood.com, for regular coupon deals, store matchups, and daily saving opportunities. My blog will break down each deal, explaining which coupon to use, where to get the coupon and which store to use it at to maximize your savings. I only feature free or cheap items, so this will easily allow you to donate five items weekly without much out-of-pocket cost to you, but as a huge blessing to the less fortunate.