By KIM LOCCISANO
Times Leader Staff Writer
Americans are increasingly responding to the economic ills of the nation by paying more attention to what is going on in constant shifts within major markets nationwide and making financial decisions based on what is seen happening in these locations.
Carrie Fijalkowski of Belmont, who has quickly become an avid supporter of cooperative coupon clipping, sharing and shopping, shows off her coupon binder. Fijalkowski has only been diligently following extreme couponing for a short time but has seen her savings mount up quickly.
Seldom seen as ways of strengthening a person's financial health are things once considered routine: cost of living raises, annual pay increases, bonuses, overtime pay-seldom are these financial windfalls landing at the feet of the average American.
So where is it experts suggest we as individuals look for ways to expand our purchasing power? The nation's markets.
If you think you are not familiar enough with how the market works to make intelligent purchasing decisions, think again.
Can you find the cereal aisle in five minutes or less?
Do you know what brand of toothpaste or laundry soap that is the most popular in your own household?
Can you pick out a dozen ears of fresh corn without needing assistance?
Answer yes to any of these questions and it is certain you are more knowledgeable about today's markets than you might have initially thought.
"The Market" being referred to is not the New York Stock Exchange or any similar business enters: It's your grocery store and the practice of employing a serious level of coupon clipping, organizing, exchanging and sharing-and even selling coupons as a way to owe less at the checkout register while being able to purchase more needed items on your grocery list.
In the fight to stretch every penny's buying power, a trip to the grocery store-the marketplace-is being looked at by more and more shoppers as solid connections to a means of being better able to purchase the goods your family needs without actually having been able to increase the household income or having to dip into savings.
Experienced coupon clippers, traders and users are generally more than willing to share the tricks of their practices with anyone who comes asking for insight, help, or just needing guidance in how to effectively handle collecting, sorting, planning, and using coupons to literally make the most of discounted and giveaway pricing and opportunities.
For those who are a bit timid about learning to shop with coupons, there is help and encouragement and even skill sharing available locally.
The only cost to pay for getting access to the growing ranks of grass-roots coupon clippers and their helpful hints is the cost of the gas it takes to drive to a local gathering of avid coupon savers, clippers and users-whether they are newcomers or veterans-and whatever it costs to maintain your access to the Internet and a printer.
Newspaper distribution of coupons remains the gold standard for amassing top quality coupons to use personally or to trade with others.
"Every newspaper is going to have at least a little something different than the next one will so I always recommend getting a couple papers," offered Belmont County resident Jen Stack.
Stack has been an extreme coupon clipper and shopper for several years and has the process so well in place in her grocery shopping efforts she averages a savings of $80 per week buying items at supermarkets that accept coupons and that will routinely offer double and even triple coupons.
She admits to having been prompted to pay more attention to the practice of routinely employing coupons in her grocery shopping, planning and purchasing practices as much as possible in recent years because of the economy.
Access to coupons whether newspaper or in ecoupon format will do nothing for a shopper if they do not maintain their coupons in a simple to use storage binder that can be easily reviewed at home with the computer, printer and newspaper all on the same table.
"A binder with baseball card holders seems to work best for most people," Stack said.
It was the method she shared with her friend Carrie Fijalkowski, who has quickly become an avid supporter of cooperative coupon clipping, sharing and shopping.
"I've only really been doing my shopping with the coupons and the binder for a little while, but I am not to the point where I expect to save at least $20 per week over what I would have routinely spent before giving this method a try," said Fijalkowski. "I have even saved as much as $50 in one day's grocery shopping, thanks to doing the things Jen taught me about couponing."
While neither woman makes every decision at the grocery store based on precisely what is held in the confines of their couponing binder, they make every effort to stick as closely to it and their respective grocery list for the day as possible.
While coupon access via the Internet helps provide a connection to coupons not otherwise available to shoppers, it is worth noting ecoupons cannot be used in a scenario that would otherwise double a coupon's value, as is done routinely with coupons gleaned from newspaper inserts.
Beginners can expect to spend an hour or two on preparation for weekly grocery shopping.
Veterans quickly get it down to closer to an hour being need for planning.
Both women admit it can take a bit longer to get the actual shopping done when working in the guidelines of shopping with coupons, but they say it always proves to be time well spent.
A great place to start a person's education into improving their extreme couponing skills is available to anyone wanting to visit the Internet site for The Krazy Coupon Lady.
Investing wisely in today's volatile marketplace can bring great rewards particularly for those willing to put in a little time and effort when it comes to preparing a personalized game plan and developing the discipline to seldom stray from it once you are in the market.
Do your research ahead of time.
Identify your immediate and long-term goals and commit them to paper.
Always keeping this personalized information within easy reach will allow you to make solid and profitable decisions when unexpected opportunities arise.
Developing a personalized strategy for today's constantly changing market environments and the discipline to stick closely to it will quickly prove essential when it comes to improving your odds of realizing any financial rewards whether large or small with each investment opportunity.
Bottom line: Just because a deal looks great on paper does not mean it is a good fit for all.
Determining which market will give you the best return for your investment is a decision only you can reach.
In recent weeks, Stack and Fijalkowski have been working together to find a means of sharing the information they are benefiting from with others.
Anyone interested in finding out details of how to easily make these practices and more work for their financial benefit are invited to attend an upcoming meeting at the Belmont United Methodist Church on Oct. 17 at 6 p.m. that will again be open to the general public.
The hour-long meeting is an opportunity to learn more tactics to save money through coupon use, how to share those you do not need with others and ideas about how to make the most of your Internet access for coupon shopping.
Stack can be reached for additional information about extreme coupon shopping practices by calling (740) 484-4144.