I check the clock: 8:38am. Am I too late? Can I still find a parking spot? Will there be a line around the building waiting for the free give-aways for the first 100 visitors? This is, after all, THE Knoxville Coupon Fair and all the savvy shoppers will be there! Coupon Katie's post on it had over a thousand hits. Everyone it seems these days has dropped any stigma attached to using coupons and is learning the fine art of getting free or nearly free products. I am strangely mixed with nerves and excitement.
Thankfully there is no line and I traipse right in to connect with my pal Coupon Katie. She's vowed to try cloth diapers since I’m giving her my infant stash. Go Katie! She has 3000 coupon books filled with savings on primarily pain medication leftover from the Health and Wellness Fair. She also has good handouts about coupon ethics and shopping at Target. She recommends if you're stacking coupons at Target to give the manufacturer coupon first and then the Target coupon, and her schedule for which days each department marks down goods is helpful.
Gabrielle Blake, who goes by Gabe and has the Couponing in Critical Times blog, is the primary organizer of the event. I love her posts about organics or homemade crafts. She has a great handout on how to start a coupon ministry at your church, synagogue or community program and where to donate goods. I have found that I'll get some freebies that I don't really need and this is a great idea of how to put our bargain skills to good use. Also from Gabe I learn that not every Sunday paper has coupon inserts, but you can see the schedule beforehand at southernsavers.com. She has a list of businesses and days that give special discounts for seniors; though this doesn't help me, I'm going to share this with my favorite Walgreens cashier Rusty who will be thrilled. If you'd like to meet Gabe, she's speaking at the Burlington Branch Library Monday, March 29 at 6pm about how to save 50-75% on your grocery purchases.
Jennifer Wilson, aka: CouponMommie.com, is happy to share tips on working the deals at Walgreens and CVS. Up to now I've only shopped at Walgreens. Now that I'm getting the hang of it, I might try CVS. She says CVS is easier. I like that CVS has the Green Bag Tag, which you attach to one of your reusable bags. For every 4 times you shop and scan the tag, you'll get $1 ECB (Extra Care Buck). I admire that they're rewarding green efforts. I also learn from her that CVS will take expired manufacturer coupons as long as the register doesn't beep (normally if they're just a week or two old) and that Walgreens works best if you scan the manufacturer coupon first and then the Walgreens coupons or register rewards. Her five-inch binder filled to hilt from the coupons she gets from eight weekly papers is intimidating, but she seems down to earth.
Hannah Barringer, a mother of six who feeds her family on $50 a week, is also here. She's probably the earthiest of the bunch, as she raises her own cattle and grows a lot of what they eat. I find her tip about United Grocery Outlets intriguing--places where you can find inexpensive and fresh organic foods and produce. There's one in Oak Ridge on the turnpike that I'll give a shot. You can also find "pick your own" farms at localharvest.org and picktnproducts.org. I'll let you know if I find any great farms beyond the Fruit & Berry Patch.
I'm in awe of the hundreds of coupons people have brought in to swap. Most expire tomorrow but I pick up a few deals. And the freebie swap table is fun. I forfeit toothpaste, lip balm, and Excedrin for hand soap, a lint remover, and dental floss. I pick up four new cloth bags for my shopping excursions; I've become somewhat obsessive about no longer using plastic bags. One includes an emergency preparedness kit for Knoxville families. I get to spin the Chick-fil-A wheel to win a free chicken sandwich. Knoxmoms is giving away a dry erase board for menu planning and grocery lists. By far the best freebies are from Three Rivers Market, Knoxville's only food co-op: a yo-yo, Toms toothpaste, as well as organic pasta, granola bars, and kid snacks. I'm interested in trying it but it's out of the way for me; we'll see.
A number of women stop to admire my new coupon organizer I tote around like a Prada bag. I meet a number of other coupon bloggers including Knoxville on a Dime, Cheapknox, Living on More for Less, Frugalissa Finds, and East TN Rewards. I'm pleasantly surprised that no one seems threatened by yet another blogger giving tips to save money. We all have the same goal and all the women are happy to work together. I have no desire to be the source of the deals—just the messenger for being the guinea pig to try them.
As I get in my car, I can't suppress a smile about how fun it's been to become part of this community. I'm no longer an outsider looking in. It feels good to have found the Coupon Promised Land.