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ABC’s of Andrea Barnes’ couponing

Andrea Barnes is the mother of all couponers.

She’s been cutting coupons for more than 17 years. She began doing it out of necessity, and she continued doing it because she liked it. She began taking it more seriously about five years ago when she quit her job.

Andrea Barnes is "The Q-Tipping Mom," offering tips and coupons through her website TheQTippingMom.com.

“I was looking for something to do,” Barnes explained. “I have four kids, and they were all at school except for the baby. I just started researching couponing—and plus we needed to because we lost my income.”

Barnes taught herself how to coupon.

“I didn’t get really good until I quit my job, and we had to pinch every penny,” Barnes said.

Her budget when she goes grocery shopping is $40 a week for her family of six.

“Sometimes I’ll go in there and my total will be $140 to $150, and I’ll have it down to $10, $15 or $20,” Barnes said. “Or sometimes I’ll go in there and they’ll pay me. It just really varies on what the sales are.”

About two years ago, Barnes created her website, TheQTippingMom.com. Her family was her inspiration for website, particularly her sister who really helped her get it started.

She said she gets questions about the website’s name all the time.

“Here in the south, well, everywhere, a lot of people refer to coupons as ‘Qs.’ And then I give couponing tips, so The Q-Tipping Mom was born,” Barnes explained.

Barnes said nobody should spend full price for anything, especially in today’s economy. She even teaches classes on couponing around the area.

“We start from the very basics—where to get the coupons, and then how to organize,” Barnes said. “Then we go into the best time to shop.”

She said people should shop when items are at their lowest price point.

“In Alabama that’s only once every six weeks,” Barnes said.

She said after that, they start discussing individual stores. Pharmacy shopping is big now, she explained.

“I teach them how to take advantage of loyalty cards and the bonuses that you get,” Barnes said.

The classes are one-day sessions. But she said many people come to more than one class.

“We want everybody to be doing this,” Barnes said. “I don’t care how rich you are, you should be couponing.”

She said some people are a little timid or embarrassed to use coupons, but they don’t need to be that way. She said you see more couponers now than ever.

The classes cost $10.

“We’re not going to get rich teaching coupon classes,” Barnes said. “That’s our goal in teaching classes, to make it as cheap as possible so anybody can come.”

Barnes is about more than just saving money. She’s also passionate about giving back.

“Something else that we do is fundraisers,” Barnes said. “Right now we’ve got two fundraisers scheduled. We’re doing one that’s 100 percent profit for Kids to Love.”

Another fundraiser they’re doing is in Florence to raise money for a church.

Couponing also offers ways to give back. Sometimes, with coupons, items can be free. So even if a person doesn’t need the items, they can donate the items to a charity.

“That’s our huge goal—to help out as many people as we can in our lifetime,” Barnes said. “Whether it be by teaching them how to coupon, or it be by the donations we’re able to give.”

She said after teaching classes at some churches, those churches’ pantries grow tremendously.

Part of the reason couponing is becoming so popular is that it’s publicized through television shows, such as TLC’s “Extreme Couponing.”

Barnes has mixed feelings about the couponing shows on TLC.

“TLC asked me to be on the show,” Barnes confessed. “We talked for about two weeks, and I decided it wasn’t something for me.”

She said she wants people to be realistic about what they can do.

“These people that are doing this—number one, they have to buy those coupons,” Barnes explained. “Sometimes they have hundreds of coupons on one item. Well, to me, that’s not feasible for everybody to go and buy hundreds of coupons.”

She also doesn’t agree with “shelf-clearers.”

“I want everybody to be able to grab a few, or one or two,” Barnes said.

She also said she doesn’t want to look like a hoarder, which she said many of them do. Barnes does keep a stockpile, though, which could last for six to 12 months.

What’s more, she said TLC is the reason many stores are changing their coupon policies.

“I don’t dislike it because it’s brought a lot of business to the website,” Barnes said.

But she still thinks it leads to unrealistic expectations.

“We all couldn’t go to our local Publix and shop like that every week or they wouldn’t have anything,” Barnes said.

She said many stores in Madison and Huntsville welcome couponers for the most part.

On her website, people can click on items they want and coupons are printed off for them.

“So you take that list and coupons and have them ready when you go to the store, you can be in and out of the store in 30 minutes,” Barnes said.

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