Joanie Demer still remembers the cashier at the Albertsons on Cherry Lane who assisted during her first foray into couponing. His name was Alex, and he helped Demer and her soon-to-be business partner, Heather Wheeler, sort through the logistics of the deals they were utilizing. One was a General Mills promotion, and Demer recalls a Unilever coupon as well. She remembers the excitement of stocking up on 25-cent mayonnaise and salad dressing – a rookie error, it turns out, because the shelf life of those products is only about six months. She would end up donating a lot of it.
Still, Demer and Wheeler saved a lot of money that first trip.
“And then I think we were back the next day, and then the next day,” Demer said. “The rest is kind of history.”
The friends began blogging about their money-saving strategies and quickly gained followers on TheKrazyCouponLady.com nearly a decade ago. Since then, they have published two editions of a bestselling book called “Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey”; appeared on an extensive list of national talk shows; expanded the deal-hunting advice on their website; launched an app; established a nonprofit; and witnessed significant changes in the world of coupons.
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Their initial team of two has grown into a Treasure Valley-based staff of 50, including editorial, engineering, marketing, sales and strategic partnership departments. Although the Krazy Coupon Lady moved to a second base in Eagle just a year ago, Demer predicts that they will soon outgrow that space as well and could consider an office location in Downtown Boise.
The holiday season is naturally a busy time for Demer, Wheeler and their employees – especially the week of Thanksgiving, which this year included three all-nighters to track Black Friday deals. The bargain-scouting staff includes individuals or teams assigned to a specific big-box store such as Target or Walmart. Those employees spend time both online and in the stores to test and confirm deals before writing about them. Other teams focus specifically on online deals at a range of retailers. Because the Krazy Coupon Lady website and app have followers nationwide, some employees work early in the morning Mountain time to ensure that timely information on new deals is available for visitors on the populous East Coast.
Although the time zone is a slight disadvantage, Demer said the company has never seriously considered moving outside the Treasure Valley, despite acquisition proposals over the years. If anything, she said, it would simply consider adding strategic positions in cities where Krazy Coupon Lady often does business – such as Minneapolis, Minn., where Target is headquartered, or Fayetteville, Ark., near Walmart.
“We remain a self-funded, independent organization,” Demer said. “It allows us to prescribe our own goals, our own pace, our own company culture. And I think it’s what makes our company fun and unique. We hope to preserve that, and also fight to win. We’re competitive. We want to grow.”
This year, the Krazy Coupon Lady app launched deal alerts in categories related to the holidays. If, for example, someone is looking for a discount on Christmas pajamas or Legos, they can sign up to get a notification on their phone anytime the Krazy Coupon Lady promotes a relevant deal. In January, alerts will be available for 40 grocery store brands such as Pampers, Tide and Dove, Demer said. And the company has more ideas for improving the app and meeting shoppers’ needs, she said – it’s just expensive.
“We want to make more money so we can build better tools,” Demer said.
Changes in couponing
Demer has witnessed what she describes as a bell curve of interest in couponing over the past decade. Ten years ago, she said, there was a lot of low-hanging fruit for individuals who were willing to spend the time scouring newspaper ads and locating printable coupons. Around 2011 and ’12 – on the heels of the Great Recession and when the reality television show “Extreme Couponing” and its eccentric characters gained popularity – interest spiked, prompting an oversaturation of coupon users and empty shelves, Demer said.
The Krazy Coupon Lady was involved in the early days of “Extreme Couponing,” working with Sharp Entertainment before TLC picked up the show. Demer appeared in the pilot episode, purchasing four shopping carts of items – for $2. Although impressive, she said, it’s certainly not realistic. “That took weeks of effort from me and my team, and planning and pre-shopping,” she said.
Although Demer and Wheeler were invited to continue participating in the show – which was getting even more extreme – they decided it would be better to focus on their website and establish themselves as “the place you go to figure out what the heck they’re doing on that show,” Demer said.
It was a fruitful decision. With strategic search engine optimization, the Krazy Coupon Lady website became the top Google result for “extreme couponing” for two years, Demer said, attracting people who were intrigued – or, as she notes, even shocked and disgusted – by the TLC show, and then collecting users who were interested in practical advice for finding and using deals. That success propelled the Krazy Coupon Lady to open official headquarters in 2012 and hire staff members rather than just using part-time contractors.
Since the explosion of interest at the time, the number of dedicated coupon users has leveled off again, Demer said, but the methods of deal hunting have changed.
“Nobody is couponing without apps,” she said.
While that’s great, she said, it can also cause shoppers to miss the mark. Retailers want customer loyalty, and they may work to include manufacturer’s coupons on their apps so that they can give the impression that the store – and not the manufacturer – is granting the deal. That way, shoppers are more likely to continue going back to that retailer for the product rather than looking at opportunities elsewhere. That’s why it’s helpful to consult with sources such as the Krazy Coupon Lady, Demer said, which can let shoppers know whether there are better deals out there, such as opportunities to combine manufacturer’s coupons with additional store discounts.
Overall, Demer said, “it is easier to save a little than it was a decade ago. It is maybe more difficult to save a lot.”
Longtime Treasure Valley deal-hunter Linda Erickson agrees with that assessment. She started couponing when she was first out of college and newly married, working a part-time job as her husband went to school. She recalls the bygone era when stores would allow shoppers to double as many coupons as they wanted on a certain day of the week. Now, she said, “everyone has limits on everything.”
Erickson said she rarely shops without coupons, stocking up on everything from 25-cent toothpaste and laundry detergent to meat, butter and cheese for her freezer.
“Once you see how much you can save, you can’t stand to go spend a bunch of money on something because you know you don’t have to,” she said.
Erickson said she relies on the Krazy Coupon Lady website to find matchups – those moments when sales, coupons and, ideally, opportunities for loyalty points align, offering the best saving opportunities. It simplifies a process that years ago involved clipping coupons, filing them by category and then referring to those files whenever a sale arose, she said. Though couponing has changed since those days, Erickson still wouldn’t have time to map out those savings opportunities on top of working two jobs.
“I couldn’t do that without the site,” she said.
One of Demer’s favorite coupon successes was locating full-size Reese’s cups for 10 cents around Halloween a few years ago, making her house a hit with trick-or-treaters. Another standout was ordering more than 100 diverse Our Generation dolls from Target on Cyber Monday for the Krazy Coupon Lady Foundation, which donates items and services to members of Boise’s refugee community.
Demer and Wheeler established the nonprofit arm of the company in 2016, after several years already working with the International Rescue Committee in Boise to donate inventory the company had collected while testing deals. The foundation now aims to provide desired items that individuals don’t receive when they go through refugee resettlement. They’ve received guidance from full-time foundation coordinator Makambo Dimathas, whom Demer met through IRC when she was in the midst of adopting twins from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“If a family of eight relocates to Boise, the agency will make sure that they have eight forks and eight knives and eight spoons and eight cups and eight plates,” Demer said. “And that’s awesome. Until you understand Congolese culture, for example, and it is all about extended family and friends and entertaining. … It would be really meaningful if we could give people more dishes. We know how to get dishes really cheap with coupons.”
The nonprofit also undertakes larger initiatives about once a month, Demer said. In December, it furnished four apartments by renting U-Hauls, and then shopping sales and secondhand stores.
Last year, Demer said, the foundation donated over $300,000 worth of goods and services, though the actual cost was only about $80,000 to $100,000 because of the deals utilized.
“We’re not moving mountains,” Demer said. “We are doing what we can.”
DaNel Jones, a housing and family support specialist for the IRC in Boise, said she appreciates the graceful way that the Krazy Coupon Lady offers support – remaining mindful of different cultures and really listening to needs.
“They’ve been very proactive,” she said. “They reach out all the time. Their donations are planned, helpful and make a significant impact on our clients. And it’s given without strings attached. It’s very graciously done.”
A note for Christmas procrastinators
Behind on your holiday shopping? There are still plenty of discounts out there.
“The fact of the matter is there will be hot deals right up until the end,” Joanie Demer said. “Everything we’re seeing over the last few years is that retailers are just trying to extend the shopping season.”
In theory, those who start their shopping early save money, she said, “but what actually happens is that those who start early keep going.” And for that reason, big retailers offer last-minute, sometimes unpredictable, deals to coerce everyone – whether they’re done with their shopping or not – to make another purchase, she said.
There are also a lot of opportunities to save money right after the holidays, Demer noted. January is a good time to find discounted toys at retailers such as Walmart and Target, she said, so you can stock up for the rest of the year.
If your New Year’s resolution is to save money by utilizing coupons, Joanie Demer advises starting small.
“You don’t want to do this thing where you download the apps on January 1 and then you never open them again,” she said.
She recommends focusing on just one store to begin with and starting with non-food items. You can save a lot of money on household, health and beauty items as you learn the process, then add in food and additional stores from there, she said.