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BOISE -- The women sat expectantly as Monica Knight told them she once routinely spent $600 a month on groceries for her family of four. Breaking into a broad smile, Ms. Knight says that has been reduced to only $100 to $150 a month.
And the dental hygienist and mother of two is about to tell them her secret.
The women lean forward in their seats. They're the latest disciples of extreme couponing; women who carry pictures of overflowing pantries on their cell phones; savvy shoppers who spend hours flipping through newspaper and magazine ads in search of bargains, and homemakers who have pinched pennies to put food on the table during the recession and need the extra help.
Most have watched the television series Extreme Couponing, which debuted on TLC in April and follows shoppers whose intense devotion to finding bargains can whittle a $555.44 grocery store bill down to $5.97, to cite one example.
Heather Border, 36, a mother of four in Idaho, is new to the phenomenon. But she was hooked a few weeks ago, after coupons and store deals brought her $180 grocery bill down to $40. "I was feeling a little conspicuous because people were staring at me," Ms. Border said. "Then, I felt a rush."
She was among 20 women who attended an extreme coupon class recently in Boise. The three-hour course was taught by Ms. Knight and her business partner, Cathy Yoder. They own the extreme couponing blog "Fabulessly Frugal."
In their class, Ms. Yoder and Ms. Knight warn against some practices that have given extreme coupon cutters like themselves a bad rap.
They instruct their students to be kind to cashiers. They encourage them to stockpile food to help their families, but caution against "hoarding" or clearing shelves of items their families don't need or won't use. They also warned against photocopying coupons, which can place stores on alert and ruin deals for everyone.
"I think the stores are a little freaked out because of the television show," said Ms. Knight, who advises her students to keep a copy of grocery store policies on hand during shopping trips in case of problems.
The coupon-processing company Inmar Inc. reported coupon use doubling in the first half of 2009 compared with the same period a year earlier.
The Internet has bolstered coupon use, with online promotions, databases of coupons, and bloggers who post about the best deals.
Kroger Co., the nation's largest grocery chain, launched a Web site 18 months ago to let customers download coupons to their store discount cards or home computers to print. The site added a phone coupon app last year. "We've seen slightly more complex couponing, which can take longer for us to help our customers exit the store," Kroger spokesman Keith Dailey said.