WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Andrea's story: Couponing in high gear

Posted July 5, 2012
Updated July 6, 2012

The second personal finance real life story in our weekly series is from Andrea, who lives in Apex. Her family has been struggling since her husband lost a job he had worked at for 18 years.

With the unemployment rate in NC at 9.4 percent for May, there are hundreds of thousands of people feeling the pain of this difficult economy. Many of our Smart Shopper readers live with unemployment and underemployment every day and some of them have generously offered to share their stories with us.

For the next few weeks, you will see how the economy has changed the way they live, eat, play and make ends meet. Some of them are successfully digging out after long-term job loss and some are smack dab in the middle of the black hole, struggling to pay bills every month. These are their real life stories and I thank them all for sharing their experiences.

My hope in running this series is that their suggestions and tips will be helpful to others who are also struggling. The creativity and determination these folks have shown is very impressive and I hope you are able to take away some helpful information from each situation.

Andrea’s story

My husband is a software developer who worked for the same company for 18 years (rare these days). Two years ago the Raleigh office was eliminated and he lost his job (with no severance pay ... after 18 years!). I was mostly a stay-at-home mom to two girls. I worked part-time at the Cary YMCA, where I could take my girls to work with me at no cost (if you work in the nursery). I did that for nine years.

We went through an entire mutual fund to pay our bills since unemployment benefits did
not cover our bills; and of course we had no severance money.

The worst part has been losing our health care insurance. My husband found another job in three months, but his new employer only offers limited health care insurance. They pay for most of his coverage (he pays $100 a month), but that is only for him, they don't help cover family. If he adds his family we would have to pay a total of $1,028 a month (almost as much as our mortgage payment). Our older daughter has coverage through her university but our younger daughter and I only have a high-end deductible plan, and it's $330 a month. We don't go to the doctor.

My husband also had to take a big ($30,000 a year) pay cut (although we're grateful that he found work at all). We have had to cut corners and my couponing has had to go into high gear. We can only buy what we NEED and forget going on vacation. There is no expendable income.

I have had a few part-time, seasonal jobs in retail but have limited job skills since I mostly stayed at home.


Andrea and I chatted on the phone and she shared some other tips and thoughts about their journey.

She mentioned that she was very frustrated about the health insurance issue because she had been in the Air Force and had applied to the VA for health care benefits. She was denied because their income is apparently too high.

Andrea also said that they have cut out extras like going to the expensive salon. She now goes to Cost Cutters with a coupon and then uses a box of hair color from Sally Beauty Supply to color her hair.

They don’t go on vacations and only take day trips. They only eat out for special occasions and she has signed up for all the reward programs at restaurants, Sally Beauty Supply and other stores.

She looks for work every week, but with limited job skills, she has only had success finding seasonal employment in retail.

The good news is that they are no longer dipping into savings and her husband is able to contribute some money into his 401k. Unfortunately, his company does not offer a match on those contributions.

In the end, she did say that she knows she is better off than many others so she is grateful for what they do have.

My great thanks to Andrea for sharing her story and her suggestions for making ends meet in difficult times. Stay tuned for next Thursday when we’ll hear from another Smart Shopper reader about her struggles and triumphs. As I always say, it’s your money – spend it wisely!


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  • ncveteranswife Jul 6, 2012

    Andrea & oquinnauto....sorry, I gave the wrong info on the military ID's. My husband states only active duty, retired veterans or disabled veterans can get a military ID card and of course, their spouses. Both of you are welcomed to go with me to Seymour Johnson AFB as guests as I shop there once a month because we live near Zebulon and it is the closest base.

  • oquinnauto Jul 6, 2012

    Thanks astamper.

  • astamper Jul 6, 2012

    A tube of hair dye at Sally's is 5.50 with coupon and rewards card, and I only buy it every eight weeks or so. I better not cut my own hair though, that wouldn't be a pretty picture. I'll pay the 9.95 at Cost Cutters.

    Not sure how to get a military I.D. with so much time passed.

    Thanks for the tips and support...we'll get by.

  • happy2.0 Jul 6, 2012

    Speaking of pharmacies...About a month ago, my husband needed an antibiotic and pain meds. I called the pharmacy before I left the house to get a ball park price. Pain meds were $3 and anti-biotic was $7. No biggie. I head down the pharmacy to get them filled, gave them my insurance card and when I picked them up, was told that I owed $13. I asked why. Well, the co-pay for the antibiotic was $10. I made them do self pay on that. So, for future warnings, always call and get the cash price before you get the script filled.

    OH and fyi, Harris Teeter now fills antibiotic prescriptions for FREE. Diabetes med and supplies to (I THINK) They don't advertise it and I'm not sure it's at all store locations but I know it's at the Tryon Rd. location.

  • poeticallycorrect-InvNo1 Jul 6, 2012

    I know that medicine is expensive without and sometimes with healthcare. You can go to and get a free pharmacy discount card. I have saved $30 on a prescription when I asked them if it would be cheaper to use this card rather than my insurance. Also someone in my company has to have an epi pen for allergies and with our insurance it is $140 each pen and they can only get two a year. With the pharmacy card they only pay $10 each pen and can get as many as they need! I think it is great and from my understanding they make their money by us using their cards at our pharmacies. Hey its free and can only help so I tell everyone about them!

  • oquinnauto Jul 6, 2012

    Question to ncveteranswife, i served in US Army from 1960-1963, 3 years. How do i get a Military I.D. card? Can you help me with this? Thank you.
    Andrea, i pray you and family will continue moving fotward.

  • flashyswife Jul 5, 2012

    Andrea, while not to minimize your plight, many people have been cutting back for the last few years. I for one stopped going to salons and have become a DIY! But I want you to know, now that we have become "cash only" spenders we have found that it really is all about what you need. Life is so short and sometimes the extras really do not matter; especially when there are kids involved. I am glad things are looking better for you. It will take time, but we did it and you can too. GOod luck.

  • Oxymoron02 Jul 5, 2012

    With the full appreciation that most people are just not willing to go this far ... you *could* teach yourself how to cut your own hair. My Mom was a hair dresser, waaaaaay back, and I've never paid anyone to cut my hair. I taught myself, Mom fixed it the first few times I messed it up royally. We've paid someone once in the past year to cut anyone's hair in my house. My daughter wanted a new do. I'm skilled enough to maintain the do, just not skilled enough to create the do, so we paid someone to do the do, and now I keep it up. She's 18, so she's good enough to mostly do her own dye-jobs.

    I rarely shop in Sally's unless I want durable goods, or gloves that don't stink like the ones in boxed dye. Drugstore dye is almost always cheaper if you rock the sale with coupon. Sally's does save me the trip to the mall, and all the noise in Hot Topic, when someone really wants green, pink or purple.

  • jdouglas13 Jul 5, 2012

    Andrea, thanks so much for sharing your story. I know how scary living without health insurance and health care can be. I'm glad that your husband was able to find employment, and hope things continue to improve for you.

  • ncveteranswife Jul 5, 2012

    Andrea, also might I make another suggestion? If I were you, I would get a military ID so I could shop at the Commissionary & PX on the military base closest to you. They charge a surcharge only, no taxes and I have used at least 50 or more coupons at the Commissionary with no questions asked. You may be able to save on your grocery bill as well as other items such as clothing, etc. We have saved lots of money by shopping on base.