MADAWASKA, Maine — Don’t ever say couponing isn’t cool, especially within earshot of Chrystie Hebert Corns.
“It’s very cool to coupon,” Corns said during a recent phone interview from her home in Portland. “A lot of the young, hip moms are doing it.”
Cool enough to catch the attention of the TLC network, which on April 6 premieres its series “Extreme Couponing” with two episodes starting at 9 p.m.
This May, an episode of the reality show features Corns, a Madawaska native and self-described extreme couponer who runs her own social marketing consulting company.
Corns finished filming with the TLC production crew just last week and admits she’s still a bit taken aback by the attention.
In fact, Corns is not the only member of the Madawaska family to find television fame this year.
Her sister Ashley Hebert was among the three finalists on last season’s “The Bachelor” and is filming with ABC for the coming season as the star of “The Bachelorette.”
“I’m really not sure how reality TV entered our lives all of a sudden,” Corns said with a laugh.
But she does know how coupons became a part of her life.
“I started off just like anyone — with a need to save money and cut back,” Corns said. “I was wondering how in the world I was going to make it as a self-employed, single mom.”
So Corns began doing some research into bargain hunting around Portland using coupons clipped from the Sunday newspaper.
“I began having small successes,” she said. “It quickly turned into a game.”
After just a year of careful coupon clipping and rebate hunting, Corns routinely walks out of stores with hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise for which she has paid pennies on the dollar.
There are even times Corns’ coupon strategy pays off in real dollars to her pocket.
“There are actually items you can make money on,” she said. “Say a drugstore has contact lens solution on sale for $8 with $5 in rewards money you can get back. If I have a $4 coupon on top of that, at the end of the transaction I get back a dollar.”
Never mind Corns does not even wear contact lenses, or have a need for items such as men’s deodorant or shampoo.
“For Christmas last year, I made huge baskets of toiletries for gifts,” she said. “I live in a small apartment so I either give away things or sell them to my ex-husband.”
“Extreme Couponing” highlights the savvy shopping practices of coupon clippers like Corns — mostly women who approach shopping with militarylike planning and precision.
Some spend hours poring over sales fliers and comparing coupons with computerized spreadsheets of different stores.
Others use clipboards and printed, alphabetized floor plans of the stores to lay out their shopping weeks — hitting certain stores on specific days of the week depending on the sales.
“For some people, couponing isn’t just a way to save money, it’s a way of life,” said Amy Winter of TLC. “‘Extreme Couponing’ shares their remarkable stories and reveals tips and tricks to uncover the best deals out there, giving the TLC audience the tools they need to conquer this economy.”
Corns refers to the amassing of purchases as “stockpiling,” and admits there could be a fine line between that and hoarding.
“The key difference comes in when you need an item like shampoo,” she said. “Instead of spending money to drive to the drugstore and then spending more money to purchase it, I just go to my stockpile and grab it.”
She also is very careful to not purchase something simply because she has a coupon for it.
Rather, Corns — with coupons in hand — goes on what she calls her weekly treasure hunts, making her a sort of modern-day Indiana Jones, armed with scissors and notebooks instead of a whip and cool hat.
“It’s absolutely about the thrill of the hunt,” she said. “That’s why I call myself a treasure hunter.”
Saying she has carried the shopping gene for as long as she can remember, Corns said couponing has allowed her to feed her shopping habit.
Apparently she has passed that gene on to her children, Sebastian,6, and Taylor, 4.
“Some kids at the store ask, ‘Mom, will you buy this for me?’” Corns said. “I hear, ‘Mom, do you have a coupon for this?’”
Given the sheer volume and variety of available coupons and reward offers, Corns said there is no reason for anyone to pay full price on most purchases and she has devoted a website, www.ilovetogossip.com, to guiding others into the coupon club.
“Anyone can do this,” she said. “I lay it out in really simple terms so even beginner couponers can save money.”
At the same time, Corns said she does have days where things don’t go as planned.
“Not all the deals work out,” she said. “I’m not saying I go in and kill it every time, [but] I do end up saving so much money on most daily transactions.”
One of her best days?
“The time I went in and bought $156 worth of goods and ended up making $17 on it,” she said. “And that’s all I want to do, I just want to help people learn how to save money.”
Corns said it was fun filming with the TLC production crew and she’s excited about sharing her couponing tips with its viewing audience.
More than 2 million viewers tuned in for the premiere of “Extreme Couponing,” which aired as a one-hour special on Dec. 29, 2010. Now, each of the series’ 12 half-hour episodes introduces viewers to America’s most extreme “supercouponers,” sharing why they are so driven by the deals.
Corns’ episode of “Extreme Couponing” is set to air sometime in May.