Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Article in the University Place Patch

Check out this great article that was published in the University Place Patch

Tammilee Tillison remembers the first time she clipped a coupon.

She saved 25 cents – and was so excited that she called her husband.

“He was like ‘You saved a quarter?’ ” she recalled. “I said ‘I saved a quarter,’ and he said, ‘And you’re calling me?’ He thought I had lost my mind.”

Just the opposite, in fact.

Tillison, a 1994 graduate of Curtis High School who now lives in Medical Lake near Spokane, will share her couponing prowess with America tonight on TLC’s “Extreme Couponing.” (9:30 p.m., PST)

Her skills are the stuff of couponing legend, buying $1,300 worth of groceries in one day – for a mere $15.

But while she has myriad of tips to share, deciding to do “Extreme Couponing” didn’t come easily for Tillison and her husband, John.

“I had huge qualms,” she said. “It took us about a month to actually decide to do it. I had only ever been videotaped for my wedding, so it was a whole new experience.”

Eventually, the desire to show how couponing could be done in the Northwest won out. Unlike many of the coupon gurus featured on the show, Tillison, by virtue of living in Washington, does not have access to stores that automatically double coupons up to $1.

She instead watches sales and matches store coupons with those from manufacturers.

“I so wish I had known two years ago how much you can save with coupons,” she said, “because I would have done it while I was still working.”

Tillison, 34, admits that as recently as 2008, “I was the person who, when I saw $200 shoes, I bought them. We had an amazing combined income and we did whatever we wanted to do.”

Then came the week of her wedding – and the news that her job as a risk manager for a Spokane company was being moved out of state.

They had to find a way to save money – fast.

“I didn’t even balance my checkbook before I lost my job,” she said, adding that hers was the larger of their incomes. John, 40, is a park ranger.

Now, they still live the good life, but three weeks in the Caribbean last year and an upcoming trip to Europe were made possible by coupon clipping to buy everyday goods.

Last year, the couple saved more than $10,000.

Tillison said that in addition to shopping for themselves, she and John do about 90 percent of the grocery shopping for his mother and grandmother, both of whom are on a limited income.

And since January, they have donated 477 pounds of food and health and beauty products to the Medical Lake Food Bank – nearly halfway to their goal of 1,000 pounds.

“I found out that 15 percent of the local community uses the food bank, and that was just amazing to hear,” Tillison said.

They donate anything that they can get free. Cocoa. Diced tomatoes. Toothbrushes. Body wash. You name it, and Tillison will buy it.

Her mother, Nancieann Anderson, of Lakewood, is definitely impressed.

“Tammilee's couponing skills are all self learned,” she said. “She is awesome in the fact that she is helping the food bank and her family.”

Tillison’s usual haunts include Safeway, Walmart, Albertson’s and Fred Meyer, where she was filmed for “Extreme Couponing.”

“It was amazing,” she said. “So much fun. The crew that came out from New York was wonderful. I wanted them to stay longer.”

Still, after two days of filming, “I ended up sleeping for 12 straight hours. I was pretty wiped out.”

While Tillison won’t divulge how much she saved during that trip – “you’ve got to wait and see” – she did say that the receipt is taller than her 5-foot-5 frame.

“It was a good trip,” she said with a laugh.

Unlike many of those seen on the show, including one controversial shopper who cleaned the shelves of mustard bottles even though no one in her household used it, Tillison did not buy more than 25 of one item – her husband’s favorite snack – and most of her purchases were in increments of two or three.

“We really tried to show that you can get a variety,” she said. “You don’t have to buy 75 mustards.”

Her favorite coupon items are shampoo and conditioner, which is “not something I ever (realized) that you could get for free.”

Still, rolling up to the checkout line with an overflowing cart can be a daunting experience – for both cashier and shopper. Tillison said that she always asks if the cashier would prefer she go to another register.

“For the most part, people are pretty good about it,” she said. “But sometimes people are like ‘oh my goodness …’

“You definitely learn to pick which cashier you want to go with and at what time.”

Her enthusiasm has rubbed off on her family. Her husband will join her on shopping trips – “he loves rebates” – and her mom is getting in on the act.

Most importantly, Tillison said, the latter gets the primo coupons in the Sunday paper.

“I have her get me newspapers sometimes,” she said, explaining that the Spokane newspaper lacks the same variety. “I love it. I call my mom on Sunday and say ‘What’s in your paper?’ Because I can guarantee it’s better than mine.”

Tillison said that she also attracts a fair share of attention from other shoppers. During a trip Monday, her coupon binder caught the attention of several inquisitive customers. She is no stranger to giving advice, though – her blog, Tammilee Tips, provides coupon links and other advice.

Her No. 1 tip?

“Just start,” she said. “Look online, look in social media – there’s coupons for almost everything. Just save the money, and ignore the stigma of what couponing is. Just try it.”


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