Nifty thrifty: Extreme couponer turns hobby into second job

Every Thursday, Dixie Brandt can be found bustling around her little shop, arranging her grocery and pharmacy items while she talks and laughs with fellow shop owners and customers.

A petite woman with a warm demeanor, she seems to be constantly – and happily – busy.

Brandt, who has worked as a lunch monitor at the Jersey Shore Elementary School for many years, is known in the community for a lot of things – her dedication to students, her love of the Green Bay Packers and her help with local cheerleading and sports teams.

In recent years, she’s also come to be known for something else – her couponing.

Brandt, an “extreme couponer,” uses her coupons not only to save money on her own groceries, but also to buy excess items to sell at her shop at the Antes Fort Farmer’s Market, known locally as the Sale Barn.

As a result of tougher economic times, extreme couponing has become a money-saving trend over the past few years, given plenty of attention through television shows and news articles.

Brandt, however, has been couponing since 1981.

“I was pregnant and I had to find something to keep myself busy, so I started to do couponing and refunding,” Brandt said.

At the time, Brandt just focused on couponing for herself and her family.

She had four children, so the coupons helped her stretch money further.

Since then, Brandt has turned her couponing into a second job. She spends at least 20 hours a week gathering coupons, figuring out the best deals, shopping and getting her items ready to sell.

“It’s a lot of work,” Brandt said. “You have to go through all the flyers – CVS, Rite Aid, Giant and Weis are my four. Then, you have to compare prices with coupons and come up with the best deals.”

Every Monday, Brandt does the bulk of her shopping, which can take up to five hours. She organizes her coupons in alphabetized shoeboxes and satchels: one for food, one for non-food grocery items, one for pet products and one for medicines.

Usually, Brandt ends up saving about half the cost of all the items that she buys and keeps very little for herself. Most of the items go to her store or are kept in her garage as stock.

Although she said she makes a profit from her couponing, for Brandt, it’s really more of a hobby. “I can’t go buy a Corvette or something,” she laughed.

She enjoys the adrenaline rush that comes from getting deals.

“I love it – it’s a challenge,” she said. “Sunday morning I get up and rush out to the mailbox.”

But even more than the excitement of saving money, Brandt coupons because she loves people.

Although Brandt has lived in Jersey Shore for 47 years, she has met many new people that she never would have met before through her couponing and her shop. She loves working at her shop in the Sale Barn, because it lets her spend all day talking to people, and lets her see students from school during the summer.

“We’re like a big happy family here,” she said.

Unlike depictions on television of extreme couponers that make them look greedy or cheap, Brandt is the opposite – she frequently uses her couponing to help others. She gives a lot of her items to family and friends, and even gives away some of her coupons.

“If I’m in the store and I see someone buying something I always share coupons with them, always,” Brandt said. In spite of all the work required, she plans to keep couponing and re-selling items for many years to come.

“I don’t think I’ll get bored, because I would have to get bored with people,” she said. Brandt can be found in her shop at the Sale Barn from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Thursday.