Pepper-Hoctor is a veteran bargain hunter who probably has enough severely discounted toiletries at home to stock your basic Presidential Emergency Operations Center. And she is a couponing instructor, a vocation born of the recession. The 42-year-old Navy wife, who tends to walk out of Target paying half of what the people behind her do for the same stuff, instructs women around Southern Maryland how they, too, can spend less to buy more.
She originally shared her secrets and strategies with other military spouses, but she has recently opened her Charlotte Hall classes to the public with a buy-none-get-one-free offer: Pepper-Hoctor doesn’t charge for the classes, which sets her apart from the burgeoning nationwide community of couponing experts.
“I’m trying to help people save money,” she said. “Why would I charge them?”
‘I don’t like paying full price’
Driven by the obvious economic forces and celebrated on the cable show “Extreme Couponing” — in which scheming shoppers treat bargain-hunting as a competitive sport and often wind up with enough products to open their own surplus stores — coupon use has spiked over the past few years, with more people piling up more savings than ever.
In 2007, the year before the economy cratered, 63 percent of American shoppers used coupons “regularly,” according to NCH Marketing Services, a coupon clearinghouse. That year, $2.6 billion worth of manufacturers’ coupons were redeemed. In 2010, the numbers were up to 78 percent and $3.7 billion. This year, manufacturers have issued fewer coupons than during the same period last year, but redemption rates are rising, according to NCH.
With “couponing” popular enough that the verb has entered the mainstream lexicon, some women have been marketing their self-taught expertise in the art and science of saving: You can buy their instructional DVDs on supercouponing, and you can pay to attend their couponing seminars or book them for personalized classes. Increasingly these days, a penny saved is a penny learned.
More than 50 people have signed up for Pepper-Hoctor’s free class Aug. 15 in Leonardtown in St. Mary’s County. “I might have to add a second one,” she said.
Pepper-Hoctor was a couponer when couponing wasn’t cool, long before Groupon kick-started the Internet-based social coupon craze. She started clipping 30 years ago with her mother. She never stopped, even when she held a six-figure corporate communications job on the West Coast. (She doesn’t work at the moment because of health problems.)