“I save between $300 and $500 every month”: This extreme couponer shares her money-saving tips on TikTok

“I save between $300 and $500 every month”: This extreme couponer shares her money-saving tips on TikTok

Kathleen Cassidy is the savvy shopper behind Living on a Loonie, a TikTok and Instagram account that teaches people how to pinch more than just pennies

Photo courtesy of Kathleen Cassidy

With the prices of groceries what they are these days, more and more budget-conscious Torontonians may be considering the money-smart art of couponing. “My following has definitely exploded over the past year because of food inflation,” says Kathleen Cassidy, the Hamilton branding exec behind Living on a Loonie, Instagram and TikTok accounts that school would-be savers in the practice of extreme couponing. Cassidy’s first major victory involved free tampons, and she’s now saving hundreds of dollars every month. Here, she shares her hottest tips, including why it’s important to think outside the sausage casing.

Related: “All of a sudden chips cost five dollars”: Bargain hunters share their tips for keeping grocery bills low

How did you become an expert in this area? Did you grow up in a coupon-clipping household?
No—I did go grocery shopping with my parents every weekend, though. I remember them being very brand loyal, which is not ideal when it comes to saving. I started couponing when I was a student at McMaster University. I was in third year, going to school full time and working two jobs. Almost every cent I made went toward tuition. One day, I walked into a grocery store—Fortinos—and there was a giant coupon board right at the front entrance. I had this moment of realization, like, Maybe this could be a way to save money so that I can put it toward the things I actually like to do—concerts, nights out with friends. When I got home, I went online and watched a bunch of how-to videos about making the most of all the different types of coupons.

What are the different types?
Well, there are classic paper store coupons that offer a certain amount off a certain product—those are the ones that come in coupon books or from in-store flyers. Most rebates are digital now, so you take a picture of your receipt and upload it and the company will send you a cheque. A lot of people use rebate apps like Checkout51, which collect all the different rebate offers in one place. And then there are loyalty rewards programs, which have become huge over the past few years. They’re a way for different stores to promote customer loyalty, and—if you’re smart about it—they’re a great saving opportunity.

Any hot tips?
Some stores have specific days when they offer extra points. Shopper’s Drug Mart will have promotions where they offer 20 times the Optimum points—or they’ll offer 20,000 points when you spend at least $60, so you’re getting about a third of that amount back in points.

That all sounds great, but it’s also a bit labour intensive, no?
It does take some time to get started, but once you have a rhythm, it’s really not. I spend maybe an hour going through new flyers every Thursday. I keep paper coupons in a little photo album. A lot of people use an accordion-style file folder, but I like to be able to see everything as I flip through, and it’s small enough to fit in my purse. For digital coupons, I use an app called Flipp, which amalgamates offers from different stores.

Is it time consuming to hit a bunch of different locations in search of the best deals?
Ideally, you want to shop at a store that price-matches with local competitors. In Toronto, that includes Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills, FreshCo and Giant Tiger. People have this image of extreme couponers poring over flyers in the middle of the night, but that’s not accurate.

Any other irksome stereotypes?
I guess the idea that couponers are super cheap or that, if you’re couponing, you must be poor.

It sounds more like you might get rich because you’re couponing.
Definitely. I save a considerable amount—probably between $300 and $500 a month, so up to $6,000 over a year. My husband and I spend only about $200 a month on groceries.

Was there a moment when you realized, Wow, this is really working?
I guess that was back when I was still in university. My housemates would sometimes joke about my coupon habit. Nothing mean, they were just a bit confused about what I was doing. And then one day I came home with a not-small haul of toiletries from Shoppers: shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste and feminine products. The rebates I’d applied were worth more than the cost of the items, so I actually made money.

Free tampons! That’s no joke for broke students.
Exactly. After that, I decided to start posting on Instagram. I chose the handle “Living on a Loonie” because I wanted people to know that I was a Canadian couponer. I started in early 2019, and I built up a pretty decent audience—around 10,000 followers. But then, in the second half of 2021, that jumped to more than 100,000 thanks to the back-to-back stressors of the pandemic and the rising cost of groceries. For a while, I avoided starting a TikTok account: I didn’t have any experience editing video, and I sort of felt like it was just a place for posting dances. But then I posted my first TikTok reel, and within 24 hours, I had 100,000 followers.

I guess people are desperate to save.
There is definitely way more openness to the idea of couponing now. One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of people used to be brand loyal—they were buying the Cottonelle toilet paper or the Tropicana orange juice whether it was on sale or not—but now they are more loyal to the bottom line. Even my parents have come around to couponing. The fact that I’m able to help people shave money off their grocery bills makes me so happy.

Are there certain items that tend to offer the best savings?
You should never pay full price for personal care products, any type of paper products, cereal or pasta. There is a lot of competition in these areas, so brands are looking for any way to stand out, which means they go on sale more often. The other thing about these products is that they have long shelf lives, so when you see them on sale, the key is to stock up.

What about items that don’t typically go on sale?
I know one of the things a lot of people struggle with is products for specific diets, like non-dairy or gluten-free substitutes. And meat can be tricky—but there are secrets.

Do tell.
Go shopping either late at night or early in the morning, because that’s when a lot of stores will mark down meat that is getting close to its sell-by date. The discounts can be pretty steep—usually from 30 to 50 per cent off. I’ve had to stop buying meat because our freezer is so full of discounted meat.

Is there a risk that deal-hunting will lead people to buy things they don’t actually want? Like, Oh, great, I got all this ground turkey for 25 per cent off, but I don’t even like ground turkey.
Something I really enjoy, which is sort of related to couponing, is the challenge of finding creative ways to use ingredients. Last month, I bought two packs of frozen sausages at Walmart because they were 50 per cent off. I separated them into individual meal-size portions and then froze them. At a certain point, though, we’d had enough of sausage on a bun, so I started taking the meat out of the casing and using it in soups and stir fries. My husband has definitely learned to be less picky.

Did you two coupon your wedding?
Well, we got married during the pandemic, so we definitely saved a lot by having a very small ceremony. And I got my wedding dress for $250 from a boutique that advertised a sale on Instagram for last season’s styles. That’s not technically couponing, but it was still a great deal.

I saw that you posted about going to a Leafs game. Those tickets didn’t come from a coupon, did they?
We actually won tickets to the first playoff game through the Ford Fanatics, an Instagram account sponsored by the car company. They give away 200 tickets to every home game, so it’s definitely worth following. My focus is on groceries and toiletries, but I also post about deals on tech and clothing. Old Navy always has amazing sales.

Is there a particular type of post that’s most popular with your audience?
People really seem to like my hidden clearance series, which highlights stores that have items on clearance in a way that isn’t always obvious. Big box stores like Walmart, for example, don’t always get around to updating the price tags—this is especially true for seasonal items—so it’s worth scanning them first. Also, if you notice an item where the packaging is different, that often means the brand has updated its packaging and the older version will be marked down, whether it’s posted on the price tag or not. I recently got 50 per cent off Finish dishwasher pods for this reason. And obviously I have a series showing Canadians what they can buy for less than a loonie—it’s actually surprising how much you can get for a buck.

Such as?
The other day I found two packs of English muffins for just $0.98.

You mentioned that all the money you save means getting to do more things you love. Anything exciting lined up for this summer?
We’re going to see Shania Twain in concert, which is super exciting. But those tickets were not cheap.