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Experts offer tips on how to stash more cash

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Pittsburgh Frugal Mom Dana Vento searches for sales in Shop'n Save's weekly flyer while shopping in the Cranberry store on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Frugal Mom, Dana Vento hands over her coupons while checking out at the Cranberry Shop'n Save, on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Frugal Mom, Dana Vento checks online for coupons while shopping on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, in the produce section of Shop'n Save in Cranberry. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review

Dana Vento comes from a family of frugal people.

Her mom would let her cut out Kroger coupons. At 90, Vento's grandmother reads grocery store flyers, matches coupons and tells her granddaughter where to find deals.

“She was talking about Dollar General before it was trendy to do so,” Vento said.

Vento carried on the tradition when she and her husband started a family. She no longer worked full time, so with her knowledge of how to save money, she decided to share it on her blog, www.pittsburghfrugalmom.com, adopting the name as her alter ego.

She attracted about 26,000 followers, a testament to the need to economize in times of stagnant wages and unemployment.

“It becomes inexpensive to shop, but you have to know how to do this,” said the mother of three from Franklin Park.

Karen Barr, a senior instructor of business administration at Penn State Beaver, said she finds useful tips on the Frugal Mom site.

“I've done it myself,” Barr said of money-saving methods such as couponing. Now that Barr works full time, she does not have as much time to clip coupons and study advertisements.

One of Pittsburgh Frugal Mom's favorite thrifty strategies is to combine offers. If she finds store coupons in the Sunday Tribune-Review and has a manufacturer's coupon, she knows some stores allow shoppers to “stack” coupons and use both on a product.

Some store credit cards give a percentage off each purchase, so she can save more by using the credit card and stacking coupons.

Audrey Guskey, associate professor of marketing at Duquesne University, notes that after a mortgage, groceries are the largest single expense for families.

“You really need to be a smart consumer in these tough economic times,” Guskey said.

Consumers should research prices before shopping, because they might be able to buy things more cheaply at discount stores without having to clip coupons, Guskey said. She suggests consulting online sites such as Saving Star, coupons.com, Smart Source and Red Plum.

To save money on clothing, Vento recommends discount stores. She made money by selling some of her children's clothing on consignment when they outgrew outfits.

“It's not only good to shop (consignment stores); it's good to sell to them,” she said, though upscale stores can be picky about the clothing they accept.

By getting to know store associates in favorite discount stores, shoppers can be tipped off to the best buys. Salespeople “have the inside scoop on deliveries and when pieces might be there,” Vento said.

Barr said online shoppers can save if they do quick searches for coupon codes before checking out.

“Over 60 percent of the time, I find a coupon code,” except when shopping Amazon.com, where coupon codes typically are unavailable, Barr said.

Neither Guskey nor Barr foresee retailers doing away with coupons, rebates or loyalty cards anytime soon.

“Retailers are struggling,” with competition from Wal-Mart and online retailers, Barr said. “Any additional revenue is better than zero revenue. Not only that, but once you have someone come in with a coupon, you have the potential for repeat customers.”

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer.

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