Lindsey Poole / Lantern photographer
Cole Ledford started to coupon in an effort to provide some financial relief to his family – his parents lost their jobs due to the recession, and his mother had a second son on the way.
The first-year in international business and political science tuned into TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” to brush up on the trade. This week, Ledford is set to share his aptitude to save with others on an episode of “Extreme Couponing” at 10 p.m. Tuesday. The episode will be Ledford’s second appearance on “Extreme Couponing,” as he was first featured in May.
“I studied people from the first season and picked up on what they did and what I could do better than them,” he said.
“Extreme Couponing” follows shoppers as they use coupons to spend as little money as possible.
Since he started couponing about two years ago, Ledford has saved more than $40,000 and about $3,000 since coming to college. The most Ledford has been able to get for free on a single transaction was $1,100 worth of products. During one trip to Wal-Mart, Ledford used so many coupons that he had an overage of about $700 that the store actually had to pay him following his transaction.
“When you walk out of the store with money in your pocket, with hundreds of dollars that you didn’t have before just because you used the sales and coupons to your advantage, it’s like winning a game and everyone wants to win that kind of game,” he said.
Peggy Barnett, Ledford’s mother, said this game of couponing was something that grew from being unusual to becoming a passion for her son.
“It was very strange in the beginning because I’ve used coupons before but nothing to the level he’s taken it to by any means,” Barnett said. “He took it to a level no one expected it to go to but you can tell he’s passionate about it.”
He has converted his Baker East dorm room into a storage area, where his closet and drawers hold multiple packs of soap, razors, cereal, toothpaste and laundry detergent. The top of his closet is filled to the ceiling with boxes of potatoes and Ramen Noodles. Next to the door sit stacks of 2-liter soda bottles, all of which he got for free by using coupons.
Brian Kovacs, a first-year in business and Ledford’s roommate, said the stockpiles of products and Ledford’s couponing lifestyle took some getting used to.
“At first I thought it was a little extreme and I didn’t understand why he does it, but the first week he explained it to me and now it’s just normal,” Kovacs said. “I just have to explain it to people who come into our room and don’t know why there are stacks of things in our room.”
A stockpile of products at home helps out Ledford’s family.
“We live out of our stockpile and there are still times when I run out of things that we use the most frequently,” Barnett said. “We still have to buy laundry detergent and diapers sometimes when I run out but I will never have to buy toothpaste or deodorant again.”
Ledford said he’s coined “If it’s free, it’s for me” as one of his signature sayings when it comes to couponing. His usual grocery trips at home in Lebanon, Ohio, include about 800 to 900 coupons per trip and take about three hours. While at school, Ledford’s trips consist of about 100 coupons because he does not have a car on campus and walks about a mile to and from the nearest Kroger store.
He also enlists the help of his friends at school when heading out for shopping trips to help carry back the groceries. He said although his friends don’t typically enjoy shopping with him, he tries to make it worth their while with a deal that is hard to resist.
“I know my friends hate going to the store with me, but I promised that if they help me, they can take whatever they want from the haul,” Ledford said.
Kovacs said this is one of the perks of rooming with Ledford.
“It’s pretty nice. Anytime I forgot something I can just go to the stockpile and then I’m set for the next couple of months,” Kovacs said.
With so many products taking up his closet space, Ledford lets his friends and floormates use his closet as their own mini grocery store.
“If they run out of toothpaste or something, they know they can always come here for a refill to get them by until their parents come with supplies,” he said.
Friends and floormates who take advantage of Ledford’s supply closet will often also donate money to local food banks in appreciation for the products Ledford has in his dorm room.
Ledford also donates many of the products he gets from couponing to local food banks or sells them for donations to help benefit the Rebuilding Together Foundation, which repairs homes for low-income families and veterans. Most recently, donations to his closet pantry have gone toward raising money for his team Buckeye Beast as part of the “raise a roof” competition against the University of Michigan, which raised money for Rebuilding Together.
“There is always someone (in) need, not just my family or friends,” Ledford said. “I get a lot of things for dirt cheap or free so it’s nice to give away some of the food or raise money for those who need it.”
Barnett said her son’s giving attitude makes her more comfortable with his decision to coupon.
“I will be OK with him continuing to coupon as long as he doesn’t cross the line of hoarding the products for himself,” Barnett said. “As long as there is a need for the things he gets with coupons and if he shares it with others who also have a need for it.”
Ledford is in the midst of planning a seminar to teach other students and guests the tricks of couponing.