BOISE, Idaho --- The women sat expectantly as Monica Knight told them she once routinely spent $600 a month on groceries for her family of four. Breaking into a broad smile, Knight says that figure has been reduced to only $100 to $150 a month.
And now the dental hygienist and mother of two is about to tell them her secret.
The women are the latest disciples of extreme couponing; women who carry pictures of their pantries on their cell phones; savvy shoppers who will spend hours flipping through advertisements in search of their bargains, and homemakers who pinch pennies to put food on the table during the recession.
Most have watched the television series Extreme Couponing, which debuted on TLC in April and follows shoppers whose devotion to bargains can whittle a $555.44 grocery store bill down to $5.97, to cite one example.
Heather Border, a mother of four in rural Idaho, is new to the coupon phenomenon. But she was hooked a few weeks ago, after coupons and deals brought her $180 bill down to $40.
"I was feeling a little conspicuous because people were staring at me," Border said. "Then, I felt a rush."
She was among about 20 women who attended an extreme coupon class on a recent Saturday in Boise. The three-hour course was taught by Knight and her business partner, Cathy Yoder. They own the extreme couponing blog, "Fabulessly Frugal."
The women oohed and awed as Knight pulled out the fat binder of coupons that saves her 50 percent to 90 percent on every grocery bill. She showed off pictures of the stockpile of food at her home, where 46 boxes of cereal are stowed in her children's bedroom closet and packages of breakfast drink mix are kept under a bed.
In their class, Yoder and Knight warn against some of the practices that have given coupon cutters a bad rap.
They instruct students to be kind to their cashiers. They encourage them to stockpile food to help their families, but caution against "hoarding" items that their families don't need or won't use. They also warned against photocopying coupons, which can place stores on alert and ruin deals for everyone.
Yoder started the blog about three years ago for family and friends. She knew Knight from her church and the two started blogging together in November 2008. A few months later, Yoder learned that she was pregnant with her seventh child, and then her husband lost his job.
Her family, however, had a reserve of food to fall back on thanks to coupons, Yoder said.