Everyone has seen a news clip or read an article about a super shopper who can fill two shopping carts with meat and dairy products, pull up to the checkout counter with a purse full of coupons and a handful of cash, then pay a total of $3.87 after the coupon deduction. People who wonder how to save money clipping coupons are usually thinking of that high level of skill.

The truth is that coupon clipping at that level isn't just a pass time or even a job. It's a lifestyle for both the couponer and her family. It will affect not only how the couponer spends her time and money, but also the food she buys and even the friends she makes.

Get organized: The first thing a committed couponer should do is find a small file where she can divide her coupons by type. She should label a section for cereals, one for ice cream, one for canned goods and so on. Before shopping day, she should check the store ads to help plan her menu for the week and make out her list.

Be flexible: Buying according to what coupons are available means that the couponer and her family will get to try new brands or even new types of food. If the type of cereal or yogurt a shopper normally buys doesn't offer a coupon, the committed couponer will try the brand that does.

Do the math first: If the coupon offers one dollar off either the five-ounce or ten-ounce size of Wedgies, buy the five-ounce size. Say the five-ounce size sells for two dollars and the ten- ounce size sells for three fifty a box. Simple math will tell you that without the coupon the ten-ounce box is the better deal. The five-ounce box is forty cents an ounce while the ten-ounce box is thirty five cents an ounce.

But now consider the dollar-off coupon. One dollar off the five- ounce size brings the price down to a dollar, or twenty cents an ounce. If the ten-ounce package sells for three fifty, one dollar off brings the price to two fifty, or twenty-five cents a ounce.

Stay in your budget: Clipping coupons will not save money if it entices the shopper to buy a product that is expensive and not necessary. This is especially true of restaurant coupons. Two dollars off on a pizza is a great savings if the family has budgeted a trip to the Pizza Palace every other Saturday, but if it entices a family to shell out twenty bucks for a meal it wasn't going to buy, it's twenty dollars wasted not two dollars saved.

Know your stores: Follow what the local grocery stores are offering and be prepared to combine some offers to get those truly great deals. Some grocery stores have "double coupon days" where they will take double the value of the coupon off the price of the item but won't allow coupons on already-on- sale items.

Other stores won't allow double coupons but will take the face value of the coupon off of an already-discounted item. This is the basis of some spectacular buys.

Several years ago a woman reported having many dollar-off coupons for razors that had been discounted down to seventy- five cents at a local chain store. She went to the store and bought every razor in the large bin and then did her (coupon enhanced) grocery shopping. Because it was the store's policy to honor coupons on discounted items, they paid her a lot of money to haul the razors off. The money she made on the razors more than paid for all of her coupon-discounted groceries. She left the store with a cart full of free groceries and a few dollars profit.

Join a club: This purchase didn't happen by accident. She was a member of an online club devoted to couponing. These clubs alert shoppers of upcoming bargains at national chain stores and of coupons that manufacturers will be issuing. The chain store was discounting a brand of razors it was going to stop carrying at the same time the manufacturer was issuing coupons to highlight a struggling line of products. The club was abuzz with the news of the coincidence and everyone was looking for and storing up coupons for the eventful day when the two events would align.

Members of these clubs meet online and agree to share coupons by mail. They soon form little knots of friends who share not only coupons, but also pictures of families and emails detailing births, weddings and vacations

Couponing is a rewarding activity both financially and emotionally. A dedicated couponer can get caught up in it to the point where it affects every aspect of her and her family's life. One who is investigating how to save money by clipping coupons should consider both the pros and cons before starting.