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Homemaker helps others win the shopping game

Like many other women, buffy McCune does the grocery shopping for her family, makes sure her husband and three sons have warm winter coats, and most often is the one who handles the family bills. Like her counterparts across the country, Mrs. McCune began to look for ways to save money when her family's income wasn't gaining ground against inflation.

Her diligence has paid off. Not only has Mrs. McCune cut her grocery bill by over 40 percent, but last year she actually made money from her thrifty ways. She has made a business career of practical home economics.

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This does not seem surprising after meeting this affable homemaker, who lives outside of Seattle. As she tells the story of how she started a newsletter listing local shopping bargains and then propelled herself into a weekly spot on a local television talk show, it is apparent that Buffy McCune just naturally explores every angle when tackling a problem.

For example, although her family refuses to drink powdered milk, she wants to be able take advantage of its low price. So Mrs. McCune finds ways to cook and bake with it. She extends butter and buttermilk with it and makes mixes for pudding, white sauce, and hot chocolate. Her sons vouch that her homemade cocoa mix is better than any store brand.

Mrs. McCune combines thrifty tips like these with practical shopping advice for her television spot and the classes and workshops that she teaches. In addition, she plans to write a newspaper column with advice on shopping skills, and she is working on a book that she describes as a buying almanac with "365 days of common sense tips."

Mrs. McCune has not always been money-wise. After her youngest son was in school, she went back to work as a schoolteacher to earn extra income so that her family could enjoy luxuries.

"I had grandiose ideas of what I would be able to have with my money . . . a microwave oven, new clothes," says Mrs. McCune, laughing now at her own naivete. "But there was never any money left. I worked for two years and I had no concept of where the money went. We still had a black and white television, and no Cuisanart."

So bucking the trend of working mothers, she decided to stay at home and try to manage the household budget more tightly.

She was on to something.

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Her husband talked to her about forecasting the needs of his customers, and Mrs. McCune recognized the glimmer of a good idea. She already had thought of buying only groceries on sale, so why not apply the concept of forecasting?

"What if I knew in advance whatm would be on sale when?"m she remembers asking herself. Mrs. McCune clipped newspaper advertisements to see if there was any pattern, and she looked at the ads from all the stores.

"Shoppers who get in a rut [of going to only one store] are just wasting money," says Mrs. McCune. She knows this from experience.

"I shopped at one grocery store, used the same laundry detergent my mother used, and had a set pattern of meals each week."

It was soon obvious that she had to learn to be flexible. Today Mrs. McCune varies her menus according to what is on sale. She uses house brands rather than more expensive name brands. She shops in more than one market. She knows the sales patterns, and stocks up on products at their bargain price.

"My grocery bill has plummeted 42 percent," Mrs. McCune says proudly.

She decided to go public with her ideas when a divorced friend complained about being constantly broke.

"I told her to do what I do, but she said she didn't have time," says Mrs. McCune, who estimates that a well-organized shopper should spend at least an hour each week reading grocery ads and planning menus, and another hour actually shopping. When her friend suggested that Mrs. McCune make a copy of her shopping list, Mrs. McCune recognized another good idea. She reasoned that there must be a market for such a list throughout the Seattle area. After a story in a local newspaper, she got hundreds of letters in response.

Her move into television work got its start one day while she was scrubbing her kitchen floor.

"I was thinking that my family had less money than some, but we do almost as well," says Mrs. McCune. "That was because I buy cheaper.

"Then this dumbm saying popped into my head -- It's nifty to be thrifty," she says, apologizing for its corniness. She decided to have the slogan printed on an apron, and then, with a big basket in hand from which she would pull out sale products, she could talk on television about special savings. After wrangling an interview with a producer at Seattle's KING station, she was hired on the spot.

The diversity of Mrs. McCune's topics reflects the expertise it takes to be a homemaker.

"There is a right time to buy everything below the retail prices," she says as though she were quoting an everyday proverb. She knows what time of year is the best to buy appliances, bedding, and men's clothes. She tells viewers about shopping estate sales, buying items that are freight damaged, and comparing the cost of bakery breads and supermarket loaves. Mrs. McCune compares the price of processed potato products with making the same items at home with whole potatoes (the savings are substantial). And she demonstrates how to replace potato chips with crispy treats made from potato skins.

"The children just gobble them up," she says.

Mrs. McCune says her sons are not always certain they like her career of promoting penny power.

"Who wants their mother to be famous for being tight?" she asks sympathetically.

She does think some people waste time wanting to be something they are not. She confesses she used to daydream about being a famous writer or from a rich family.

"I am not against ambition, but I think people should see the possibilities of what they have."

But for all of her thriftiness, Buffy McCune is far from penurious. She firmly believes that families can be creative about saving money rather than resigning themselves to deprivation.

"I don't think families should have to give up the life style they want," she says. "That's just not right."

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