Some of the 2,500 people who came to hear Jill Cataldo talk about coupons started lining up four hours before she took the stage at the performing arts center in Charleston, S.C., in March.
Cataldo's sold-out speech was touted as the largest event of its kind ever held in the United States.
She's the first to admit she's not the only one teaching about coupons, having been in the coupon-advice game just three years. But there's something about her.
Grocery manufacturers and supermarket executives seek her insight on consumer use of coupons. In April, she was one of the main speakers in Atlanta at a conference of the Association of Coupon Professionals.
Catalina Marketing, one of the largest players in the coupon industry, flew her to Florida to speak to the company's sales force of 150.
"We went overtime because there was so much interest — and these are people already in the coupon business," said Susan Gear, a group vice president at Catalina. "She's extremely knowledgeable, probably more knowledgeable than some of us in this space. I think she's an amazing woman."
For those coupons professionals, Cataldo provided an "aha" moment that sounded new to them — the real reason why so many women, and the vast majority are women, use coupons.
"She sees how coupons can affect a person's sense of self-worth and how they can impact their family — how couponing is a very valuable way for them to participate in the economic well-being of their household," Gear said.
"She helped us hold up a mirror to ourselves, and we saw ourselves in a new light."
Cataldo, 37, is a frequent guest on radio and TV and in print publications, including an appearance this year on ABC's "Nightline." Media, along with consumers, jumped on the frugality bandwagon as the economy took a dive and coupons quickly went from crass to cool.
Cataldo also writes a syndicated newspaper column about coupons. It's distributed to papers with some 20 million readers — a kind of Dear Abby with coupons, she says.
Then there's her popular blog, where she's the writer, editor, advertising sales person and website designer. Many times, she juggles those jobs at 2 a.m., often with a Kiss album playing on the turntable next to her computer. She doesn't own an iPod, preferring the warmth of sound coming from a large collection of rock and heavy-metal tunes on vinyl. In her spare time, she does promotional work for Kiss. Cataldo designs collectible concert-souvenir guitar picks for the band and writes copy for Kiss tour books.
The blog, JillCataldo.com, was born upon request.
After her coupon tips appeared in a local newspaper, Cataldo became a regular guest on a Chicago radio show with personality Jonathon Brandmeier, who talked with her weekly about grocery deals. Listeners in their cars during morning drive time couldn't write down the deals and would later call the station asking for information. So the blog started as a way for Cataldo to chronicle the supermarket specials she talked about on air.
"I had no grand designs of becoming a blogger," Cataldo said. "It started because the station was getting bombarded with calls."
Today, the blog has grown into Cataldo's online business card and an outlet for her desire to write about coupons. It's also a high-traffic, money-generating machine. And it's a type of social network.
In just a few years of writing the blog, Cataldo has connected personally with her readers and earned their loyalty. In 2009, her blog readers — complete strangers except for the back-and-forth in email and blog comments — organized a picnic for Cataldo and her family at Castaldo Park in Woodridge. (They liked that the park's name was similar to Cataldo's.) Nearly 100 people showed up as a group thank-you for all she'd taught them about coupons and smart shopping. They came bearing cakes decorated as coupons.
Jill Cataldo, coupon expert
Coupon superstar teaches fans to trim their bottom line but isn't stingy on goodwill
Jill Cataldo teaches a growing legion of fans to trim their bottom line but isn't stingy on goodwill
Coupon specialist Jill Cataldo speaks to a group of consumers in Vernon. (Shaun Sartin/for the Tribune)