Consumer gets creative to cope with worsening Indiana economy
Pinching pennies and stretching dollars have become a game for Shelly Ford. She is an extreme couponer. It's not by choice, but because, like many people, a bad economy is forcing her to cut corners to get by.

"I buy everything in coupons," said Ford. "If it's not on sale and I don't have a coupon, then I don't buy it. I can't afford to. I have to save money everywhere I can."

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the average grocery bill has gone up 26 percent since last year. Also hitting consumers hard is the high cost of fuel. IndianaGasPrices.com reports that a year ago, a gallon of unleaded gas cost an average of $2.65. Now, a consumer can expect to pay about $3.45, which is an increase of 80-cents.

Those figures are bad enough on their own, but new information released by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that while the cost of living is going up, the amount of money people are making in Indiana is going down.

Indiana's median household income has dropped for the third straight year, falling to $44,613 in 2010. That's a 3.6 percent decline from 2009, when the average stood at $46,273. Indiana now ranks 36th among the states in terms of average household income.

"It's a real challenge," said IUPUI Economics Department Head Paul Chaplin. "People have to find a way to reprioritize as much as they can in terms of their spending to really focus on the key things they need. No doubt it's tough."

Ford calls tough an understatement, but she's not letting a rough economy get the best of her.

"You can get free coupons from manufacturers if you just email them," she said. "I follow tons of blogs that match up coupons with weekly advertisements from stores. If you are smart, you can wind up paying almost nothing for something."

She's turning her tough financial situation into a fun challenge to see just how much she can save.

"I can go to the store and spend $125 in a week and I come up with anywhere from $300-$425 worth of products."

One positive for consumers, though, is the cost of natural gas has decreased by 6 percent from last year, meaning residential heating bills will likely decline this winter.