By Katie Lannan

MediaNews

LOWELL -- Shayna Carney has a Sunday routine. She starts her day with a trip out for coffee, then picks up two or three coupon-laden newspapers. She'll stop in the store, poring through the inserts to make sure they're all there.

"The guy actually knows when to expect me now," said Carney, a UMass Lowell graduate student who has turned her coupon calculus skills into both a hobby and a source of savings.

Now she's hoping she can use them to make a difference, too.

Carney, 23, won $500 in a radio contest and hopes to use her couponing skills to turn that money into the equivalent of two truck beds full of donations to the House of Hope and the Merrimack Valley Food Bank.

A Pepperell native, Carney learned from her mom about three years ago the tricks to combining store and manufacturer's coupons on top of other sales and discounts to get the most bang for her buck.

So far this year, she's saved around $700 from coupons on her groceries, toiletries and other purchases, and estimates she's spent around $100 to $200.

"That's four new tires on a car, or half of a summer course, or I probably can't even count how many tanks of gas," she said.

Carney hasn't kept track of her personal savings before, but she's started measuring to see how far she can take the $500 she won through 103.3 AMP Radio's "Random AMPs of Kindness" contest.

In her first six days, she spent $27.25 and saved $100.54.

Carney said there's some excitement in watching the savings rack up at the register -- and, at least once, watching a cashier do a double-take -- but that's not the most energizing part.

"I've definitely gotten a bigger rush knowing that these items are going to help a lot of people in the city," she said.

The goods Carney's started to gather include bottles of laundry detergent, which she knocked down to $0.99 each from its $4.49 list price, boxes of rice for $0.69 each, and bottles of organic tomato sauce for $1.99 each.

She looks for grocery stores that offer double-discounts for coupon and buy-one-get-one-free deals, and looks for sales and promotions on items she's already got coupons for.

Carney keeps her coupons, culled from Sunday newspapers and printed from the Internet, in a three-ring binder, organized into tabs by type of product.

She said she spends about an hour a week gathering her coupons.

"I try to keep my focus more on work and school, where it should be," she said.

Some shelves in Carney's student-apartment kitchen are stacked with canned tomatoes and boxes of pasta, but she tries not to go overboard on stockpiling, no matter how good the deal.

"The way I see it, the bedroom is for sleeping, and the kitchen is for food," she said. "Why keep boxes of Hamburger Helper under your bed when you could put shoes there?"

Still, Carney's charitable challenge has her looking out for the next deal.

"Before I go to class today, I'm going to go back and get more of these," she said, gesturing at a box of Reese's Puffs cereal on her kitchen table. "I got a wicked good deal on them."

Track Carney's progress at facebook.com/the500challenge.

Follow Katie Lannan on Twitter and Tout @katielannan.