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Best-kept secrets: Do you know your limits?

I'm sure everyone has seen a sale like this. The grocery store will offer a great, bargain price on an item, the kind of item you might like to buy quite a few of at a time. But then, the store's advertisement says, in small print, "Limit 4."

If you've been reading this column for a while and saving all of your weekly coupon inserts, it's likely that you have accumulated multiple coupons for the same item. For this example, assume you've been watching your store's sale flyers and waiting for yogurt cups to go on sale. Finally, there they are, four for $1, a great price! But then, of course, you're disappointed to note that you can only buy four cups of yogurt. Time for the fourth, best-kept couponing "secret":

Secret #4: How to "Unlimit" Purchase Limits.

At most stores, when a sale item is advertised "limit 4," it does not refer to the number of total items of that type, but, rather, the variety of each item. With the yogurt example, above, you would not be limited to four cups of yogurt. You'd be limited to four vanilla, four peach, four blueberry, four banana and so on.

How does this work? When purchase limits are put into place for a sale, most stores set the register to limit four scans at the sale price on the bar code of that product. But each variety of a product has its own unique bar code. So, while the advertisement may lead us to believe that we can buy just four yogurt cups, we can actually buy four of each flavor. If 12-packs of soda are on sale "limit 5," we can buy five 12-packs of each variety of soda.

As long as you don't exceed the purchase limit on each flavor, type, or variety of an item you can essentially take home as many of that item as you want or need that day -- and in turn, buy as many as you have coupons for. It's a great way to beat the pricing game, too, because sales with purchase limits typically offer an item at a low price in the store's pricing cycle, too. When the price hits that low, it's the right time to buy as many as you will need or use until the price drops again.

So, let's see how this sale could work in my favor. Because I've saved my coupon inserts, I have six coupons for 50 cents off four cups of yogurt. I'm not limited to just buying four cups; I'll buy 24 today! 24 yogurt cups may seem like a lot to buy at one time, but in comparing the expiration dates with the amount of yogurt our household will likely consume over the next month, I know that our family of five will eat it long before it expires. I buy 4 cups of each flavor that I want, never exceeding the purchase limit of four for any of the flavors. And wait until you see what I pay.

With a 50-cent coupon for each four I buy, my yogurt now costs me just $3 for 24 cups, or just 12.5 cents each! That's a fantastic price for yogurt cups. By waiting to use my yogurt coupons until yogurt was deeply discounted, I saved even more.

I've mentioned this before, but the grocery stores in my neighborhood do not double coupons. But around the country, many stores do. Imagine if I were shopping in a store that doubled coupons! each 50-cent coupon would double to $1 in value and all the yogurt would be free. Now that's super-couponing!

Jill Cataldo, a coupon-workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her web site, www.super-couponing.com. E-mail your couponing coups and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.