In previous columns, I've stressed the need to hold on to all of the coupon inserts we receive each week in the newspaper. The biggest mistake that "casual" coupon users make is to cut out the coupons for the items they think they'll buy and then toss the rest of the insert into the recycle bin. As you likely know by now, this is the biggest mistake that people make with coupons. In tossing the insert you throw away coupons for items that will be free later.
I know the skeptics in the crowd are thinking, "Free? Come on..." Yes! Absolutely free. Think about this. During the past few months, in my coupon inserts I've seen $1 coupons for toothpaste, $1 coupons for dish detergent and $1 coupons for frozen vegetables. If I didn't save my inserts each week, I might have thrown away those coupons - and guess what? All of those items have gone on sale for a dollar. When an item goes on sale for a dollar and I use a dollar coupon, the item is free.
If your grocery stores double coupons it's even easier to get things for free, provided again that you've saved all of your coupons. During double-coupon days, your 50-cent coupons are worth $1 toward those dollar sales!
But one of the most important reasons to hold on to all of your coupon inserts is this: Rarely do the coupons that we receive on Sunday line up with the best sales in the same week. Their real value comes as they get closer to their expiration dates.
Why is this the case? Stores know which coupons are coming out in the newspaper each week, long before we actually get them. This is not secret information. In fact, many coupon web sites print preview lists of the coupons that are coming soon. Armed with this knowledge, stores typically leave the items that will be featured in the coupons at a higher price, because they know the habits of most people that use coupons. Casual coupon users flip through the paper and cut the coupons for the things they plan to buy that week. And many people think, "I'd better use this coupon this week before I forget." Does this sound like you? Then, you may be saving a little money, but you're not using your coupons in the most effective way.
Here's a great example. My grocery store recently had a full-page ad in the coupon inserts. The ad contained a $3 coupon for dog food. At the top of the page, the ad proudly proclaimed that the dog food was on sale for $8.99 at my store this week. It said "Use this $3 coupon, and you'll pay just $5.99 a bag."
Now, I know from experience that $8.99 is not a very good sale price for that dog food at all. While it may be "on sale," it's not the rock-bottom, lowest price that I've seen the dog food sell for in past sales. So instead of falling for this common advertising tactic, I held onto that $3 coupon and didn't use it the week that the store wanted me to.
Four weeks later, guess what? The dog food went on sale for $3.99 a bag! That's when I went in with my $3 coupon. I got my dog food for just 99 cents. If I'd purchased it the week I received the coupon, even with the coupon savings I would have paid $5.99 a bag. By waiting a few weeks, I saved $5.
When you start to think about shopping this way for almost everything we buy, the savings start to really add up. And that's why we save all of our coupon inserts. So build a library of your coupon inserts. Keeping them all allows us to have many coupons on hand when those good sales come around.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.