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Reader mail: Where do all those coupons come from?

Q: "I have been following your column, and a lot of what you have discussed I have implemented. You often talk about the number of coupons you use. Where and how are you obtaining so many duplicate coupons? I know I can print out multiple copies online from some of the coupon web sites."

A: There are a few reasons I have a good amount of coupons available to me when a good sale comes along. I save all of my newspaper coupon inserts in their entirety each week. Many coupons often repeat every few weeks or months, especially for common items like cereal, bread, juice and personal-care products. One of the most common myths about coupons is that they all expire quickly. But the truth is that most of them have, on average, a three-month window for redemption; others may not expire for nine months or more.

When a sale comes along, I usually have multiple coupons for a single item simply because I've saved all of my inserts. When the item goes on sale, I may be using coupons from several different "appearances" of that coupon in the inserts. Some may be several weeks old while others may be months old or even older. I will save my coupon inserts until everything inside expires. Doing this, it's possible to build what amounts to a library of coupons at our disposal. Then, when we need them, those coupons are waiting to be looked up, cut out and used.

As you mentioned, most printable Internet coupons do allow multiple prints of the same coupon. The average print limit is two per computer, but I will always try to click the "back" button in my web browser and print again until I receive the message that the print limit for the coupon has been reached. It's important to do this because companies do offer higher print limits at times.

I can recall a major cereal manufacturer that offered $1 coupons with a print limit of 14! That was a high limit and it allowed me to really stock up on that item at a low price because I had so many coupons.

Along the same lines, having as many coupons as possible definitely helps. People often ask how many newspapers I get. I currently have two different newspapers delivered on Sunday, a smaller, local paper and our big Chicago newspaper, because the coupon inserts in the two newspapers are different. In some areas, papers may offer "double inserts" for a very low rate. You might also see if your local newspaper offers a reduced rate to get a second, identical newspaper delivered on the day the coupons appear. I did this recently after numerous people in my Super-Couponing classes told me that they were able to add a second copy of the large, Sunday newspaper to their existing subscription for just 50 cents a week. Fifty cents is a small price to pay for double the coupons.

On a good day, a coupon insert may contain $75 worth of coupons or more.

If you go through your coupon inserts when they arrive, take note of any high-value coupons. We've recently seen $5 and $10 dog food coupons in the inserts. If your dog eats that variety of food, it may well be worth spending a dollar or two to pick up a second copy at the newsstand that week, just to get another copy of that high-value coupon. And you'll have doubles of all the other coupons, too.

Lastly … get creative. I have a friend who treats herself to a cappuccino on Sunday afternoons at her favorite coffeehouse shortly after lunchtime, and offers to "clean up" the restaurant each week for them. She then takes home all the Sunday papers (and coupons) that numerous patrons have left behind. One person's trash may very well be your means to a lower grocery bill.

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.