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Beyond stacking: Multi-stack to magnify savings

In previous columns, I've discussed coupon stacking at great length. It's one of the easiest ways not only to reduce the cost of items we're buying but also to get items for free.

Many stores allow shoppers to stack one store coupon and one manufacturer coupon together, which gives us an even deeper discount on the same item. Just a few days ago I purchased a $2.50 tube of toothpaste. I used a $1.50 manufacturer coupon for the toothpaste and I added to it a $1 store-issued coupon for the same toothpaste.

With a total of $2.50 in coupon value, the toothpaste was free. And free is, of course, my favorite price to pay.

Store coupons are offered in different formats, so it's important to note which kinds your stores offer. Do some research. Many stores print their store coupons in a weekly flyer. Others offer printable coupons on the store's web site. Still others offer store coupons electronically. These electronic coupons can be loaded to your shopper's card and stacked with manufacturer coupons for additional savings.

Now, when we combine coupon stacking with other deals running at the store at the same time, our savings increase even more. What's better than stacking? Multi-stacking! When we multi-stack at the store, we use both store and manufacturer coupons and take advantage of additional money-back deals involved. These additional deals typically offer instant savings at the register or a money-back coupon (commonly called a Catalina) that prints at the register for savings on a subsequent shopping trip.

Here's an example. One of my stores recently advertised a sale offering a Catalina coupon good for $5 off your next shopping trip if you purchased any two items in the flyer. When I see an advertisement like this, I immediately look for the items that are going to be the best deals -- typically, the items for which I already have both store and manufacturer coupons.

During this particular sale, the store had triple-packs of baby wipes on sale for $5.99. Buying two items in the promotion will earn me a $5 coupon for my next shopping trip. To keep track of my savings, I always figure that $5 savings into my current shopping trip. I may pay that $5 out-of-pocket at the register to buy these items today but I get it right back in the form of a Catalina good for $5 off my next shopping trip.

So, buying two packages of wipes costs $11.98 but I'll get $5 of that back at checkout. That essentially brings the cost of the two packages of wipes down to $6.98 for two packages.

To bring the price down further, we're going to stack coupons here, too. I had a manufacturer coupon for $2 off two packages of wipes. The wipes were also on my electronic store coupons for $1.50 off each package. So, stacking these coupons together yields another $5 in savings.

After coupons, I paid $6.98 for the two triple-packs of baby wipes and I received the $5 Catalina coupon at the register. Since I got $5 of my original $6.98 back, the end cost of these two items was just $1.98. Triple-packs of baby wipes at less than a dollar a package? That's a great price -- made possible by multi-stacking. Consider that each triple-pack started out at $5.99 before all of these discounts were put together.

Any time I see sales at the supermarket that involve money-back promotions, I always look for both store and manufacturer coupons to help reduce the final price I pay even further. In the weeks ahead, I'll show you more examples of multi-stacking and explain how to make the most out of these promotions.

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.