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Do the math: Stacking coupons adds savings

I'm often asked how many coupons we can use on a single item. To answer this, you need to note the difference between manufacturer coupons and store coupons.

Manufacturer coupons always have the words "Manufacturer Coupon" printed on them. Regardless of whether a store's name or logo is also on a coupon, if those words appear on it, it's a manufacturer coupon. Store coupons will have the words "Store Coupon," or "Retailer Coupon" on them, and the name of the issuing store will also appear on the coupon.

Many stores allow us to "stack" coupons, using one manufacturer coupon and one store coupon on the same item. This gives us an even larger discount on that particular product. But in order to successfully stack, it's important to make sure you are only using one store and one manufacturer coupon -- not two manufacturer coupons.

We can only use one manufacturer coupon per item. The register will never accept more than one manufacturer coupon on the same item; this would be considered coupon fraud.

In my coupon classes, it's a common misconception that you can stack one Internet-printed coupon with a coupon from the newspaper inserts, but this is rarely the case. Most coupons available on the Internet for printing out are manufacturer coupons, so double-check the wording.

If you have a coupon you printed out and a newspaper coupon for the same item, and both state "Manufacturer Coupon," you'll either have to choose which coupon you want to use or buy two of that item in order to use both coupons on a given shopping trip.

As long as you note the differences in the coupons and play by the rules, though, you can definitely multi-stack deals. The goal? To maximize the number of items you take home while minimizing what's coming out of your pocket to do so. To help you understand the way I will break down a sale, I'll share with you one of my recent deals involving multi-stacking.

An area grocery store had a sale on pork ribs, which were $6.99 a slab, or $12.98 for two. When I spot a good sale, I'll always look for coupons to see if I can bring the price down even more. A common misconception many people have is that there aren't coupons for meats, but there are -- you just need to look in the right places.

Since these ribs were labeled under the store's house brand, I went to the store's web site to see if the store itself was offering any coupons for them. Many chain grocery stores offer coupons on their web sites. In this case, the store offered a printable store coupon for $2 off a slab of house-brand ribs. Because most Internet coupons have a print limit of two, I printed two of them. Now my two slabs of ribs were $8.98.

I wanted to get a bag of charcoal to grill those ribs with. It was $7.99. The store's weekly flyer had a $2 store coupon for the charcoal, bringing the price down to $5.99. I browsed the web site of the charcoal company and found a valuable manufacturer coupon there, too: $6 off pork when you buy a bag of charcoal plus a bottle of barbecue sauce. This was a valuable coupon!

Adding the bag of charcoal to my bill brought my total to $14.97, but the coupon took another $6 off the ribs. Now my total for both was $8.97 -- a penny less than it would have been had I bought ribs alone. But I still needed to buy a bottle of barbecue sauce in order to qualify to use the charcoal site's coupon. So I did. I bought a $2 bottle of name-brand barbecue sauce, because I had a great coupon from my newspaper inserts: "FREE barbecue sauce with purchase of charcoal."

Buying the sauce added $2 to my total ... and the coupon took that $2 right back off.

Now, my end total for two slabs of ribs, an 18-pound bag of charcoal and a bottle of barbecue sauce was $8.97. This is a great example of multi-stacking. A lot of coupons were involved, but I never used more than one manufacturer coupon on the same item.

Remember, as long as you do not exceed more than one manufacturer coupon on the same item, you can use a manufacturer coupon for every single item in your shopping cart ... and I often do.

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.