Couponing's best-kept secrets: Get two for the price of none

Last week, I shared one of the best-kept secrets of couponing: holding on to coupons for "One Free Item" and pairing them with a "Buy One, Get One Free" (BOGO) sale at the store. Any time you match a coupon for a free product to a store's sale, in which that same product is on sale BOGO, you take home two free items instead of one. And what's better than getting one product free? Getting two for free, of course!

This brings us to this week's best-kept coupon secret ... and if you liked last week's secret, you're going to love this:

Secret #2: "Buy One, Get One Free" coupons

When you use a BOGO coupon during a sale in which the same items are also part of a BOGO sale at the store, you will buy none -- and get two for free!

This one can be a little difficult to understand at first, so I will break it down using an actual example from a recent sale. My store had a certain brand of shampoo on sale BOGO in their weekly flier. This shampoo is regularly $4.99 a bottle. During this sale, a shopper will pay $4.99 for the first bottle and get the second bottle free. If I gave the store $4.99 in cash, how many bottles of shampoo would I take home? Two.

Here's where the fun begins. I've also got a coupon from the newspaper that states "Buy One [this brand] shampoo, Get One Free." In the fine print on the coupon, it states that when my store redeems this coupon for reimbursement, they will receive the price of the shampoo, "up to $4.99 in value."

Did you catch that? Without even paying attention to the BOGO wording on the coupon, instead look at the value. It's worth $4.99! Giving this coupon to the cashier is just like giving them $4.99 in cash. And with the shampoo on sale for $4.99 BOGO, I can take two bottles to the register and "pay" for them with my $4.99-value coupon. I've "purchased" none and take home two for free.

In my coupon classes, this topic tends to raise a lot of questions. Of course, audiences get very excited when they learn another easy way to get things for free! But some people get tripped up a little bit with over-thinking these coupons.

In one class, someone spoke up and felt they should get four bottles for free, because the shampoo is already on sale BOGO at the store, and the coupon states "Buy One Shampoo, Get One Free." But it doesn't work that way (and the store cashier will take issue with that incorrect viewpoint, too!)

Truly, the BOGO wording on the coupon is irrelevant when you are using the coupon during a sale in which those items are already BOGO at the store. What we as shoppers are looking at is the actual value of the coupon. Because the coupon has a value of $4.99, it's just like handing the store that same amount in cash.

I've touched on this in previous columns, and it's important to mention it again. Think of your coupons as cash, because they are! They represent money to you and to your store. And when you start thinking of them as cash, it helps you visualize why you can "buy" items that will ultimately be free with a coupon.

Next week, I've got yet another coupon secret to share, and it, too, involves BOGO sales.

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.