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Why smart couponers clip judiciously

Knowing the best ways to use coupons and match them to low-priced sales gives shoppers a huge advantage compared to paying full price at the grocery store. Stocking up when items are at very low prices is, of course, another factor in saving big on the items we buy often.

So what's the third component to Super-Couponing success?

For me, it's organizing and using my coupons as efficiently as possible. The newspaper may contain 40 or more coupons each week. That's a lot of paper to potentially manage. And truthfully, I do not want to cut all of those coupons out then keep track of lots of little, loose pieces of paper, sorting them by product type and category and watching expiration dates. That can quickly become a job in itself!

Instead, I've become a big fan of a "clipless" system for handling coupon inserts, called clipless because, well, it means you will clip less. Instead of cutting each coupon out, I save the entire insert each week. I store the inserts in an accordion file, which can be found in any store that carries office supplies. I place the current month's coupon inserts in the front pocket of the file and the previous month's in the next divider, and so on. There are many weeks when I don't even flip through the insert when it arrives, I simply stick it in the file so I know where it is.

The important thing is to keep all of the inserts together in one place, so that you have all of your coupons on hand when it's time to plan shopping trips.

Another nice thing about this method is that it ensures you keep all of your coupons, not just the ones that you think you'll use. It eliminates the "beginner mistake" of cutting just the coupons you think you'll use and then throwing the rest of the coupon insert away. Super-Couponers know that discarding the "unnecessary" coupons means that you'll also throw away coupons for items that will be free later.

Now, if frozen peas go on sale for $1, you know that the $1 coupon for the peas offered in last month's paper is still on hand, waiting for you to cut it out and go get some free veggies. Keeping all of the inserts intact and storing them together is the first step in this process.

Then, when I am ready to plan this week's shopping trips, I turn to the Internet to help me determine which coupons to clip. There are many coupon web sites that will actually give a list of every item currently on sale in your area grocery store and match the coupons to the sales for you. Each of these sites operates on the understanding that you have saved all of your coupon inserts. The site tells you exactly which insert the coupon you need for a particular item appears in. An example? A site may say "Spreadable butter is on sale for $1.69. Use the $1.25 coupon from 11/16 SS and take it home for 44 cents."

The reference to "11/16 SS" tells an informed shopper exactly which coupon insert the coupon appears in -- in this case, the Nov. 16 edition of the SmartSource coupon insert. If you look at your coupon inserts, you'll notice that each one has a name at the top. These web sites will tell you exactly which insert your coupon appears in by date and name. You then simply pull that insert from your file, clip just the coupon you need and replace the insert in the file for later use.

On my web site, www.supercouponing.com, I've got a link on the home page called "Getting Started." This section of my site illustrates the method in more detail and contains links to many popular coupon web sites that will help you plan shopping trips with ease.

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.