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'Super' debate: Do everyday low prices beat couponing

Last week I touched on a topic that's of intense interest among my Super-Couponing students: Where do shoppers get the best deal, at a supermarket or a supercenter?

The former has a reputation among most shoppers for being "more expensive;" the latter is widely considered to be the better value due to its "everyday low pricing." But savvy shoppers know that the sale prices of the supermarket almost always beat the everyday prices of the supercenter.

To test the idea, I recently took a field trip, of sorts, and compared prices on more than 20 common items at both types of stores. Here's a sample of the price differences I found on six popular, name-brand products at an "everyday low price" supercenter (ELP) and at a supermarket (SM).

• Single-serve fruit cup: $1.97 ELP / $1.50 SM

• Half-gallon organic milk: $3.50 ELP / $3.99 SM

• Frozen pizza: $4.75 ELP / $4.99 SM

• Dishwasher detergent tablets: $4.26 ELP / $3.99 SM

• Four-pound bag of dog food: $6.97 ELP / $4.99 SM

• Juice pouches: $1.98 ELP / $1.49 SM

I found that the everyday, low prices at the supercenter were higher, in most cases, than the prices for the same products at the supermarket. Many shoppers believe that using coupons to buy products at the supercenter with its everyday, low pricing will save them as much, if not more, than watching for sales at a supermarket and using coupons there. This is just not the case. As you will see, on my shopping trip I bought milk and pizza at the supermarket and paid significantly less for them than I would have paid at the supercenter using the same coupons. Let me walk you through the numbers.

During my comparison-shopping trip, the supermarket was running an additional promotion. If you spent $30 on featured items, you received a coupon at checkout good for $10 off your next shopping trip. So, a third of my supermarket expenditure would be returned to me in the form of a Catalina coupon printed out at the register. That coupon is just like a ten-dollar bill that I can use the next time I shop at the store.

Now, considering that a third of what I pay is coming back to me, the comparison really gets interesting. Here's what the prices on my individual purchases at the supermarket now look like with the Catalina savings figured in:

• Fruit cup: $1.97 ELP / 99 cents SM

• Organic milk: $3.50 ELP / $2.63 SM

• Frozen pizza: $4.75 ELP / $3.29 SM

• Dishwasher tablets: $4.26 ELP / $2.63 SM

• Dog food: $6.97 ELP / $3.29 SM

• Juice pouches: $1.98 ELP / 98 cents SM

Notice that the prices of the milk and pizza, originally more expensive at the supermarket, have now dipped well below the supercenter's prices. And, we haven't added in savings from our coupons yet! Here are the coupons I used with these items, along with the post-coupon prices at both stores:

• $1 coupon for fruit cup. After coupon: 97 cents ELP / - 1 cent SM

• 55-cent coupon for organic milk: $2.95 ELP / $2.08 SM

• $3 coupon for frozen pizza: $1.75 ELP / 29 cents SM

• $2.50 coupon for dishwasher tablets: $1.76 ELP / 13 cents SM

• $3 coupon for dog food: $3.97 ELP / 29 cents SM

• $1 coupon for juice pouches: 98 cents ELP / - 2 cents SM

At the supermarket, I ended up paying significantly less than if I had used my coupons to purchase the same items at the supercenter. Both the fruit cup and the juice pouches were not only free after the coupon, but the store paid me a few cents in overage to take them home. And, I certainly couldn't have taken a frozen pizza or a bag of dog food home for less than 30 cents each at a supercenter.

By the end of my shopping trip, the difference between the prices in both items was incredible. The total cost of the 21 products I purchased at the supermarket was $13.13. At the supercenter, the same products would have cost me $42.58, even with the same coupons. I've got the full list of items on my coupon blog, www.jillcataldo.com, under the heading "Supermarket vs. Supercenter" if you'd like to see the rest of the items I purchased during this shopping trip.

A supermarket's sale prices will typically beat the everyday, low prices of a supercenter and if the store is running a money-back promotion on top of the sale, you can cut your bill even further. I saved about 69 percent over the supercenter's prices on the same items during this promotion.

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 yo.