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Couponing's best-kept secrets:
Big stores, bigger discounts

In the past couple of months, I've shared some of the best and most exciting Super-Couponing secrets with you. This week, I have another. Like some of my previous tips, this one may challenge your assumptions about getting the best possible price when you shop.

Super-Couponing Secret: Shopping at the "more expensive" stores may save you more money!

In many areas, shoppers have several grocery stores to choose from. The same area may have smaller grocery markets, discount grocers that offer "everyday low prices" and large-scale, major-chain supermarkets. Many people tend to consider large supermarkets to be more expensive than their low-price, themed counterparts. This is a reputation that the large supermarkets typically don't deserve, as they can be some of the best places to save big.

Consider this point: Grocery stores that offer "everyday low prices" definitely have prices that are not too high. But prices here are also usually not too low, either. These stores offer the same prices on items week to week, with few to no sales. By contrast, the larger supermarkets offer "high/low" prices. On any given day, it's true that about half the items' prices will be higher at the supermarket than at an "everyday low price" store. But prices on the other half of the items will be lower. Those are the items that Super-Couponers watch for price drops on. When the prices take a big dip, that's when we can move in with our coupons and bring the price down even more.

This is an advantage supermarkets can have over other stores. During a typical 12-week-sales cycle at a supermarket, the price of any particular item will fluctuate from high to low. But just once during that time does the price hit its lowest low. We call this the "12-week-low." This is the lowest price that item will appear at during the price cycle.

Why is it a good idea to watch for these 12-week-lows? That 12-week-low price is typically 50 percent lower than the regular shelf price. Any time we're able to buy something for half the original price, even without a coupon, it's time to buy it! Of course, we also want to use coupons at that point to bring the price down even more. With coupons, we can often save 70 percent or more off the original price.

Here's an example. A box of granola bars is usually $3.29 at my large supermarket. The same brand of granola bars is $2.99 at an "every-day low price" grocery in town. The grocery store doesn't change or cycle its prices; the granola bars are $2.99 every single day. But at the supermarket, the granola bars will go on sale numerous times over the next 12 weeks. Some weeks the bars will be the full $3.29, but other weeks the price will be lower... and lower still. I watched the bars over several weeks and saw them go on sale for $2.99, and $2.49 and $1.99. But one week, the bars dropped again, to "2 for $3," or $1.50 a box.

During this entire time, I was holding onto a $1 coupon for the granola bars. When the bars hit $1.50, they were now on sale for less than half their original price. I used my $1 coupon and took the box home for 50 cents. If I had purchased the granola bars at the "every-day low price" store with my $1 coupon, I would still have paid $1.99 a box. But I picked them up for a quarter of that price ... at the larger, so-called "more expensive" supermarket!

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.