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Reader mail: Can I save more with store brands?

It's time again to answer reader mail from people like you who are learning to Super-Coupon:

Q: "I've been reading your columns with great interest. Prices seem so high right now in the grocery store. If I just buy the store brand of products, won't I save more money than using coupons on the big brands?"

A: This is a common misconception among new coupon shoppers. It's true that when you compare the shelf price of store brands with the price of name-brand products, the store brands often appear to save us more money. But with rare exceptions, we can almost always buy the name-brand products that we like and prefer - with coupons - at an even better price than the store brand.

Why is this? Quite simply, there are many more coupons and discounts available for name-brand products than for store-brand products. If you look at your coupon inserts from the newspaper and the wide variety of coupons available on the Internet, you'll quickly notice that there are typically no coupons for store-brand items.

Large, brand-name product manufacturers work very hard to encourage us to try their products. They feature their brands and products in the coupon inserts, offering shoppers significant discounts to try them. Many times, it's also possible to find store coupons for the same products. If we stack a store and manufacturer coupon together, we're reaching an even larger savings on the brand-name item than we could by simply purchasing the store brand at its regular, low price.

As with all things, there are always exceptions. If your store happens to offer coupons for its own brands, that's a great way to save. Here's a perfect example. Recently, my store had coupon dispensers set up in the aisle offering $1 coupons for "any [store-brand] paper product." During this sale, store-brand rolls of paper towels, boxes of facial tissue and packages of the napkins were all on sale for $1. Now, if you're a regular reader of my column, you know that using a $1 coupon on a $1 sale is one of my favorite ways to get things for free!

Speaking of coupon dispensers, our next question this week pertains to them.

Q: "I often see coupon machines on the shelves of the grocery store, but the coupons in them aren't usually for things on sale. Is there a strategy for getting good discounts with these?"

A: Absolutely! You're right in noticing that most of the time, the coupons in the store's coupon dispensers don't link up to the best sales in the store. That's also true of the coupons we receive in the newspaper each week. Their greatest value comes when the price of the featured item takes a big dip. I regularly "shop" the coupon dispensers in my stores. If I see coupons for an item I like, I will take a few to hold onto until the sale price drops.

About six weeks ago, my store's coupon dispenser offered $2 coupons for turkey bacon. But the turkey bacon was on sale for $4.99, a relatively high price. I took a few coupons from the dispenser and held onto them for four weeks ... when the price of the turkey bacon went down to $2.99.

Now, I took home turkey bacon for 99 cents a package. If I had used those coupons the week I found them in the dispenser, though, I would still have paid $2.99 a package - three times the price.

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.