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Help! I want to be a 'kosher' couponer - Jill Cataldo

Q: "Feeding our family of nine (yes, we have seven children!) gets quite expensive, so I am an avid reader of yours, determined to reduce our family's grocery bill. Now, here comes the hard part. We are Orthodox Jews, and, therefore, we have many kosher guidelines. Aside from fresh produce, we only eat food that has a kosher symbol on it. Is there any way for us to take advantage of your coupon savings tips while still only buying kosher food?"

A: Any time a household has special dietary needs or guidelines, it does make grocery shopping a little more challenging and time-consuming. You'll spend more time reading labels to make sure the ingredients in the product are suitable to your needs.

You are fortunate in that roughly 30-40 percent of the food found at the supermarket is kosher. Kosher foods and beverages can bear several types of symbols, most commonly a triangle with the letter "K" inside (for Kashrut), a triangle with the letters "CRC" inside (Chicago Rabbinical Council) or a letter "O" with the letter "U" inside (Orthodox Union.)

Many familiar brands have kosher product offerings: Birds Eye, Del Monte, Frito Lay, General Mills, Heinz, Hostess, Kraft, Minute Maid, Mott's, Nabisco, Ocean Spray, Ore-Ida, Tostitos, Pillsbury, Procter & Gamble. The good news? You'll frequently find many coupons for these brands, both in the newspaper coupon inserts and on the Internet. So, your next step is to work on a strategy for saving on these products. Grab a pen, take a moment and jot down a quick list of the kosher brands and products your household uses regularly. When you have a list of core products, work on a stockpiling strategy.

When we stockpile, we purchase enough of an item, when its price is at its lowest point in a store's typical 12-week pricing cycle, to last us from one cycle low to the next. You'll want to stockpile enough when the price is low so that you don't have to buy that product again until you run out ... right around the time that product's price takes another cycle dip.

As you go through your list, mark a quantity next to each product, estimating how much of each item you'll want to buy when the price is low. With the size of your family, I'd guess you already have a pretty good idea how much of any particular item you'll consume in a one-month period.

For example, let's consider a bottle of ketchup. In my house, we go through a bottle every month. Let's say your family consumes three bottles a month. When ketchup is at its lowest point in the price cycle, you'll want to buy nine bottles to get you through the next 12 weeks. Now, if the ketchup regularly sells for $2.49 a bottle, but its sale price dips as low as $1, buying when it is a dollar saves you $1.49 per bottle - a total of $13.41 in savings on this product alone.

And don't forget the coupons! You'll want to use as many coupons as you have for each product when those good sales come around. It always helps to have as many coupons as possible, of course, and with your large family, you might consider getting an extra newspaper or two each week, simply to double or triple the numbers and kinds of coupons available to work with.

Finally, keep that core product list. Each day, take a few minutes to e-mail three of the companies on your list via their web sites. Thank them for offering kosher products for your family, and ask if they could send you some coupons. (You may be surprised how well this works. Companies tend to be generous with coupons, especially when you compliment their products!)

For a full listing of kosher-certified brands and products, visit the following web sites: www.trianglek.org, www.crcweb.org and www.oukosher.org.

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.supercouponing.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.