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Coupon victories: The best things in life are free! - Jill Cataldo

Q: "I have to confess, I was never a coupon shopper. I have been reading your column for months and marveling at your stories of savings. I finally decided about three months ago to really try to do this. I got your Super-Couponing class DVD and started saving all of my coupon newspaper inserts. Since that time, I have to say I am amazed. You have made it so easy to save. I never thought about good and bad times to buy things at the store, and I am driving my husband crazy with all the free products I am bringing home. Just this week, I got a bottle of body wash that was $3.99. With a $4 coupon, it was free! Would you share some of the things you never pay for?"

A: The best things in life are free - and if you're a good coupon shopper, you'll bring home lots of them! The key is waiting to use your coupons at the "right" time. The regular price on that body wash was probably $5.49. While your $4 coupon would have gotten you an OK deal on it, free is a much better price.

When I first became a coupon shopper, I was thrilled when I saw dish soap on sale for $1.50. I had two $1 coupons and brought them home for 50 cents each. A few weeks later, the dish soap went on sale again ... for $1 a bottle. I mentally kicked myself a little when I realized that I could have gotten that detergent free had I waited for the price to drop further. I quickly learned that for every OK deal, a great deal is often right around the corner.

What kind of products should one never pay for? Personal care products lead the list. National drugstore chains routinely offer sales on these products, and a smart shopper can pick them up for free after coupons and instant-savings or Catalina deals. While I don't chase deals or routinely shop several stores in a given week, I always visit one drugstore in addition to a supermarket, because I don't want to miss out on any great pharmacy sales.

Here's a partial list of products I frequently get free with coupons: adhesive bandages, air freshener, baby wipes, bagged salad, batteries, body wash, bottled water, brownie mix, candy, cereal, cleaning products, crackers, dental floss, deodorant, dish soap, dishwasher detergent, gum, feminine hygiene products, fruit snacks, hot cocoa mix, ice cream, laundry detergent, lip balm, liquid pump soap, lotion, makeup, microwave popcorn, mouthwash, over-the-counter cold and pain medications, pet food, pet treats, powdered drink mixes, razors, salad dressing, scented candles, shampoo, shaving gel, soup, sunscreen, toaster pastries, toothbrushes, toothpaste, vitamins, yogurt.

Knocking all of these non-food items out of my budget with coupons frees money to buy groceries - and I'll further stretch those dollars at the supermarket by using coupons, of course.

Q: "Jill, is there anything you won't buy? After Super-Couponing for a while, I have to imagine you have more free toothpaste than you can use. I know I do!"

A: Yes, there are quite a few tubes of toothpaste at my house. But my big family also goes through quite a bit of it. My rule of thumb is this: if it's free with a coupon, no matter what it is, it comes home with me! If it's not something my household needs, I pass it on to our local food pantry.

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.