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Reader mail: Where's the beef for coupon shoppers?

"I've been Super-Couponing for about four months now, and I am amazed at how many things I'm getting for free. I don't think we will ever have to buy another tube of toothpaste or bottle of shampoo again! I have a question on meats, specifically. How can I save more on these, too?"

Once you've cut your grocery bill significantly with coupons, your attention will likely turn to the area that this reader asks about -- saving on meat. It's true that it's not always easy to find coupons for meats, but they're out there at times. A better way is to pay attention to meat prices.

The best ways to save on meats are to note the 12-week cycle lows. In past columns, I've discussed the grocery store's price cycle, where everything in the store hits its lowest price point once every 12 weeks. This holds true for meats, too! If you watch and pay attention to the meat prices at your store, you will likely notice a range in price for the same cuts and packages. Once you start to learn the highs and lows, you want to buy meats when they're at the low end of that cycle.

My rule of thumb is the $1.99 mark. Any time a meat cycles at or below that price, whether it's beef, poultry, pork or seafood, it's a buy -- simply because that's the cycle low at my local stores. Occasionally, it may dip even lower than that. Chicken breasts sometimes will go on sale as cheaply as $1.69/pound, and fish fillets sometimes go down to $1.29/pound, but if we need a particular kind of meat and it's under $2/pound, it's time to buy.

Then, when that good sale comes around, I'll look for coupons, too. There, indeed, are coupons for meats-- think of the many brand-name manufacturers that package poultry and pork products. Many of these manufacturers' web sites also will have printable coupons, at times, to further reduce the prices of ground turkey, frozen chicken patties, pork chops or similar products.

I also check the wording on coupons for name-brand, pre-packaged deli meats that I see in my newspaper inserts. Many times, these coupons will say something like "$1 off prepackaged turkey slices or 1 pound of deli meat." Many of the same companies that offer packaged meats also sell name-brand meats at the deli counter, and I can enjoy freshly sliced meats at a savings, too.

Your store, itself, may offer meat coupons at times during certain promotions. About three weeks ago, I received a Catalina coupon at the register for beef. It stated "$10 off when you purchase $35 or more of beef at our meat counter." The coupon's expiration date was 30 days out. I kept an eye on the steaks, ground beef and other beef products at this store, but they were all cycling very high. Still, I hung onto that coupon though it seemed unlikely to me that I might use this one before it expired.

Then this week, the store ran a special on steaks. The steaks, formerly $5.50/pound, were on sale for $1.99/pound. That's a buy in my book, though it took 18 pounds of steaks to get over the $35 mark! But my 18 pounds of steak, at $35.82, qualified for me to use that valuable $10 coupon, bringing my total for the steaks down to $25.82 - or $1.43/pound! That's a steal for any meat, especially steaks that were previously priced at more than $5 a pound.

If you're stocking up on meats, just as we stock up on non-perishables, it definitely helps to have a second freezer. Especially with a larger family, I've found my chest freezer to be an invaluable tool for stockpiling meats and frozen goods. I can stock up when great meat sales come around, like the one above. Now, we'll enjoy those steaks for several months, knowing they were purchased at an incredible price!