Is it selfish to stock up?

I received lots of feedback from readers concerned about advice I passed on: to maximize savings by purchasing as many sale items as possible with your coupons. Here's one letter:

"In reading your column, I'm concerned that you may be encouraging people to take more than their share. Countless times I've gone to buy a product with a coupon and had to get a rain check. Meanwhile, I have witnessed people buying cases upon cases of the same product. I know people may feel they are just out for themselves and their families, but how greedy can you get?"

It's true that when we buy on a price-based basis, versus a needs-based basis, the items that are on the best sales at the store deplete quickly. So what's a shopper to do? This reader is definitely on the right track by getting a rain check. While it may be a minor inconvenience to have to get a rain check when the store is out of a particular sale item, it can also work to our advantage as shoppers. Most rain checks are good for 30 days.

That's a nice, long time to check back at the store, at your convenience, and pick up sale items when they're back in stock.

You can even use rain checks to "extend the sale" for yourself. During a great sale on dog food, our store was having trouble keeping bags in stock. I bought the last three bags that were on the shelf — and of course, I used my coupons on them. Then, I asked for a rain check for six more bags. Over the next few days, I got in touch with friends and family who also save their coupons, but don't own dogs.

I asked them if I could have their dog food coupons. A week later, I went back to the store and picked up more with the coupons I'd just acquired. The shelves were full again and I was still able to enjoy the sale price because of the rain check.

With regard to this reader's comment that he's seen people buying up every single item in stock during a sale, I do sympathize. I've never been a "shelf-clearer," nor do I advocate being one. I'm certainly aware that at times, if something's a fantastic deal, it's tempting to buy every one of them in sight. And I know there are two schools of thought when it comes to great sales. Either you feel you're "first come, first served" and are entitled to buy whatever you want, or you will buy in moderation and leave some behind for others.

I've found that a third option works well, too: special orders.

Most major grocery stores (drugstores too) order and receive stock every single day. If there's something I want to buy in a larger quantity that might affect how many of a certain item is on the shelves for everyone else, I'll go to the store's service counter and order it. This has two benefits. I'm not clearing the shelf of a product and potentially leaving others frustrated. And I also know that the next day, I will get a phone call letting me know that my items are in.

I can go to the counter, pick up exactly what I need and I won't have to make extra, unnecessary trips to the store to see if my products may finally be back in stock.

Remember, stores want our business. It's usually not a problem at all to special-order products. Most stores are very happy to accommodate their customers.

During a recent sale on bottled water at a local grocery store, so many people in our town were special-ordering water that the service counter at the store had pyramids of water cases sitting behind it, each with a note stuck to the top with the name of the customer who had ordered it.

This is a win-win for the store and the customer. The store knows it has a guaranteed sale to the customer who has ordered the product and the customer is happy too, knowing that they will take home exactly the quantity and products that they'd like. Don't be afraid to try!

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 yo.