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Packrats, unite: Stockpile for greater savings

Q: "I recently read one of your columns about stockpiling and would like to know more. More on stockpiling, please!"

A: You got it! While my column is titled "The Coupon Queen," it's no secret that I am also a queen of stockpiling. Stockpiling and couponing go hand in hand. Stockpiling is crucial to saving big on groceries. Smart stockpilers follow three rules:

* They wait to buy a product until the price hits its lowest point in a typical grocery store's 12-week pricing cycle.

* They buy a little more than their household needs at the immediate moment.

* And they use all available coupons to reduce the price of the items they purchase to stockpile.

On many products, grocery stores and supermarkets rotate through a range of prices in a fairly predictable pattern. During each 12-week period, the price of an item will reach a high point and a low point. Most of the time, the price of a given product fluctuates somewhere in between.

Shoppers intent on saving the most money on items they purchase regularly will only buy products that they need when the price hits the lowest point in the cycle. Then the second element of the strategy comes into play: buying more than the household needs at the immediate moment. When the price of an item is at its lowest point in the cycle, we know that the product won't be this inexpensive again for almost three months' time. For the biggest savings, a smart shopper must buy about what the household will consume during the next 12 weeks.

Volume purchasing when the price of an item is at its lowest is key. Even shoppers who use no coupons but who stockpile groceries, cleaning products and personal care items can easily cut their grocery bills 30-40 percent or more annually.

To help illustrate this, let me tell you about a sale on crackers that I recently enjoyed. A popular brand of crackers was on sale for 99 cents a box, definitely the lowest price I'd seen in the current price cycle. Normally, the crackers' sale price hovers around $2.49 a box. The regular, non-sale price? $3.29 a box.

The expiration date on the crackers was four months away, so I felt comfortable buying 15 boxes, knowing our family enjoys these and would likely consume a box a week. At 99 cents a box, 15 boxes cost $14.85. Had I not stockpiled them and instead simply purchased one box each week, paying whatever price the crackers happened to be selling for, I would pay much more over time. This week's crackers would cost 99 cents, but I'd pay about $2.49 a box during most other weeks and as much as $3.29 one week during the cycle. That would put my total expenditure for 15 boxes of crackers at $36.65, more than double what I spent buying all 15 boxes during the rock-bottom sale. Without any coupons at all, I saved almost 60 percent on the price of the crackers and I won't have to buy crackers again for more than three months.

Now, let's not forget the third element: using all available coupons on products when the prices hit their lowest point! During this cracker sale, I had three $1 coupons and six coupons that offered $1 off for the purchase of two boxes of the crackers. The dollar coupons made three boxes totally free; the six other coupons dropped the remaining boxes into the 50-cent range. My end total was just $5.85 for 15 boxes of crackers, a total savings of 84 percent of the price of purchasing one box each week!

Now, stockpiling does require a little space to create your own "store at home." I devote a corner of my basement to stockpiling. While it does not take up a large amount of square footage, it does look like a small-scale supermarket, with shelves lined with cereal, juices, pasta, canned and jarred foods, as well as toothpaste, shampoo, cleaning products and more. I purchased all of these during periods when the price of an item was at its lowest point and used coupons to cut the price even more. Now when we need another box of cereal, jar of pasta sauce or bottle of shampoo, instead of running to the store and paying whatever the price of the item happens to be, we go downstairs and "shop" for what we need.

Next week, we'll discuss more stockpiling tips and tricks.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.