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Reader mail: Keeping close tabs on coupons

When it comes to their grocery bills, many readers are serious about saving the most possible money. Those who pay close attention to coupons start to notice some very interesting things. Listen in.

Q: "I've been using coupons more thanks to your column. I have noticed that anytime there is a holiday, even seemingly minor ones, we don't get any coupon inserts in the paper that week! What gives?"

A: You're absolutely right — and kudos for being so observant about when coupons arrive. Most weeks I run out to my driveway in bare feet and pajamas to collect my coupons when the newspaper arrives. However, during weeks in which we've just had a holiday, I know I can get the paper at a more leisurely pace.

Why don't we get any coupons around holidays? It's simple, really — we don't get coupons around holidays because of … leftovers. Now, I know I have some gigglers and skeptics reading, but it's true. Let me explain.

Think about what happens before most holidays, whether it's a major holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas, or even seemingly minor holidays like Labor Day and Memorial Day. What do we do in preparation for the holiday?

We buy food. We typically buy quite a bit of food. We may be entertaining for family or friends or perhaps just for our own household, but statistically, shoppers buy a great deal of groceries in the days leading up to a holiday.

Then, after the holiday passes, we eat leftovers. Why waste food? If your family's like mine, you tend to eat what's left in the fridge after big holiday feasts.

No matter what part of the country you live in, sales take a big dip at the grocery store after a holiday. Manufacturers have concluded it's not worth their while to put coupon inserts in the newspaper during the week after a holiday because of the way most people use their coupons. Statistically, most people cut and use coupons the week they receive them and toss the rest of the insert in the recycle bin. It's just economics. Manufacturers don't want to pay for something that won't be used.

Of course, if you're a Super-Couponer, you know we do things a little differently. We save all of the coupon inserts each week, because we know the coupons inside don't necessarily line up to the best sales in the stores the week we receive them. And, in saving all of our inserts, we will have coupons available to us every week, even the "non-coupon" weeks after holidays.

Q: "We took a trip a few weeks ago to the city and our hotel had a complimentary copy of the city newspaper in our room. I was surprised to see how different the coupons were compared to my local newspaper at home. Of course, all those coupons went home with me! Do different papers always have different coupons?"

A: This is true all over the country. The larger newspapers serving a given market area will tend to offer coupons that are different from the ones from smaller, local newspapers. The coupon assortments may differ even in coupon inserts that have the same cover and name on the front. This certainly isn't the "fault" of either the larger or smaller newspapers, but rather has to do with the way the coupon inserts are marketed.

If a manufacturer wishes to run a certain coupon campaign, it may target a specific local area or it may wish to reach a wider base of readers. Coupons appear where big marketers want them to appear.

Sometimes, two newspapers in the same area may have coupons for the same product in the same week — but the values on the coupons may be different. Recently, I saw two ads in the coupon inserts for baby food. One had a $1 coupon good for three jars of baby food. The other coupon offered "One free jar" of the same brand of baby food. The ads were strikingly similar, yet the coupons were very different.

I love coupons (no surprise to you at this point, I'm sure!) and I like to maximize the number and kind of coupons I have available to me, so I subscribe to two papers on Sundays, the day coupons typically run where I live. I receive my local paper every day of the week and on Sundays, when the coupons appear in the larger, city newspaper, I receive that, too. It's a small price to pay for double the coupons and double the savings.

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.