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Inside story behind miraculous savings seen on TV - Jill Cataldo

Last week, a reader questioned how a shopper could have "their entire grocery bill paid by the use of coupons." Certainly, if you're a good coupon shopper, you can coupon a double-or triple-digit grocery bill down to a few dollars and change! But how do the pros do it?

I've been fortunate to appear in a number of TV news segments that demonstrate the great deals shoppers can get when they use coupons well. In March, ABC's "Nightline" pitted me against another shopper to see who could save the most in a single shopping trip. I'm about to spill some of the secrets behind those great shopping trips you see on TV, so you, too, can reap the big savings.

Match high-value coupons to low sale prices.

Any time I'm asked to do a TV-shopping segment, the network typically wants to show extremes - a high bill reduced to an almost unbelievable low total. I approach this sort of shopping trip not necessarily looking for what I want or need to buy, but what will deliver the best "bang for the buck" - or the coupon! I look for any item where I can match high-value coupons to a great sale. Shampoo on sale for $2.99 with a $3 coupon? It's free and it goes on my list. I will buy any product that will be free with a coupon, regardless of what it is, because it will inflate the pre-coupon total, yet I won't pay for those items.

Use multiple coupons for the same items.

Because I have two newspapers delivered each week, I often have duplicates of coupons for the same products. Obviously, if one bottle of $2.99 shampoo is free with a $3 coupon, and I happen to have two of those coupons, buying two free bottles is better than buying one. In fact, this is a trick many TV coupon shoppers employ; they order multiple quantities of the same coupon from a coupon clipping service prior to the segment. Then, they can buy ten $2.99 bottles of shampoo with ten $3 coupons. The pre-coupon bill for shampoo alone would be $29.90. After coupons: $0.

I don't order extra coupons to "pad" my shopping segments. If I'm asked to do a TV segment, I work with whatever coupons I have at the time. I think it would give a false impression of what normal coupon shoppers can do in an everyday trip, if I were to stack the odds by ordering many multiples of the same coupon.

Use coupons for free products.

If you're a regular reader, you know that the best way to use a coupon for a free product is to wait until that product goes on sale -- "Buy one, get one free" -- then use the coupon to get two items free instead of one. But if I have any coupons near expiration date good for free products, I add those items to my shopping list, too. Their full prices will push the total up ... and my coupons will knock it right back down.

Work for overages.

Coupon overages can occur when we use coupons with a value that exceeds the selling price of an item. At stores that allow coupon overages, that "extra money" is applied to the entire end total at the checkout. So, if I buy a $1.50 item with a $2 coupon, the extra 50 cents may be applied to the cost of other products I'm buying in the same shopping trip. This is a great way to bring down the price of produce and meats.

Next week, I'll offer more tips on how your own grocery receipt can match that of a professional's.

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.