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Coupon tips for shoppers in small markets - Jill Cataldo

Last week, we reviewed reasons why shoppers enjoy lower prices and more frequent deals, shopping at a supermarket, rather than at an "everyday-low-price" supercenter.

But what if your shopping options are limited? What if you don't have a large supermarket nearby and you're limited to a small grocery, a family-owned store or a supercenter?

The best grocery discounts are found at big, regional or national supermarket chains. Think of big supermarkets as "high/low" stores, based on the way they cycle prices. On any given day, about half the items in a big supermarket will be priced higher than a midline level. The other half of the products will be priced lower than that midline.

Coupon shoppers wait for lower prices, then use coupons to reduce prices even more. Many of the best coupon shoppers rely on grocery list "match-up" web sites that track sale prices for supermarkets around the country, providing a list of the best buys each week and matching up the coupons needed to purchase sale products. (For a list of popular match-up sites, go to the "Getting Started" section of my web site, www.SuperCouponing.com.)

Back in the day, people would simply cut all of the coupons out of the newspaper each week, then spend time organizing and sorting hundreds of little, loose pieces of paper. Now, it's easier. With the system I teach, we keep each week's entire coupon insert intact, and only cut the coupons we need. Coupon match-up sites refer to coupons by the dates they were distributed in the newspaper, and by the names of the insert. So, a reference to "5/2 SS" tells me that the coupon I need is in the May 2 edition of the SmartSource insert. Since I write the date on the front of each coupon insert before I file it, it's easy to locate the insert and clip the coupon.

If your only local shopping option is a small grocery store, you may not be able to use an online match-up list that spells out exactly the best coupons to use. You'll need to match coupons to sales on your own. But that's not as difficult as it sounds, and I've got a tool that will help. Grab the sales flyer for your store of choice, and sit down at your computer.

Visit SuperCouponing.com and click on the "coupon look-up." This free tool helps shoppers match coupons to sales. Look at your store's flyer, and circle the items that interest you. Then, use the online coupon look-up to find coupons for those products. Enter general categories, like soup or cereal, or brand names, like Progresso or Kellogg. The look-up will tell you the dates and names of the inserts where you will find coupons for the desired products. Make a note of that location info, next to each item you circled in the store flyer. When you're done making match-ups, refer to the flyer, and pull the corresponding coupon inserts from your files. Cut out just the coupons you need today, refile the inserts for future use, and head to the store.

If your only shopping option is an everyday, low-price supercenter, you may not enjoy many deals where you take products home free, after using coupons. Prices at everyday-low-price stores typically do not dip low enough to match the dollar amounts of high-value coupons. But, you can still use the online coupon look-up tool. You'll certainly save much more than you would if you didn't use coupons at all.

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.