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Challenge: A week of groceries for less than $20 - Jill Cataldo

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

More people use grocery coupons than ever, and they use them for different reasons. Some enjoy the thrill of getting free groceries with coupons. Others use coupons to free up money in the household budget for entertainment or leisure. Still others rely on coupon savings to put food on the table every week.

With unemployment high, many people who've never used a coupon in their lives are starting to clip and learn how to save. Recently, a new coupon shopper asked me for help. After her spouse had been out of work for more than nine months, she began clipping coupons and trying to learn how to match them to sales to cut her weekly grocery bill. Since she'd only been couponing for a few weeks, she didn't have much of a grocery stockpile built up yet. During a particularly difficult week, she asked for help. She had less than $20 to spend on a week's worth of lunches and dinners for her family. Could coupons help?

To achieve the biggest savings, coupons and low-priced sales go hand-in-hand. In a near-emergency situation such as this, I decided to focus on staples that would get her through the week ,and products and items that would last through several meals. The shopping list we came up with featured all name-brand products that were hitting low points in the pricing cycle; we added coupons to cut the sale prices even further.

Pasta sauce: On sale for 99 cents. Two $1 manufacturer coupons, good for the purchase of two bottles. Purchase: $1.96 for four jars.

Pasta: On sale for 99 cents per box. Two $1 manufacturer coupons, good for the purchase of two boxes; stacked with a $1 store coupon, good for the purchase of four boxes. Purchase: 96 cents for four boxes.

Bologna: On sale for $1 per 16-ounce package. Two 50-cent manufacturer coupons. Purchase: $1 for two packages.

Bread: On sale for $1.19 per 16-ounce loaf. Two $1 store coupons. Purchase: 38 cents for two loaves.

Margarine: On sale for $1. $1 manufacturer coupon. Purchase: 1 package free.

100-percent juice concentrates: On sale for $1. One $1 manufacturer coupon, good for the purchase of four canisters. Purchase: $3 for four canisters

Beef roast. On sale for $1.99 per pound. $2 store coupon, good for a $10 purchase of fresh beef. Purchase: $8.44 for a 5.25-pound beef round roast

Grand Total: $15.74.

My new couponing friend had four dollars and change, left from her $20, to pick up a bag of potatoes and some vegetables, and still keep under her $20 budget for the week.

While this may not be the most exciting menu (that's a lot of bologna sandwiches, pasta and leftover roast for one week!) it was enough to get the job done: feed a family for less than $20 in a week, when finances were extremely tight.

Now, what would this meal plan cost without coupons, and without the benefit of low sale prices?

Here are the regular, non-sale prices of our shopping list:

Pasta sauce: $2.49/ jar

Pasta: $1.89/ box

Bologna: $1.99/ package

Bread: $1.49/loaf

Margarine: $1.89

Juice concentrates: $1.49/canister

Beef roast: $3.89/pound

Without coupons and with no sale, the grand total would have been more than $54, so we saved nearly 75 percent.

By focusing on the best sales each week and using coupons to cut low prices even more, anyone can significantly cut their grocery bill by half, or better. Of course, the desire to change the way you shop is essential. Super-couponing can almost be thought of as a job - one that pays very well!

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.