Q: "Jill, I am an avid reader of your column. I started couponing recently and love it. I had no idea you could get so many things free with coupons! Could you describe your typical shopping trip? How do you spot good deals?"
A: While using coupons is essential to cutting one's weekly grocery bill, it isn't the only factor in saving big. Timing coupon use to coincide with the best sales in the store is crucial to paying as little as possible for the products you want. Couple that with any other instant-savings or Catalina deals, which return a portion of what you just paid for the item right back to you, and it can all add up to a great trip where you pay next to nothing for groceries!
Here are a couple of examples of recent shopping trips in which I took many products home for very little:
Trip No. 1: Flipping through my store's flyer, I spotted a great sale involving 9-ounce boxes of name brand frozen vegetables. The vegetables were on sale for 99 cents/box. The weekly ad also stated, "Buy any four boxes and receive $3" in Catalina savings, the coupons printed out by the register, at point of sale, and redeemable on a future shopping trip.
While casual ad readers might overlook this promotion, good coupon shoppers won't. If I buy four boxes, I'll spend $3.96 and get $3 back for my next shopping trip. These money-off-your-next-order Catalina coupons function just like cash for a future trip to the store. With this sale and with no other coupons, I'd ultimately spend 96 cents for four boxes, or 24 cents each. With coupons, the deal gets even better. I used a 60-cent coupon good for the purchase of 3 boxes. So I paid $3.36 and got $3 back. That works out to 9 cents/box.
Of course, with a great sale like this, I also won't be afraid to stock up; the per-box price is a fraction of what these normally sell for. And, with lots of freezer space, I bought 32 boxes of frozen vegetables for $2.88 (Who says coupon shoppers don't eat healthy?)
Trip No. 2: One of my supermarkets was running a special involving name-brand juices and snacks. Buy three 64-ounce bottles of 100 percent apple juice and receive two free boxes of granola bars. The juices were on sale for $2/bottle. This supermarket regularly offers free coupon books near the front door, so I always look for them when I visit the store. As I went inside, I picked up three of the books, flipping through them to see what coupons were included. Inside the book? A $2 manufacturer coupon good for two bottles of the same brand of apple juice. So, I added six bottles of apple juice to my cart and four free boxes of granola bars. And, near the granola bar display, I spotted a tear pad of store coupons: "Buy any four granola bars and receive one gallon of store-brand milk free."
Doing the math? I paid $6 for six bottles of apple juice, four boxes of granola bars and a gallon of milk! This was such a fun sale because anyone could have done this deal with the coupons available right in the store! With three $2 coupons and the coupon for free milk, I saved more than $8, more than I actually spent out-of-pocket for everything in this trip.
Of course, sales like this don't happen every week. When you see a deal that's particularly appealing, don't be afraid to repeat it a few times until you're well-stocked on what you need. My frozen vegetables will last at least two months if my family eats a box every other day. I decided to do another round of the juice, granola bar and milk deal again, since my store was well-stocked with the products and coupons needed to repeat the same shopping trip.
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.jillcataldo.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to email@example.com.