Special Photo: Jill Cataldo saves hundreds on groceries by making the most of the common coupon. You can, too.
I’m a big fan of in-store coupons. Finding an automatic dispenser or a tear pad of coupons near a product you know you’ll buy is a great way to get multiples. Here’s the dilemma: how many coupons should you take?
One reader thinks I take too many.
Question: “Jill, I was disappointed in the advice you gave in a recent column. I know you encourage people to coupon ethically. Yet, you found $1 coupons for paper towels in the coupon dispenser in the store and took 10 of them. It’s no wonder most of the time these dispensers are empty! Shoppers must have read your column before going to the grocery store. You also took six coupons for ravioli. That is also a little excessive. I hope that in the future you refrain from giving consumers the idea that it is OK to take more than their fair share of either coupons or a product.”
Answer: When it comes to coupon tear pads and dispensers, my rule of thumb is to take only the number of coupons that I’m likely to use in a single shopping trip. I base that number on the size of my family (five) and how often we’ll use the product. Most supermarkets run on a 12-week sales cycle. Prices on most items will hit a high and a low during that time. I always aim to stock up when prices on a product are lowest, and buy enough to get us through to the next sale.
A few months ago, I discussed a shopping trip where I bought six bags of frozen ravioli. I’d found $3 coupons on an in-store display about a month before the sale. I took six coupons, knowing that when the product went on sale I’d buy six bags. We’d enjoy a ravioli meal every other week, at which point I could expect another good sale on frozen ravioli.
Taking those coupons paid off. The ravioli went on sale for $3 a bag, so my six bags were free! The same week, I found paper towels on sale for $1. The coupon dispenser in front of them offered $1 coupons. I bought 10 rolls, knowing we go through one roll of paper towels every 10 days or so.
I promote ethical couponing, not only in this column but also via my blog at jillcataldo.com, and my Super-Couponing workshops. However, it’s tough when one person feels another shopper is buying “too much” or using “too many” coupons. For the size of my family and my method of shopping, I don’t consider 10 rolls of paper towels or six bags of ravioli excessive. After all, paper towels are sold in 12-roll packs, and no one complains that a dozen rolls are too many to buy at once.
The 15 boxes of granola bars I bought this week would likely not please the “Don’t buy so much” crowd. But my healthy-snacking children go through more than one box a week. That’s the quantity we need to get through another sales cycle. I buy what we’ll use until the next sale is due. I think that’s reasonable and fair.
Question: “My husband and I are proud parents of eight children. A regular shopping week for me involves six gallons of milk, four loaves of bread and lots of other large quantities. Last week, I saw $1 coupons for shredded cheese. I took 12 coupons, the number of bags I was buying that day. But another shopper said I should only get one coupon no matter how many bags I bought. The machine was full of coupons. Who’s right?”
Answer: There’s definitely an element of “first come, first served” with any in-store offer. For every empty coupon dispenser there are others that sit full of coupons until their expiration date arrives. While I’d never advocate emptying an entire dispenser of coupons, remember that manufacturers place them in stores for one reason: to encourage people to buy their products. Take what you’ll use.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.