Q: "We've been very excited about Super-Couponing because our grocery bills have been so high. We just had our second child, so our costs have increased even more. Can you give me more suggestions for saving with coupons?
"We started getting the newspaper for the coupons. We've been shopping the sales and using the rewards programs various stores offer. We now have a ton of cereal, for instance. We stack coupons when we can.
"I do feel like we get some good deals. I was just hoping to buy $100 worth of groceries for only 43 cents, and I wanted to get your insights. Is it normal to feel like you're spending more money to get your stockpile built up at the beginning of this process? I'm anxious to become a pro at Super-Couponing, and want to make sure we're doing the right things."
A: Congratulations on starting your coupon adventure! It sounds like you're off to a good start. You're buying when prices are low, "stacking" a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon together on the same item for even bigger savings and stocking up when good sales come around. Rest assured that you're doing everything "correctly."
So, why haven't you had that miraculous shopping trip where you buy $100 worth of groceries for 43 cents? Trips like that do happen, but they're "perfect storms" of great deals that line up with one another in the same week, combined with high-value coupons that knock the price of those items down into the crazy-cheap range, or even make them free.
For example, I'll break down a receipt in which I bought $77.69 worth of groceries for $1.41 with coupons. (You can view the receipt on my blog at jillcataldo.com under "Frequently Asked Questions," if you'd like to follow along.)
During that trip, I bought:
* Ten rolls of paper towels on sale for $1 each. With ten $1 coupons they were all free.
* Eight bags of dog food on sale for $5.99 Buy One Get One Free. My store allows me to use a coupon on each bag, even the free bag. So, with eight $3 coupons, I saved $24 on my $23.96 worth of dog food - all free!
* Six bags of frozen ravioli on sale for $3 each. I used six $3 coupons, and these were all free.
At this point, I've already purchased $51.96 worth of groceries ... and paid zero for them! It was a great shopping trip in which the coupons I had lined up to the sales beautifully. Notice that I bought large quantities of the same items. When you encounter a sale in which coupons make the item free, it's best to use every coupon you have for those products. You stock up on these items at no cost. This was a fun trip. I found the $1 coupons for the paper towels right in the coupon dispenser in the store. The dog food coupons ran in the newspaper a few weeks earlier and I'd gotten extras from family and friends. About a month before the sale, I found the $3 coupons for ravioli in the store and took six, knowing it would probably go on sale soon.
Line coupons up to sales like this and you'll walk out with a receipt that you'll want to show off! But are all weeks like this? No, they are not. More often, weekly shopping trips yield items that are good-to-great deals with coupons (items that are free or reduced by 70 to 90 percent with coupons) plus other good buys. I always say that if you are able to cut the price of something you need by 50 percent or more, it's time to buy! We love getting free things, of course, but not everything is free.
Next week, I'll continue answering this reader's questions and discuss when she'll reach that "tipping point" where she spends significantly less and takes home more.
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.