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Why 12 is the magic number - Jill Cataldo

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Last week, I answered email from a reader new to Super-Couponing who is unsure that she's taking all the right steps. I assured her she was, but like many new couponers she is anxious to see even bigger savings. Let's take a closer look at her concern, because so many beginners share it.

"Is it normal to feel like you're spending more money to get your stockpile built up at the beginning of this process?" she asks. "I was just hoping to buy \$100 worth of groceries for only 43 cents... I'm anxious to become a pro."

When you first start couponing, it is normal to spend a little bit more than what you'll eventually spend. It typically takes shopping through an entire 12-week cycle of pricing at your grocery store to start operating efficiently. Twelve weeks is the time span during which nearly every product you might want to buy reaches its highest price point and dips to its lowest price point. When prices are low, a coupon shopper buys -- and buys in sufficient quantity to last about three months, at which point you can anticipate a dip in prices will roll around again on the same items.

Keep in mind that you buy when prices are low so that you won't have to buy these same products for several months. By shopping ahead of your needs, you begin to accrue savings.

For example, this week my store has 64-ounce bottles of 100-percent juice on sale for \$1.29. This is an excellent price; my usual cycle-low benchmark for a bottle of juice this size is \$1.50 or less. The same bottle of this brand can sell for \$3.49 when it cycles to hits highest price.

Assuming my family will drink at least one bottle of juice a week, I will buy at least twelve bottles at this price to save big. Buying twelve bottles costs me \$15.48 today, but if I bought them during a week when the price was \$3.49, I'd pay a whopping \$41.88!

Coupon shoppers must focus on long-term savings. While I might not want to spend \$15 of my grocery budget on juice this week, especially if money is tight, I'll save more than \$26 if I buy it now, when the price is low, rather than later, when the price has risen. And, with a big purchase this week I can cross juice off my grocery list for about three months.

And don't forget the coupons! On the day of the juice sale I had three \$1, and four 50-cent juice coupons, which reduced my out-of-pocket to \$10.48 for twelve bottles, or about 87 cents a bottle. This is not the \$100 shopping trip for 43 cents that you're looking for, but I am potentially saving 75 percent on the juice. Any time you save at least 50 percent on an item that you need and will use, it's a good buy!

For about the first three months, this is the way you'll shop, buying products that you need with coupons when you can, and also stocking up on staples that you use regularly. Week by week, you'll build your stockpile into a "store at home" where you can "shop" for daily meals, knowing you paid low prices for all the items. If you have a second freezer, buy meats when the per-pound price is low and freeze them for future use, too.

After that first twelve weeks, a tipping point of sorts takes place. Your weekly budget drops significantly, because you won't need to buy as many things as you did when you were shopping the old way. Instead, you'll "cherry-pick" the sales, buying what you need with coupons when prices are lowest and restocking your stockpile so that you never pay full price again.

Next week, we'll begin discussing specific "tricks of the trade" that Super-Couponers use to maximize savings during great sales.

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.