"I think I'm doing OK with coupons, but then I hear of people buying groceries for seemingly unheard-of prices. One of my friends says she never pays more than 40 cents for a box of name-brand cereal. I never see cereal go on sale that cheaply, even with a coupon. What am I missing?"
As any reader of this column knows, the key to saving big on your groceries isn't only about using coupons. To take products home at rock-bottom prices, Super-Couponers often combine coupons with special promotions that are running at the store. Many supermarkets offer instant-savings or Catalina deals -- the coupons that print out at the register when you buy a certain quantity of products and are good for money off on your next shopping trip.
Combined with coupons, these "payback" promotions are an important tool to increase your savings. Keep in mind that these promotions take place much more often in large supermarkets, versus "everyday-low-price" supercenters or smaller grocers. New coupon shoppers often tell me that they avoid larger supermarkets, assuming they're "more expensive." While it's true that their prices may appear more expensive, at times, the additional savings you'll enjoy by combining coupons and promotions is often far more significant at a larger, chain supermarket.
Let me give you an example. Recently, a supermarket in my area had a sale on a national brand of family-size frozen pizzas. The pizzas were on sale for $2 each. Over at the everyday-low-price store, the same pizzas sell for $1.69 every day. Someone unfamiliar with coupons and promotions might assume buying the pizzas for $1.69 at the everyday-low-price store would save them more money. Why pay 31 cents more per pizza at the "more expensive" supermarket?
Here's why. During this sale, the supermarket was running two additional promotions that reduced the price of the pizzas far below $1.69. At the supermarket, buying seven or more pizzas generated a Catalina coupon for $3.50. These Catalina coupons are essentially a form of cash for your next shopping trip. They're not tied to the purchase of any specific product. Coupon shoppers figure this "cash back" into their total savings.
So, if I bought seven pizzas for $1.69 at the everyday-low-price store, I'd pay $11.83. At the supermarket, I paid $14 and got $3.50 back - so I paid $10.50 for seven pizzas. Already the pizzas cost slightly less at the "more expensive" supermarket.
Here's where the deal became even more fun. In the supermarket's weekly flyer, there was a coupon for $5 off any frozen food purchase of $15 or more! Seven pizzas put me at $14. In order to use this coupon, I needed to add any $1 item to the mix in order to put my frozen food total at $15. Frozen vegetables and pints of ice cream were both on sale for $1, so I went with the ice cream. (Sometimes you've got to reward yourself for putting such a great deal together!)
The $5-off-$15 coupon from the grocery store's flyer brought my pizza (and ice cream) purchase to $10. In addition, I also had two coupons good for $1 off the purchase of three pizzas. After handing those to the cashier, I paid $8 for the seven pizzas and ice cream. Finally, I received a $3.50 Catalina printed at the register, good on my next shopping trip. Factoring in the $3.50 savings meant I spent just $4.50 for seven pizzas and a pint of ice cream! That's about 64 cents per family-sized pizza with a "free" dessert, too.
These are the kinds of deals shoppers simply can't swing at an everyday-low-price store. Even with two coupons, I would have paid more than twice the price for the pizzas at the other store.
Taking advantage of these promotions does require a little more planning. Next week, I'll share tips on determining when these extra-savings promotions take place at your store.
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.