Coupon myths cost shoppers real cash - Jill Cataldo

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

My recent column on theories why people of lower incomes are statistically not the heaviest coupon users generated a lot of reader mail. Here's a sampling:

* "Perhaps the reason that low-income shoppers do not use coupons is because they cannot affordthe newspapers that carry the coupons."

* "[Getting coupons] usually requires buying a newspaper, which I don't do, because so many coupons are for the more expensive brands of any given product. It is more worthwhile to watch grocery ads and buy house brands."

* "Many poor people don't get a newspaper and the generic or store brand is often less expensive than the name-brand item after thecoupon's value is deducted."

Delving into why people choose to use coupons or not is a sensitive subject. The argument that low-income shoppers cannot afford a newspaper seems to hold water. However, in the hands of an effective coupon shopper, a newspaper will pay for itself many times over.

If I buy the Sunday newspaper for $1.99, the coupon inserts inside contain, on average, $100 to $200 worth of coupons. If I use just two $1 coupons that week, I recoup the $1.99 cost of the paper; the rest of the coupons represent money I will save on future grocery bills. I do understand that when times are tough, families must account for every dollar. But I also strongly believe that spending $2 to save $50 or more is good financial sense.

The widespread belief that buying a store's house brand is key to saving at the checkout couldn't be further from the truth! Coupon shoppers regularly take home name-brand products at a fraction of the price of the store's comparable house brands.

Here's why. Prices on name-brand products fluctuate, high and low, over the course of a store's typical 12-week cycle. Every 12 weeks, a product's price will hit a high and a low. The low point is often near or equal to the price of a store's private-label brand. At that point, I use coupons to reduce the price of the name-brand item even more, taking it well below the regular price of the store brand.

For example, this week at my, store large cans of premium, name-brand clam chowder and vegetable beef soup are on sale for $1.25 a can. The store-brand equivalents sell for $1.19 a can each week. I used a $1 coupon on the name-brand soup and paid just 25 cents per can, nearly a dollar less per can than the store's equivalent brand.

Imagine doing this for nearly everything you buy, stocking up during low-priced sales and using coupons to reduce prices further. You'll never pay full price and your cupboards will be filled with enough groceries to last until the next low-priced points in the cycle.

I constantly enjoy name-brand food, juice and other products for less than half the cost of equivalent house brands. My weekly grocery bills for our family of five, after coupons, are consistently around $50 a week. There's no magic to this. I've taught tens of thousands of people in my Super-Couponing workshops how to best use newspaper coupons, and they've gone on to slash their weekly grocery bills into the $40 to $60 range. Many shop with coupons because they enjoy saving big. Others have realized the incredible ways coupons can stretch tight budgets.

Next week, I'll share the story of a shopper who struggled with unemployment. She asked if I could help her feed her family a week's worth of lunches and dinners for less than $20, by using coupons. I said yes.

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 jill@ctwfeatures.com.