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Couponers, put down your scissors! - Jill Cataldo

During the past couple of weeks, I've shared some of the ways that expert coupon shoppers plan shopping trips. They only buy an item when its price hits a low point in the store's 12-week pricing cycle. They use grocery-list match-up web sites to view a detailed list of what products are cycling low in price during the current week at their stores of choice. And - this one will surprise you - they don't cut coupons out of the paper.

That's right. Serious coupon clippers do not sit down when their coupon inserts arrive in the paper each week, scissors in hand, to clip, snip and sort coupons by product, type and expiration date. Does anyone enjoy cutting and managing hundreds of little, loose pieces of paper? I may be a coupon maven, but I'll be the first to tell you that I don't particularly enjoy cutting out coupons! I prefer to spend as little time clipping as possible. Fortunately, grocery-list match-up sites help us do just that.

When I teach this method in my Super-Couponing workshops, I call it my "clipless system" of couponing. It's a little play on words - Super-Couponers literally clip less. The strategy is effective and has proven to be very popular with shoppers. Shoppers who clip only the coupons they intend to use in the store this week enjoy significant savings with the least possible time commitment.

Last week, I showed an example of what a grocery-list match-up web site looks like. (Find a list of popular match-up sites on my web site, SuperCouponing.com, by clicking the "Getting Started" link.) These match-up sites track the sales cycles at your stores of choice, showing not only items with prices that are hitting low points in the sales cycle, but also exactly which coupon to use to cut those prices even further.

This week, let's look a little closer at an example of a grocery-list matchup for two products:

Name-brand dish detergent (11 ounces):

Sale price: 99 cents

Coupon value: $1 - 10/10 PG

Final price: FREE!

Percent saved: 100 percent

Name-brand fruit-and-nut trail mix (6 ounces)

Sale Price: $1.29

Coupon value: $1 - 6/20 SS

Final price: 29 cents

Percent saved: 71 percent

Now, take a close look at the codes to the right of each dollar value of the coupons in these two examples. These codes show the date that the coupon ran in the newspaper, and a two-letter abbreviation corresponding to the name of the insert. Popular coupon inserts you may find in your weekly newspaper include Procter & Gamble, SmartSource and RedPlum. A match-up site will abbreviate the names to indicate in which coupon insert booklet a shopper will find the coupon.

So, my $1 dish detergent coupon can be found in the 10/10 PG, meaning the Procter and Gamble insert from October 10. My trail mix coupon can be found in the 6/20 SS, the SmartSource insert from June 20.

Instead of clipping all of my coupons each week, I save the entire coupon insert, intact. I begin my weekly shopping trip by consulting a match-up site. I load a shopping list for my store of choice, clicking only the products on sale that I wish to buy this week. Then, I print the list and sit down with my collection of coupon inserts. I cut only the coupons that my list calls for. The whole process takes me less than an hour a week. I only cut exactly the coupons I need that week, so I do not waste time or energy cutting out and organizing bunches of coupons. I'm clipping ... less!

Do you have to be terrifically organized to be an effective coupon clipper? Not at all. If you save your coupon inserts each week and store them together in a file, you'll start building a library of coupons to draw on for each week's shopping trips. Next week, I'll share some options for organizing your coupon inserts.

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.