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COUPON QUEEN: A grab bag of coupon questions

Special Photo: Jill Cataldo saves hundreds on groceries by making the most of the common coupon. You can, too.

Special Photo: Jill Cataldo saves hundreds on groceries by making the most of the common coupon. You can, too.

This week, I’d like to answer a few quick questions that landed in my e-mail inbox.

Question: “I enjoy reading your column and particularly love the topic of stockpiling. I would love to start, but I’m concerned about food going bad. I know flour, sugar, pasta and soup all have expiration dates. I’m nervous I’ll stockpile, forget about the food and everything will be bad by the time I need it. Any suggestions?”

Answer: Stockpiling groceries and coupon use go hand in hand. Watching for good sales and buying a little more than needed when prices are low keeps us from paying full price. It also keeps us from running out of pantry staples. At our house, it’s never a tragedy when one of the kids uses up the last squeeze of ketchup from the bottle. We just grab another one from the pantry.

When I refer to stockpiling, I’m typically buying about 12 weeks’ worth of a product. If I use one bag of flour per month, I’ll buy three when I’m stocking up. In about 12 weeks another sale may come around and I’ll stock up again. When we stock up on three months’ worth of food, it’s unlikely that we’ll be faced with expiring food on the shelves at home. If you keep your stockpile limited to the items you use most, you won’t have issues with expiration dates. You’ll also be able to keep your stockpile to a reasonable size. Don’t forget that if you hit a great deal on non-perishable items, like paper products or cleaners, it’s fine to stock up in larger quantities.

Question: “I wanted to ask you about the dark side of extreme couponing: the quality of foods that these people are buying or that stores are offering. When I see overweight people buying ten packs of hot dogs just because they have coupons, I think to myself, this is the socioeconomic effect that is basically increasing health-care costs.”

Answer: I think it’s outside the scope of this column to debate the impact of shoppers’ food choices on long-term health. While I personally enjoy great savings with coupons, I also make a point of focusing on healthier food choices for my family. We eat a lot of organic items and fresh produce and we avoid artificial sweeteners. But do we enjoy an occasional hot dog, too? Sure! It’s tough ground to tread when we start telling each other what we should be eating. I’m proof that you don’t have to eat an unhealthy diet to enjoy savings with coupons.

Question: “How can seniors on a fixed income use coupons? I know that may be a silly question to you, but some of us can’t get out to the store. And we may have the time but not the endurance to stay at a table that long to cut out coupons. Any ideas would be highly appreciated.”

Answer: If you aren’t able to get to the store or cut out coupons, it’s honestly going to be difficult to fully embrace life as a coupon shopper. Taking advantage of the best coupon deals each week is typically going to require trips to the store and picking up a pair of scissors. However, I do have a couple of ideas to help if you can at least do one or the other.

Many grocery delivery services accept paper coupons. Peapod.com, a national service available in market areas around the country, accepts manufacturer coupons. Simply clip them and give them to the delivery driver when your groceries arrive. If you’re unable to clip coupons, but you do make trips to the store, you may wish to look into electronic coupons, which can be loaded to a store’s loyalty card. Check your stores’ web sites to see if they participate in electronic coupons. It’s easy to click and load a card –– no scissors necessary!

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.