Originally Published: December 13, 2011 10 p.m.
Jill Cataldo saves hundreds on groceries by making the most of the common coupon. You can, too. Here's how.
When you first start couponing, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by sales cycles, sales-to-coupon matching and expiration dates. It's definitely a big shift from the old way of shopping - buying what you want or need for the current week, regardless of price. This week we hear from a couponing newbie.
Question: "As a new couponer, I am trying to do my best to save some money for the family. After I made my first purchase with coupons, I realized I might not be using them for optimal savings."
Answer: This is one of the most common mistakes new coupon shoppers make. They get the newspaper, cut out the coupons and take those coupons to the store in the same week. With a few exceptions, the week a coupon appears in the paper is typically not the best week to use it.
Why not? In order to get the most value from coupons, it's important to realize that prices of products in stores fluctuate in a fairly consistent pattern. Savvy coupon shoppers never pay the regular non-sale price for an item they wish to buy. They understand that from week to week, the price of an item will vary widely. Sale prices can dip as deep as 50 to 65 percent off the regular price; clearly, this is the best time to buy that item. Move in with a coupon, and you cut that already good price even more.
When I teach the concept of sales cycling to students in my Super-Couponing workshop, some of them seem to have trouble grasping the idea that prices really do change that much at the grocery store. They assume that a pack of paper towels or a half-gallon of juice costs about the same every day. But that's not true. Here's an easy analogy to help drive this point home.
Imagine you need to buy a new car. The car you wish to buy usually costs $25,000. In a few weeks, the dealer will put the car on sale for $12,500. Additionally, the manufacturer is offering a $3,000 incentive to buy the car any time this month.
If you buy the car today, you'll pay $22,000. But if you wait for the half-off sale to use the incentive, you'll pay just $9,500 - a 62 percent savings!
If you know a sale is coming and that it will involve a pretty significant discount, wouldn't you wait to buy? This is the game we play when we grocery shop each week. Prices fluctuate, and smart couponers move in with a coupon when they do.
Experienced couponers also take into account another pricing game. Stores know weeks ahead of time the coupon promotions that will appear in newspaper inserts. Because many people take their coupons to the store the week they receive them, the store will make a greater profit by keeping those items at higher prices the week that the corresponding coupons appear in the paper.
For example, a 9-ounce bag of raspberry-filled cookies were on sale for 99 cents at my local store recently. The same little bag of cookies usually sells for $2.87! I love cookies, but I would never buy them at full price. However, the price drop from $2.87 to 99 cents is pretty significant - about 65 percent.
I had a 45-cent coupon from the newspaper. With it, I could buy the 99-cent bag of cookies for 54 cents! But here's the trick - the coupon I used came out in the newspaper three weeks before the sale. If I had run right to the store with this coupon the same week I received it, I would have paid $2.42 for these cookies after the coupon.
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. Email your own couponing victories and questions to email@example.com.