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1:59 PM Thu, July 19th

PRACTICAL SAVER: What is the most profitable way to use coupons?

I love receiving questions from readers. Here are some answers to questions that may help you save even more on groceries.

Q: Coupons don't appear to be saving me any money. What is the most profitable way to use my coupons?

A: The first rule is to use a coupon only when the item is on a great sale. Do not use it on everyday prices, or even with mediocre sales. For example, if you use a $1 coupon for a box of cereal that is on sale for $2.99, the coupon will reduce the price to $1.99. That's a good sale, but if the same coupon is redeemed for a box of cereal priced at $1.50 (which is a great sale), the cereal will cost a low 50 cents per box! So watch for a great sale and combine a coupon with it to get the most value out of the match-up.

The other rule that works well for coupons is: Don't use a coupon just because you have it. For example, I had a coupon that would have reduced the price of a 24-ounce bottle of Hunt's ketchup to $1.50. On the same shelf, the same size bottle of Heinz ketchup was $1, with no coupon required. Go for the option with the best price when the item isn't on sale, and don't use the coupon just because you finally remembered to bring it to the store. (This actually reinforces my previous rule: Use a coupon only when you can combine it with a great sale.)

Q: What do we do with all the coupons from this week's inserts? It doesn't really appear that there is anything on sale to use them for, so is the plan just to hold on to them with hopes that those items go on sale before the coupons expire?

A: Yes, the plan is to hold on to the coupons and wait for a sale that matches up with the coupons. I suggest clipping coupons for products that your family likes and uses often. Watch the prices on those items and then match the coupon with a great sale. If you are just beginning to use coupons, you may want to clip only toiletry coupons to get a feel for using them. Then you might add cleaning supplies and food coupons as you get into a rhythm.

Q: I have a pile of coupons. What is the best way to organize them?

A: Keeping your coupons organized is vital. If you are unable to find the coupon, it can't save you any money. There are numerous ways to organize coupons. I teach people how to use a Microsoft Word table to organize coupons numerically. (A video about this method is posted on PracticalSaver.com.) The method I use is very quick and efficient, and it is the foundation for what allows us to save hundreds of dollars on our groceries each month.

Q: How often do grocery sales cycle around?

A: It is important to know that sales cycle and most items are on a great sale every five to six weeks. The reason I suggest buying three to four times more than usual when an item is on sale is so that your purchase will carry you over to the next sale. Another good secret to remember is that when a coupon appears in the Sunday paper, a great sale typically follows two to three weeks later. So be patient and don't always act upon the first advertised sale. A better one may be coming in the next sale flier.

Q: How does your family afford meat on such a limited grocery budget?

A: We stock up when meat goes on a great sale. During November, we purchase 10 to 12 turkeys and pressure-can them throughout the year. (There is a video about how to pressure-can turkey on the PracticalSaver.com website.) We also purchase meat in bulk from ZayconFoods.com. We particularly enjoy their chicken and they also have hamburger, sausage and bacon. We purchase the meat in bulk and then put it in conveniently sized packages and freeze it.

Kara Rozendaal, a financial planner, wife and homeschool mother of three has lived in Prescott Valley for 16 years. Learn more about her classes and ways to save money at www.PracticalSaver.com.