Q: "I have been trying to cut my grocery bill with your advice on coupon shopping. For some reason, I never find any of the great deals you refer to. I normally shop at a national everyday-low-price supercenter. Please help me. It is so frustrating to hear about all these savings that I am not getting."
A: Many shoppers believe they'll save more money shopping at an "everyday low price" (ELP) store versus a traditional supermarket. ELP stores work hard to market themselves as less-expensive alternatives. They proclaim loudly "We are cheaper!" But are they?
It's true that prices are not too high at an everyday low price store. They're also not too low.
An ELP store prices its products at a middle-of-the-road level. Unlike a traditional supermarket, it does not cycle prices from week to week. You might call a traditional supermarket a "high/low" store. On any day, about half the products at the supermarket will be priced higher than what you might find at the ELP store. But the other half of the products will be priced lower. Savvy coupon shoppers watch price fluctuations at supermarkets, then move in with coupons to get even lower prices.
I rarely shop for groceries in ELP stores. Their prices simply do not dip low enough to beat the prices I can get up at a supermarket. Before writing this column, I visited a supermarket and an everyday low price store for a price check on some national brands. Here's what I found:
64-ounce bottle of grape juice: $3 supermarket / $3.49 ELP store
32-ounce bottle of laundry detergent: $3.99 supermarket / $4.97 ELP store
14.5-ounce box of honey granola cereal: $1.49 supermarket / $2.97 ELP store
The supermarket beat the ELP store, hands down. The cereal is $3.99 when it's not on sale. But why would I want to buy it when it's not on sale? If I simply wait for the supermarket sale and stock up when it comes, I will save a great deal of money even without using coupons.
There are other factors to consider, too. Many supermarkets use checkout devices, popularized by Catalina Marketing, that print out coupons good for money off your next shopping trip. On my comparison-shopping trip, my supermarket offered a $1 Catalina for the grape juice. With a $1 coupon, I paid $2 and got $1 back. The cost of the juice to me was just $1. But at the supercenter, even with my coupon, I would have paid $2.49 — more than twice the price for the same bottle of juice!
There was a similar deal on the detergent. The supermarket offered a $1.25 Catalina for buying it. With coupon, I paid $2.99 and got $1.25 back, making the final price just $1.74 — again, less than half the price I would have paid at the supercenter.
Back to the cereal. My supermarket offered a $6 Catalina for buying five or more boxes. Without any coupons, five boxes would cost me $7.45 and I'd get $6 back with the Catalina. Now, $1.45 for five boxes of cereal is already a deal... but with two coupons offering $1 off for the purchase of 2 boxes, I paid $5.45 and got $6 back. The supermarket "paid" me 55 cents to take that cereal home!
As a student in one of my Super-Couponing classes recently said, "You couldn't pay me to shop anywhere other than my favorite supermarket ... because they do!"
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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.supercouponing.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.