Here's a question from a reader like you who's learning how to use
coupons to save money at the grocery store:
Q: "I have to disagree with you about holding onto coupons
until stores put the item on a good sale. Great idea, but as you
might have noticed coupons today have a very short life span. You
said grocery stores' best sales on certain items rarely coincide with
coupons available that week. I don't believe you should hold on to
coupons and wait for a better sale because the coupons will expire.
Best to grab the deal when you can and use the coupon, otherwise
it's a waste of time cutting those coupons out."
A: This is one of the most common misconceptions about
coupons: assuming that they expire too soon to make holding onto
them worthwhile. The average coupon has an expiration date three
months out. Some expire sooner, some expire later, but it's wrong
to assume that they all expire very quickly. I have coupon inserts
that are more than eight months old that still have current,
unexpired coupons in them -- proof that it's not only important to
hold onto all of our inserts until every coupon inside expires, but
also proof that not all coupons expire quickly.
Using coupons the same week you get them is almost always
a big mistake. Stores know exactly which products will be featured
in the coupon inserts for the current week, and most stores will
intentionally leave these items at a higher price. The reason? Stores
know how most people use coupons. Most people will cut coupons
out of this week's paper and use them the same week. But these
shoppers usually pay a much higher price on a given product, even
with a coupon, than if they had waited for a better sale and then
used the coupon.
About six weeks ago, I received a $1 coupon with an
expiration date three months out, good for a certain brand of soup.
This soup was $3.29 the week the coupon arrived. If I used the
coupon that week, I'd pay $2.29, still much more than I like to pay
for a can of soup. But with three months' time to watch for a better
sale, I waited. And this week, the soup went on sale for $1 a can.
My coupon is still more than a month away from expiring, but by
waiting a few weeks, I took the soup home for free! Had I used it
the week I'd gotten it, I would still have paid more than two dollars
for the soup. Free is much better.
After one of my coupon classes, a man came up to me and
told me that he had an "aha!" coupon moment. He was an avid
poker player, and he equated knowing when to "play" your coupon
to knowing when to play a certain card in a hand of poker. I like
this analogy a lot, because coupon shopping can definitely feel like
a game at times... and it's a game that's fun to win! A $1 coupon is
worth a lot more paired with a $1 sale price than it is with a $3.29
As for your point about using a coupon the week you cut it
out so that it's not a "waste of time," I'd suggest that you not be so
quick to clip. I never cut coupons that I'm not going to use
immediately. I use a "clipless" system to manage my coupons
(more on this at www.supercouponing.com under "Getting
Started.") I'm not cutting a coupon out until the week I actually
need it. If the coupon in my insert does not line up with a good
sale before it expires, I haven't wasted any time at all clipping it,
looking it up or carrying it around. I use as little time and effort as
possible to manage my coupons and you can, too!
It's much easier to take only the coupons you need to the
store in the first place, secure in the knowledge that, like my card-
playing student, you are "playing" your coupons at exactly the right
time to maximize savings.
© CTW Features
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.super-couponing.com. E-mail your couponing
coups and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.