Free Groceries Outweigh Coupon Shame

Impatient fellow shoppers huffing and puffing behind you are a small price to pay if it means free groceries. Slate dove into the world of hardcore couponing to uncover the secrets of the coupon all-stars. For instance, do you rock the Catalinas?

Use “Catalinas” right then and there- coupons that come out of the register when you buy certain items and are used like cash on your next purchase. Guess what? That next purchase is now. Use the Catalinas right away.

Combine store sales with coupons – If it’s on sale for $1 and you have a $1 off coupon, you just got it free.

Find coupons online – Get started at sites like super-couponing.com. There’s a million of them out there. So…

Narrow your search – Find a coupon blog that deals with your local area.

Results may vary – Cashiers with different training, or in different moods, may react unevenly to certain coupon combo moves.

What are your favorite coupon tricks?

Supermarket Sweep – Using coupons to get free groceries [Slate] (Thanks to Joanne!) (Photo: laurgasm)

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  1. SpiderPaintingDollars says:

    Sounds like my grandmother. I swear she is like mega-coupon-granny. When I was little, I went shopping with her sometimes. I felt a little embarrassed, but now that I know how much money it saves you. Screw that. Use Uscan if you don’t want to wait on me.

    Certain coupon combo moves aren’t the only moves to get uneven responses around where I live..

  2. GyroMight says:

    Wow, that moneywisemoms website is very…plaid.

  3. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    All of my local grocery stores print out the Catalinas with the receipt, which prints out when I’m done paying for my groceries – so the problem is, I’m supposed to shuffle my groceries to my car, then turn around and use the Catalina on another something that I’m only buying because I have the coupon?

    I think the article finally answered for me why I like couponing so much: it’s like gambling. I’m also obsessed with efficiency. It’s a challenge to win, to find the best deal possible. I obtain great satisfaction in saving money, and figuring out the best ways of doing it.

    • pinkbunnyslippers says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: Oh I totally agree. I use thegrocerygame.com, and it’s like a quest each time I go to the store – to see if I can save more than I saved last time – OR – see if I can save more than what I ultimately spend.

      Huffers and puffers be damned.

      • floraposte says:

        @pinkbunnyslippers: I’m not a couponer, but it’s not because of shame; honestly, I think that must be a regional phenomenon, because there’s plenty of couponning here and I’ve never heard huffing and puffing.

      • winshape says:

        @pinkbunnyslippers: Hey…I like the Huffers and Puffers. Let them keep thinking that coupons are a waste of time, and are only for junk food.

        That means fewer people fighting over the Sunday paper kiosks. It also means better deals at the grocery stores as fewer people take advantage of the deals.

        • LadySiren is murdering her kids with HFCS and processed cheese says:

          @winshape: It might be regional; out here in Tarheel country, there are TONS of us who coupon. It gets crazy sometimes, particularly at the triple coupon sales – so crazy, they have to limit couponers so we don’t clear the shelves (something I don’t do, as it’s frowned upon in the coupon community).

          I do however, use my coupons to get free and dirt-cheap items. If you find a store that allows you to “stack” coupons by using a store coupon and manufacturer coupon together, you can score great deals.

          Also: if you’re couponing, be aware that Walmart has now instituted a maximum coupon limit. You can only redeem $25 in coupons per transaction. I found this out the hard way two days ago…I had $75 in coupons and the cashier didn’t know about the new limit. I didn’t either but the CSM who came over gave us the scoop.

          The CSM didn’t want to let me use the other $50 in coupons but I told her to cancel my order, which was already bagged and in the cart. Given that I had about 30 bags of items (hey, I have a family of seven plus two dogs), she finally rolled her eyes and did an override. It was a tad embarrassing but there was no real huffing and puffing from the other customers. On the upside, I don’t have to go grocery shopping for another two weeks, yay!

          • JulesNoctambule says:

            @LadySiren: Yay Tarheel coupon fans! My neighbour and I pool our coupons and swap ones we don’t want that the other can use. Thanks to her, I saved three dollars on cat litter last week.

        • pinkbunnyslippers says:

          @winshape: @floraposte: couponing is a PITA to do – I fully admit. I actually have also gotten into the habit of pre-apologizing to people who get in line behind me because I’m tired of the rolling eyes, the sighing, etc. But I live around DC and well – I think when you live next door to so much hot air, you get used to huffing and puffing. ;)

    • NoDavidOnlyZuul says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: as a former Jewel cashier, you always have to make sure you get your catalina coupons. some cashiers will forget and just give them to the next person. i lost out on 2 $10 catalina that way. luckily i was able to get 2 gift cards at the desk.

    • Stephmo says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: If you read the article, they knew what Catalinas they’d get from their purchase, so it looked like this:

      Grocery Purchase #1 – Coupon, Payment, Etc.

      Catalinas Print

      Grocery Purchase #2 – Made up of Catalinas Items – redeem Catalinas

      Basically, you have a divider between your primary purchase and your catalinas purchase on the checkout.

  4. theblackdog says:

    I have yet to get a Catalina coupon that is for something I actually need.

  5. ellemm says:

    I hate being handed a handful of ads that are masquerading as coupons. Last time they were for Jiffy-Lube and adult diapers neither of which I would use even if they were offering discounts, which they weren’t.

    • subtlefrog says:

      @ellemm: This. This is usually what I get coupons for – or for a chunk of red meat. I just bought a cart of soy crap. It’s not likely that I want meat.

      I don’t normally shop at a store that uses Catalinas, so every now and then, they will chuck me a $5 off next purchase of $25, but even those I can rarely use because I don’t normally go there or spend that much.

  6. Osi says:

    There as some for diapers and baby food … if you dont need them, could buy them for someone who does ;)

  7. Benny Gesserit says:

    It’s weird but I find using more coupons less embarrassing than using 1 or 2.

    There’s a tipping point where this isn’t about saving 50cents but trying to cover a good percentage of the cost with coupons – like playing a hand of cards really well, you know?

  8. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    My tactic when it comes to grocery shopping is to be very, very flexible. The sales and deals at the grocery store determines what foods I make for the week or the next week. I only buy what I would normally buy anyway, I only buy it on sale (unless the price difference between sale and regular is less than 50 cents) and I base my shopping list off what is in the store circular, and then apply relevant coupons – admittedly, I get the best results from the circular because I buy a lot of produce. The coupons are more for things like cereal and detergent.

  9. techstar25 says:

    It’s always nice when you can use a manufacturers coupon along with a store coupon. I know for example, Target allows you to do this.

  10. lawnmowerdeth says:

    This is the first time I’ve seen the verb “couponing”, and I find it very annoying throughout that article.

  11. discounteggroll says:

    stay outta my way at the express line. While I sigh when people pull out a stack of coupons, I understand their desire and right to save, and sometimes use them myself.

  12. zombies.like.lattés.too says:

    It seems like all the coupons in my Sunday paper are for processed crap foods or products I wouldn’t normally buy anyway.

    Guess I should check out some of those websites so I can search for things I actually purchase?

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @zombies.like.lattés.too: The Sunday Post is $2, I think, so if I can save that amount with just one batch of coupons, I’ve made up for the cost. The fact that I only find use for about half the coupons (and a lot of times, even less) makes it harder to make up the cost, but I only cut the coupons I’ll use. We’re not loyal to any particular brand of laundry detergent, so we’ll buy Tide, Gain, whatever is on sale at the store, and we’ll use a coupon too.

      • Beef Supreme says:

        @pecan 3.14159265:

        Also, keep any eye for discounted newpaper subscriptions, especially if you are still a student, etc. I got the Baltimore Sun, which I barely read, for $10 through the end of the school year. Guess what, 1st 2 weeks of coupons saved me $26 at the store…free newspaper FTW!

    • LadySiren is murdering her kids with HFCS and processed cheese says:

      @zombies.like.lattés.too: There’s other coupons in there that might be of more interest to you. You just have to watch closely for them.

      Coupons I’ve clipped and used in recent days: pastas, fresh and bottled fruit, soy milk (okay, gave those to a friend who uses only soy foods), olive oil, stock, and of course, Halloween candy.

    • lmarconi says:

      @zombies.like.lattés.too: I find good ones occasionally, but in general I agree with you. I have the best luck with in-store coupons and tracking the sales flyers. I generally buy the same basic things – I’ve been thinking about creating a spreadsheet to keep track of when the prices go up and down on those basics rather than keeping them in my head : )

  13. inadequatewife says:

    I just cannot get onto the coupon bandwagon. I buy the Sunday paper and am lucky if I can clip enough coupons to cover the actual cost of the newspaper (which I don’t read, so it goes straight into the recycling bin).

    We don’t eat a lot of processed foods and our local paper doesn’t have many coupons for anything but processed foods and cleaning supplies.

    The free banana coupons usually hinge on buying cereal that I don’t want, and the “get $2 off your next chicken purchase” involves buying frozen french fries, which I also don’t want.

    I get a few Catalina coupons that I can use, but not enough to justify buying the same item again and again.

    My favorite store carries a really good line of “store brand” products which never have coupons anyhow. Even a sale combined with a coupon on something like Bertolli olive oil is still more expensive per ounce than the store brand at regular price ( which tastes just as good, if not better).

    • thepill says:

      @inadequatewife: I am totally with you on this. At least 90% of the time, the generic version of something I want is less than sale + coupon for a brand name. I won’t get much attention on the internet for simply buying generic, but I’ll save money.

      A huge percentage of what I buy is fresh or frozen produce, too, and that stuff never has coupons (except occasionally some Green Giant veggies coated in “cheez,” and I don’t want that).

  14. Tim says:

    Didn’t a survey recently find that the majority of super-couponers are stay-at-home upper-middle-class suburban moms?

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @TCama: Yeah, and pretty much all the commenters surmised that it was because people who clip coupons have more time, energy, and money to weigh grocery store deals with one another and to buy the Sunday paper.

    • LadySiren is murdering her kids with HFCS and processed cheese says:

      @TCama: I’m a working mom, and yeah…I guess we’re technically middle- or upper middle-class. I set aside a couple hours on Sunday to clip and organize coupons and lists. I cut down on the timesink by going to sites like Hot Coupon World and A Full Cup.

  15. mazzic1083 says:

    There shouldn’t be any shame in trying to save money. Admittedly, my wife and I could do better at clipping coupons and being sticklers for sales but I don’t feel annoyed with those who have 30 coupons. In fact, I feel a little jealous as I watch their total grocery bill dropping.

  16. DigitalMariner says:

    Some people fish, some people play golf, some people knit, some people collect bottles, some people collect dolls, some people reenact history, some people attend conventions, some people blog endlessly obsessing and decomposing their favorite TV shows. Everyone has hobbies, most hobbies cost families money mine saves us money.

  17. trixare4kids says:

    The problem I have with coupons is that I don’t buy all that name brand pre-processed junk they are hawking.

    I do most of my shopping at the grocery outlet, where stuff is cheap anyway. I will use a coupon if it’s at least $1 off and something that I absolutely need and/or want, but that’s just so rare.

    I’m just not the type to stock up on 32 packages of frozen cookie dough just because it’s on sale, but I guess it would be different if I had kids or an entire family to feed on a strict budget.

    Good for the people that make it work for them, I admire their tenacity. I just can’t be bothered.

    • drjayphd says:

      @trixare4kids: I’m actually surprised with how many coupons for raw ingredients (eggs, chicken, etc.) I’ve found. The majority of coupons may be for things I’ll never use or junk food, but they’re out there and the coupons are good for a long enough time that they’ll be useful.

    • JulesNoctambule says:

      @trixare4kids: I find coupons for things like pasta, frozen vegetables and tea to be quite useful and frequently see them in our paper’s coupon section. Add to that things like cat food, cat litter, deodorant, toothpaste. . .yeah, pretty useful to me, and not a roll of refrigerated cookie dough or similar crap in sight.

  18. Beef Supreme says:

    Be careful with online coupons, I know my grocery store will not accept the vast majority of them.

  19. PsiCop says:

    I rarely get Catalinas for anything I want or need. Most commonly I get them for competing brands of cat food that I buy. But my cats like the brand they’re familiar with; I’m not going to buy another just to shave a couple cents off of a couple cans now and again. The savings are too small to be worth it.

    About the only ones I do use are for the “modified milk” (e.g. Garelick’s Over the Moon, Hood’s Simply Smart) and these usually are churned out when we buy a competing brand. We almost always end up using those. (Unless it’s a paltry offer, like 50 cents off of 4 half-gallons … we don’t turn those in ’cause we don’t want to encourage offers that meager; besides we usually have other coupons to turn in.)

    Once in a while they crank out one I have no possible use for, e.g. diapers (we have no infants at home). I leave those at the register for others to take if they want.

    • katia802 says:

      @PsiCop: Don’t know bout your cats, but mine don’t take well to changes in their dry food at all. Vet says it’s not really good for them unless you do it gradually, savings isn’t worth cleaning up cat barf every morning. Usually after I step in it (barefoot of course) first thing in the morning.

      • PsiCop says:

        @katia802: Our vet said the same thing about changing brands … i.e. don’t do it. My cats like most of the canned 9 Lives flavors. They don’t like a couple of them, so we avoid those. But otherwise we provide as much variety of flavor as we can, sticking with that brand. A few years ago we did change from 9 Lives dry to Meow Mix Hairball formula, ’cause our long-haired black kitty was having a little trouble with hairballs. She has much less trouble now. Unless something else changes, those are the brands they’ll get from now on.

  20. MedicallyNeedy says:

    What does installing the “coupon printer add-on” do?

    • Stephmo says:

      @MedicallyNeedy: The coupon printer restricts the number of coupons you print and ensures that you have a unique UPC for each coupon. OH – and make sure if you’re networked, you’re installing it on the PC that is physically attached to the printer (or at least to the one that direct prints – that’s the only option you can choose for printing).

      • shepd says:

        @Stephmo:

        Sounds lame considering you can easily get a PDF file writer “printer” for your PC for free and print as many coupons as you like.

        The only way to stop what some companies would call coupon “fraud” is to use the individual barcodes, but having an addon stamp them on, rather than doing it server side before the image is sent to the client is just ASKING for abuse.

    • drjayphd says:

      @MedicallyNeedy: Screw up Firefox and railroad you into using Internet Explorer? (Now what it’s supposed to do is another question, as is how it’d work in the hands of someone more computer-savvy than my mother.)

  21. RandomHookup says:

    I would object to using the Catalina on the same transaction it prints out on. Most grocery stores won’t let you do that.

  22. indydrew says:

    To all of you who say couponing is crazy look at this pic.

    [www.flickr.com]

    That is from one Wags, one day. I will make over $500.00 based on what they paid me to take this stuff and what I’ll sell it for.

  23. kamikasee says:

    “Combine store sales with coupons”

    I have seen several articles that offer this advice, but it doesn’t make any sense to me. The sale and the coupon are unrelated, and the amount you save is the same regardless of whether you use them together.

    There’s no advantage to waiting for a sale to use your coupon. If they happen to coincide, then great, but if you are waiting for a sale, your coupon might expire.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @kamikasee: No, you save more when you use a coupon with an item that is on sale.

      If an item is $3 regular price, and now it’s on sale for $1, you can use your coupon and get it for 50 cents, essentially saving $2.50.

      If you buy it for regular price and use the coupon, you only save 50 cents.

      The entire point is to wait for them to coincide. Don’t let your coupons expire unless you’re sure you’ll get more of them, but if there happens to be a store sale, combine the two and stock up.

    • thepill says:

      @kamikasee: Hmm? This seems like good advice to me, and I’m someone who doesn’t even like coupons.

      Say that Chicken Nuggets normally cost $5. You have a $1 coupon. You go to the store, use the coupon on any old regular day, and the nuggets cost you $4. You have saved $1 on this purchase.

      But if you go to the store and use the coupon on a day that the store has marked down the nuggets to $4, then with your $1 coupon applied to the sale price, you are only paying $3 for the nuggets. You have saved $2 on this purchase.

      I agree that if you really want the item, there’s no sense in waiting for the coupon to expire if it never goes on sale. But if it does go on sale, and you’re organized enough to track these sorts of things, then you do save money if you combine the sale with the coupon.

      • floraposte says:

        @thepill: I think kamikasee’s point is that if you buy the $2 flour when it’s marked down to $1.50 and add a $.50 off coupon, but the next month buy it for $2, you’re not saving any more money than if you buy it for $1.50 one month on sale and $1.50 the next with the coupon.

        Or, to put it another way, there’s no inherent advantage in using them at the same time if it’s stuff you’d buy anyway. However, a lot of coupon use seems to be based on making the discount drive the purchase, so in those cases you probably do benefit from the cheapness of the double-discount since otherwise you wouldn’t buy the product at all.

        • RandomHookup says:

          @floraposte: Regardless of the value of the savings (unless you get it for free), it is ridiculous to buy an item that you wouldn’t buy otherwise. The idea is to buy enough when the sales price and the coupon value make it the best deal to last you until the price drops again (or the product is no longer good).

          Yes, many shoppers buy just because of a coupon, but that’s not smart coupon shopping.

          • floraposte says:

            @RandomHookup: I don’t mean that you force yourself to purchase pickled okra when you hate it. It’s that a lot of frugal shoppers, coupon or otherwise, shop according to discount rather than brand and can even plan their menus around what’s subject to serious discount at that point. It’s sort of like shopping for seasonal produce, in that you adapt to what’s available. I’m too fussy about what I like to do that, so it doesn’t make sense for me to use a coupon for something I don’t already buy, but it’s not an unreasonable way to do it.

            • RandomHookup says:

              @floraposte: Got it.

              Usually one of the arguments against coupons is that people will buy stuff they won’t use, thereby negating the savings.

              You’re right that top end couponers have to be very flexible to maximize their savings. Fussy doesn’t fit the model very well.

    • carlos_the_dwarf says:

      @kamikasee:

      Similarly, how does using “Catalinas” right then and there save one anymore money? How is saving $1 today “more” than saving $1 tomorrow?

  24. floraposte says:

    Did everybody else know the “Catalina” term before? I’ve never heard it, and now I’ve seen something like 100 repetitions of it in one morning.

  25. thepill says:

    Interesting. The author of the article says that using the coupons was not nearly as embarrassing as she expected, that she did save money, and *sometimes* she even got to buy items she wanted. But she still hasn’t kept up with couponing despite all this.

    I think the article is a good example of why this is not a more popular thing to do, despite tough economic times and how much people online brag about their coupon hauls. It’s still just not worth the effort most of the time.

    That said, it sounds like the author goes to stores that give her “$X off your entire order” coupons. I very, very, very rarely get those at the stores I shop at. I always get very specific coupons for crap I don’t want to buy, like Enfamil formula and Land O Lakes cheese (I’m lactose intolerant).

  26. MartaMyrrha says:

    I a whore for coupons and free stuff but I rarely see anyone use coupons at the food store. Anyone else?

    • JulesNoctambule says:

      @MartaMyrrha: At the last Triple Coupons sale at Harris Teeter, just about everyone I saw in the sore had their coupons out (myself included). I ended up swapping a juice coupon for a pasta coupon with another woman, as we each had more of them than we could use. It was fun!

  27. carlos_the_dwarf says:

    It never ceases to amaze how much time & energy people will devote in order to “save” a relative pittance.

  28. Cybrczch says:

    Pulling out my receipts…
    Grocery Store #1 – no Catalinas – but I can save $0.03 per gallon on gas ($0.01 per gallon per every $10 spent on groceries, good for 1 month from date of grocery purchase), and earned 29 turkey points (200 gets me $10 off a turkey there). If they have decent sales, with stuff I can stock up on, makes it worthwhile for the gas discount.
    Grocery Store #2 – Ad for satellite TV, ad for the store floral department, coupon for tire company, coupon for smoothie company, coupon for car wash, ad from my employer, coupon from fast food place, coupon from car wash again. Nothing I can use in the store.

    • RandomHookup says:

      @Cybrczch: Catalinas don’t come on the receipt itself. They are printed from a separate little machine that comes from Catalina Marketing.

  29. cassiopia1177 says:

    I have joined a zillion of those ‘mom’ panels – VocalPoint, Pssst, HouseParty, etc. My friends are constantly amazed at the coupons I get – free box of this, $2 off that… I usually get enough to share, too.

    We don’t even bother with the paper anymore. They are usually low value, junk food coupons and a TON of ads. I get them straight from the companies. They are higher value, and sometimes I even get freebies. Totally worth it.

  30. WraithSama says:

    I worked at Kroger when I was in high school and there was this lady who would come in every time we had a double or triple coupon day. She’d get an entire shopping cart full of groceries, and after working her coupon voodoo at the register, we’d actually end up owing HER money, usually between $5 and $20. No idea how she pulled that off. The managers hated her and always got in a foul mood when they saw her enter the store.

    Can you imagine getting an entire shopping cart full of free groceries, and getting paid by the grocery store to take them? Crazy.

    • inadequatewife says:

      @WraithSama: The two stores around here never have triple coupon days. They only double coupons up to a total of $1.00, so a $0.55 coupon doesn’t get doubled at all. No doubling of Catalina coupons, nor the ones that get dispensed from a machine mounted on the shelf.

      Nothing is more than “free”, so there’s no cash back on a coupon for more than the product’s value.

      They also don’t take coupons printed off the internet, except from their own website.

      The one advantage is that we get gasoline rewards of 10 cents off per gallon for every $50 purchased at one of the stores.

  31. BklynHotniss says:

    Noting how no one has given a valid “method” for couponing. Proof that my searches for a way to save on *&%$#@! that I actually need are useless. Now i can commence to finding something else to do with my time.

  32. Meeem says:

    I don’t consider myself an Olympic level coupon shopper, but I do use a site that matches sale prices at local stores to coupons available through the Sunday paper. I follow the most simple part of their advice, which is to date the circulars and keep them in order in a box, and not clip anything until I’m ready to use it. Anything I can get free or nearly free that we don’t use gets donated. Takes me about 1/2 hour to pull it all together before I head out to Shop-Rite, and that much alone helps me save about 20% of my bill.

    I am part of a two working parent household that also includes two teenage eating machines and a dog, so the time/savings ratio has to make sense to me, which it does. Combined with “eating what’s on sale”, we’re still managing to stay fed and live indoors.