Couponing secrets: Clip artists know when to buy a lot of something key to ‘making money’

By Janet Patton

Lexington Herald-Leader (MCT)

Published: Sunday, March 23 2014 8:52 p.m. MDT

Think of shopping as if your household goods are commodities, and you will buy at the bottom of the price cycle, meaning when it’s cheapest, and sit on your hands when the price just isn’t good enough.

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Ever hear this piece of investment advice, “You’ve got to spend money to make money”?

It’s usually said by someone trying to sell you something.

I have, and it goes against my every tight-fisted instinct. How can I be sure that I will make back the initial outlay?

This is exactly how you need to evaluate one common household money-saving strategy: couponing.

I’m really not talking about the “clip what comes in my Sunday paper” kind of couponing. That’s the basic idea but it’s too small a scale to make much difference in your annual household spending. I’m talking about strategic shopping, which can involve couponing on an industrial scale.

Think of shopping as if your household goods are commodities, and you will buy at the bottom of the price cycle, meaning when it’s cheapest, and sit on your hands when the price just isn’t good enough.

This can reduce long-term costs if implemented properly. Instead of getting a great deal on 1 gallon of detergent, multiply it by 10. Now you’ve got that same great price on a year’s worth of detergent.

But to make this work you need two things:

1. A good understanding of the market, so you know when prices are right.

2. The ability to take advantage of that price with flexibility in your budget.

That’s where spending money to make money applies. If you can afford to buy a lot of something, you might save in the long run. But you might have to sink capital in up front.

How to maximize the deal

Serious couponers maximize these deals with multiple coupons and by timing their purchases just right, says Katie Fleck, an Ohio couponer who writes the blog “Kroger Krazy,” which specializes in sussing out incredible deals at the grocery chain.

“Most people that use coupons casually get coupon inserts or print online, go to the store and buy the product. What sets apart the serious couponers is when you use them and how many you get,” Fleck said.

For example, Fleck doesn’t use a coupon as soon as it arrives. She knows better.

“You want to pair it with a sale, and you want to wait until the coupon is almost expired, so you gotta hold out,” Fleck said, “so you’re getting the lowest price you can possibly get.”

These deals are often cyclical, she said, so hang on until that magic moment when the sale and the coupon align.

The deal gets even better if there is a bonus like a “Catalina” involved.

(For the uninitiated, a Catalina is a kind of paper coupon that sometimes prints out with your receipt when you check out; it’s named for the machine that prints it out. It might be a coupon but often it’s money off a future purchase of any kind. Usually items that will generate these are marked in the store something like “buy three and get $2 off future purchase.”)

With a Catalina, as long as you follow the rules, you might actually cover an item’s cost or even make money, Fleck said.

For a super deal like that, “you don’t want just one coupon. You want several,” Fleck said.

You can get coupons free if you want to go through newspaper recycling bins and take your chances. Another option is setting up a coupon swap with friends. Maybe one of you likes only Charmin toilet paper, the other Cottonelle. Or cultivate your non-couponing neighbors to give you their stash.

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