EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 7, 2010

How 'Catalina' coupons help you save

The Coupon Queen
Jill Cataldo

If you've shopped for groceries at a large supermarket, you've undoubtedly noticed the long "string" of coupons that print out at the register along with your store receipt. These checkout coupons, or "Catalinas," as coupon shoppers commonly call them, are incredibly valuable to coupon shoppers. (Catalina Marketing Corp. introduced the computer system that issues checkout coupons about 25 years ago, although the company says it's not sure how or why shoppers picked up on the name.)

If you've ever taken a look at the kinds of Catalinas that print after your shopping trip, you'll notice that they typically fall into three categories: money-off coupons for specific products, coupons for money off on your next shopping trip or alerts of upcoming sales.

A shopper receives money-off Catalinas when the UPCs of certain items in their cart are scanned at checkout time. The register "sees" a certain brand or type of item you are purchasing and spits out a Catalina that offers a discount on a competing item that you may consider purchasing in the future. Last week I purchased a certain brand of apple juice and received a $1 checkout coupon for a competitor's brand of apple juice. You may even receive a coupon for a free item! Just in the last month, I bought one variety of pet treat and received a coupon for a free package of treats from a competing brand. A couple of weeks later, I bought one brand of yogurt and received a Catalina for a free 4-pack of a competitor's brand of yogurt.

The second type of Catalina is issued during a general money-back sale at the store. You may see a store ad that states, "Buy any 10 products in this group and receive $10 off your next order." That $10 savings comes in the form of a checkout coupon good for $10 off your next shopping trip. The discount is good on anything in the store. It's just like having $10 cash to spend.

The third kind of checkout coupon is an "alert." These coupon alerts aren't technically coupons, since they don't offer money off anything in particular, but they do contain details of an upcoming sale at the store. These "secret" sales are typically not advertised in any of the store's fliers, so these checkout alerts are the only way shoppers can get in on the savings.

Unfortunately, many shoppers consistently overlook the value of checkout coupons. It's true that carrying a long, somewhat cumbersome ticker-tape of Catalinas with your receipt as you exit the store can be a mild annoyance. But the value of all three of these varieties of coupon cannot be overstated. They're all important, and you should save them all. I certainly do!

Just as we save all of our coupons that come in the newspaper, even the ones for things we think we may not buy, saving all of our Catalina coupons ensures that we'll have them on hand in case those items go on sale too. Almost two months ago, I received three $1 coupons for a smoothie beverage that I'd never tried before. Even though this is a product I wasn't terribly interested in purchasing, I held onto the Catalina coupons. A few weeks ago, just before those coupons were due to expire... the smoothies went on sale for $1. Because I'd saved my Catalinas, now I got three of them for free!

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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 Web site, www.super-couponing.com. E-mail your couponing coups and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.