EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 30, 2013

New couponing rules don't have to affect savings

Coupon Queen
Jill Cataldo

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What do you do when the coupon game changes? For many of us, we keep playing by the new rules, whatever the ‘new normal’ turns out to be.

Dear Jill,

I’ve shopped as long as I can remember at a store that doubles all 50-cent coupons up to $1. The store announced recently that this entire chain is getting rid of double coupons! I can’t believe it and I have no idea how I am going to be a good couponer now. The store said on the news that they are doing this so they can lower prices for everyone instead of doubling coupons for a few shoppers. But I am one of those few. Any advice?

Meaghan S.

There’s a popular acronym around web forums devoted to couponing - ‘LOND.’ It stands for Land Of No Doubles, and it’s the land I live and shop in most of the time. So, welcome to LOND! While your game has changed a bit, you’re still going to save with coupons. I do!

First, while your 50-cent coupons are now worth 50 cents, not $1, your savings strategy hasn’t changed. You still want to cut the non-sale price in half with coupons, a sale or the combination of both. Where I live in Chicagoland, there are no stores that double every coupon every day. For that luxury, I have to drive about 35 minutes west of where I live. When I’m in that area, of course I shop at the stores that double - but more often than not, I shop at supermarkets that are less than five miles from home. (Gas savings has to count too.)

As someone who shops at both stores that double and stores that don’t, I can share some interesting observations. The stores that don’t double, on average, have slightly lower prices than the ones that double - also lending some weight to your store’s statement that it will be dropping prices in lieu of doubling. One aspect of doubles that I find shoppers rarely give thought to is that the store is typically the party paying for the doubled coupon discount, not the manufacturer. With grocery store margins very tight (I’ve read that most stores operate on less than a 5 percent profit margin) it’s understandable that stores want to keep their operating costs manageable. And, if a store stops doubling coupons, but uses some of that savings to lower prices in the store for its shoppers too, there could be a positive outcome for you as well.

Several major supermarkets in my area offer fuel rewards - spend a certain dollar amount in store and receive five, ten, twenty cents or more off each gallon of gas on your next fill-up. I love promotions like this - the gas savings is a nice bonus on top of what I’m already spending on groceries. But recently, one of my stores announced that they were getting rid of the fuel reward program. Why? Those gas rewards weren’t free - the store was paying for them, of course. The store decided to end the fuel rewards program less than a year after it began, and instead lowered the prices on staples like milk, bread, eggs and cheeses. To the store’s credit, it did exactly that - prices on the items most people buy each week came down. While I may not gain gas savings each time I shop, I’m saving money in other areas when I buy items with lowered prices. Having no fuel rewards is the ‘new normal’ at this store, but I’m still shopping there. And the savings game goes on.

Smart Living Tip: Couponing has evolved significantly over the past few years, and it will continue to. As shoppers and retailers adapt to an ever-changing marketplace, offering new and different sale structures and store promotions, we’ll adapt too. At the end of the day, coupons aren’t going away, and any money saved is better than paying full price.

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Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website,www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.