Coupons: How to clip your way to free groceries

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Have you ever been stuck in line at Walgreen’s behind the lady rifling through her purse for that 2-for-1 Purina Cat Chow coupon she clipped from the Sunday circular? And while standing there, did you think,”What a savvy consumer!” Even if you wanted to throttle that penny-pincher, you’ll probably find a Slate article on using coupons for free groceries to be a shopping epiphany.  The author, Alicia Barney, tells of some wondrous coupon feats by some truly thrifty shoppers out there—and she passes along plenty of advice on how to use the internet (and your innate George Costanza-cheapness) to get everything for nothing on your next grocery outing.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon shopper extraordinaire featured in the article, and author of the syndicated column “The Coupon Queen,” uses her blog to track weekly deals, find coupons and, ultimately, help shoppers create that great confluence of savings: the store + manufacturer’s coupon combination. It’s simple: find a supermarket deal on Kraft Lunchables—for $2, let’s say—then bring in a $2 Lunchables coupon from Kraft, and… free Lunchables. Oh, to think of those many money-wasting years of heeding warnings like “Not Valid with Any Other Promotion.”

Much of the article is an account of  Barney’s own hard-core coupon-using maiden voyage, during which she puts the “Catalina” to some new-found use. The Catalina, as Barney learns from her coupon coach (we should all have one), is that future-use coupon that often pops out at the end of your purchase. Clever couponers, will, instead of waiting until their next trip to the grocery store to cash in on these savings, use them immediately. How is this possible? As Barney tells it, make your first purchase, get the coupon, move the divider back on the conveyor belt, put down another bunch of items and start a whole new purchase right then and there.

Catalinas and coupon combos are two of the strategies you’ll find for extreme savings. But Barney’s article ends on a mixed couponing note: yes, you can save a bundle, but it can take a lot of work, among other annoyances. Those wanting to experiment on their own can scan the circulars or sites like Coupons.com, SmartSource.com, Moneywisemoms.com and Supercouponing.com. Maybe next time you’ll wind up with frozen creamed spinach for pennies on the dollar.

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