Those coupons in your Sunday newspaper have some secrets. Here are five little-known facts the cashier will never tell you:
1.) THE SALES CYCLE
Kati Kiefer, an accountant by trade, has tracked grocery prices for her website, TrueCouponing.com.
"I love math," she says. Kiefer has documented a pattern in grocery store pricing. And the magic number is 12. Her database shows that products go on sale at least once in a 12-week period.
That's why Kiefer says savvy shoppers hold onto their coupons, to use them during sales. Then stock up.
"If you buy enough for 12 weeks, you'll never have to pay full price," Kiefer said.
2.) STORES LOVE THEM
Bulldog cashiers roll their eyes at couponers. And while they might think the store's CEO would cheer them on, those clerks are way off-base.
"Coupons are a moneymaker for the store," Kiefer said, pointing to the fine print on a manufacturer's coupon. In the tiny text, it tells the store that it will receive an $.08 handling fee when it redeems the coupon.
Considering U.S. shoppers use upwards of three billion coupons a year, that extra $.08 adds an extra $240,000,000 to stores' collective bottom line.
3.) BOGO + BOGO = TWO FREE
Buy-one-get-one-free sales are a convincing hook to get people into grocery stores. Kati says there is a fantastic (and legal) way to squeeze the very most out of a buy-one-get-one-free sale: use a buy-one-get-one-free coupon at the same time.
When you do, Kati says, you'll get two items for free. The sale pays for one and the coupon pay for the other.
"We call it the ‘free free,'" she said. "That's where the consumer really makes out."
Should you encounter that bulldog cashier who accuses you of stealing, Kati says you should feel absolutely no guilt at all.
"It's not stealing," Kiefer said, nothing that they store will be reimbursed for one item thanks to the coupon, Plus, she said, the store might even be reimbursed for the sale, since many are BOGOs are underwritten by manufacturers.
4.) COUPON ESCROW
For every coupon in print, money is set aside. Kiefer, who was an accountant at a multinational healthcare company until she became a mom, said manufacturers must ‘accrue' for a certain percentage of coupons.
The Association of Coupon Professionals, which represents manufacturers in their marketing efforts, acknowledged the practice. Without citing specifics, the association said manufacturers utilize historical data and ‘What if?' modeling to estimate how much redemption there will be and how much money they must set aside to cover the coupon.
"So, it's like cash," Kiefer said.
5.) ADVANCE WARNING
If there is one innovation that has made coupon shopping easier than ever, it is the coupon blogger. Kiefer's site pairs up sales and coupons—instructing users when items are at their very lowest price (with coupon).
"We do all the work for you," Kiefer said.
Kati also has something exclusive: the weekly ad -- long before it's printed for the public.
"We get it three or four days ahead of time," she said.
It's not guesswork. And it's not a crime. Kiefer revealed that supermarkets will send her the ad early, so she can parse their ever-bouncing prices and post them online before the weekly flier arrives in mailboxes.
The stores we contacted declined to discuss their marketing efforts, including leaks to selected bloggers like Kati.
Kiefer said some stores require her to sign an agreement outlining how she can use the advance copy. But, she said, grocery stores do not pay her to post prices or deals.