Reader mail: Can I save more with store brands?

It's time again to answer reader mail from people like you who are learning to Super-Coupon:

Q: "I've been reading your columns with great interest. Prices seem so high right now in the grocery store. If I just buy the store brand of products, won't I save more money than using coupons on the big brands?"

A: This is a common misconception among new coupon shoppers. It's true that when you compare the shelf price of store brands with the price of name-brand products, the store brands often appear to save us more money. But with rare exceptions, we can almost always buy the name-brand products that we like and prefer - with coupons - at an even better price than the store brand.

Why is this? Quite simply, there are more coupons and discounts available for name-brand products than for store-brand products. If you look at your coupon inserts from the newspaper and the wide variety of coupons available on the Internet, you'll quickly notice there are typically no coupons for store-brand items.

Large, brand-name product manufacturers work hard to encourage us to try their products. They feature their brands and products in the coupon inserts, offering shoppers significant discounts to try them. Many times, it's also possible to find store coupons for the same products. If we stack a store and manufacturer coupon together, we're reaching an even larger savings on the brand-name item than we could by simply purchasing the store brand at its regular low price.

As with all things, there are always exceptions. If your store happens to offer coupons for its own brands, that's a great way to save. Here's a perfect example. Recently, my store had coupon dispensers set up in the aisle offering $1 coupons for "any [store-brand] paper product." During this sale, store-brand rolls of paper towels, boxes of facial tissue and packages of the napkins were all on sale for $1. Now, if you're a regular reader of my column, you know that using a $1 coupon on a $1 sale is one of my favorite ways to get things for free!

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