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How 'Catalina' coupons can help you save

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 treats 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.

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