Reader Mail: Know when to hold 'em!

Here's a question from a reader like you who's learning how to use coupons to save money at the grocery store:

Q: "I have to disagree with you about holding onto coupons until stores put the item on a good sale. Great idea, but as you might have noticed coupons today have a very short life span. You said grocery stores' best sales on certain items rarely coincide with coupons available that week. I don't believe you should hold on to coupons and wait for a better sale because the coupons will expire. Best to grab the deal when you can and use the coupon, otherwise it's a waste of time cutting those coupons out."

A: This is one of the most common misconceptions about coupons: assuming that they expire too soon to make holding onto them worthwhile. The average coupon has an expiration date three months out. Some expire sooner, some expire later, but it's wrong to assume that they all expire very quickly. I have coupon inserts that are more than eight months old that still have current, unexpired coupons in them - proof that it's not only important to hold onto all of our inserts until every coupon inside expires, but also proof that not all coupons expire quickly.

Using coupons the same week you get them is almost always a big mistake. Stores know exactly which products will be featured in the coupon inserts for the current week, and most stores will intentionally leave these items at a higher price. The reason? Stores know how most people use coupons. Most people will cut coupons out of this week's paper and use them the same week. But these shoppers usually pay a much higher price on a given product, even with a coupon, than if they had waited for a better sale and then used the coupon.

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