The Coupon Lady: Harnessing Catalina coupons

Last week, I shared one of the “secret” ways couponers like me score free merchandise by shopping at drugstores. This week I’m going to share another one of our biggest secrets to saving big money: earning and mastering Catalina coupons.


Catalina coupons are the little strips of paper that are given out along with a receipt at certain stores. Most of the time, the strips include local advertising offers or manufacturer coupons. But have you ever bought something and then have a coupon print up that was for a dollar amount off your next purchase? Did you ever wonder how you got that coupon or how you can get more? What if you knew which items had Catalina promotions before you went to the store?

Learning how to get and use Catalina coupons can really help to lower expenses. You can use your coupons to boost savings during stock-up trips or help offset meat or vegetable purchases. Some extreme couponers save these coupons to use during a “super savings” haul where they buy only highly discounted items and then apply previously earned Catalinas to save 95 percent to 100 percent off their orders. You would not be able to duplicate their savings with regular manufacturer or store coupons alone.

A few weeks ago, I went shopping at Kroger. I saved 55 percent off my total purchase and I earned $8 in Catalina coupons; $6 came from a General Mills cereal purchase and $2 came from an Oscar Mayer lunch meat purchase. On my next shopping trip, I used my Catalina coupons to help buy fresh vegetables my family needed for the week. I bought veggies that were on sale and stretched my savings even further.

Now we have the general idea of how Catalina coupons work, but where do they come from? Catalina machines are distributed by Catalina Marketing, an advertising agency. It markets a special machine that is attached to a cash register that will print out coupons as you check out.

These coupons are triggered in two ways: The first way is based on previous purchase history or when you purchase a particular item. This usually triggers a high-value coupon based on brand loyalty. The second way is from purchasing items in multiple quantities. For example, my $6 Catalina coupon came from buying six boxes of General Mills cereals. Had I only bought two boxes of cereals, I wouldn’t have received the extra savings.

How do we know what items earn Catalina coupons? There are several ways. First, Catalina machines will actually give out advertisements that tell consumers about future Catalina promotions that they might be interested in based on purchase history. The stores also advertise Catalina promotions in their ads or on the shelves next to the product, usually with white or yellow tags that say something like “Save $2 when you buy 3, Save $3 when you buy 4.” Check the wording carefully, because if it reads “any participating product” then you might find a sale item nearby that is included in the deal but doesn’t necessarily have a tag next to it.

You can also find Catalina deals by following a local coupon blog. My favorite is Southern Savers. Simply click on the store you wish to visit, and on the right-hand side you will see a tab for Catalina deals. It will list current promotions and how long the promotion will last, which could be short as a week or as long as a month. For easy reference, simply print the list and put it your coupon binder.

Area grocery and retail chains that participate in Catalina programs include Fred’s, Rite Aid, Walgreen’s, Bi-Lo, Kroger, Target, Food Lion and Kmart. In the surrounding areas participating stores include Harvey’s, Harris Teeter’s and Piggly Wiggly.


Are you a business, church group, or social group and want to share your passion for savings with your fellow members? We are now accepting requests for free coupon classes to be held at your location or event. For more information, contact Carol Gunter at The Augusta Chronicle at (706) 823-3318 or by e-mail at



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