This week, a new coupon shopper asks about a trick of the trade that Super-Couponers often use to achieve bigger savings: the "filler" item.
Question: "I was shopping in the store the other day and saw two ladies putting together some coupon deals. They were sorting their carts and one said to the other that she needed a 'filler' to finish her order and grabbed a small bottle of lotion. She joked to her friend that she didn't even want that lotion, but it was going to help her save money. I was lost. What is a 'filler'?"
Answer: With this question, we move into a slightly more advanced coupon technique that coupon pros often use to reduce out-of-pocket spending during an instant-savings or Catalina deal. Simply put, a filler is the least expensive item that you can use to minimize your out-of-pocket spending for a deal you're putting together.
If you're a little confused, stay with me. I'll walk you through a sale in which I used a filler item to enjoy great savings. My store was having a "Spend $30, Get $10" sale. Shoppers who purchased $30 worth of anything featured in the sales flyer would generate a $10 Catalina coupon for their next shopping trip. Essentially, this deal would reduce my out-of-pocket to $20 for $30 worth of items.
During this sale, I wanted to stock up on dog food. Four-pound bags of a name brand of dog food were on sale for $4.99 each. Buying six bags put me at $29.94, just six cents shy of the $30 mark that I needed to reach to obtain the $10 Catalina coupon.
What's a coupon shopper to do? In a situation like this, smart shoppers will look for the least expensive item - a filler - to get their total just over the threshold. And, honestly, it really doesn't matter what it is. I was aiming to bring the price of that dog food down, so I added something very inexpensive to get over the $30 mark.
During this sale, store-brand boxes of facial tissue were on sale for $1.49, and they were also part of the "Spend $30, Get $10" Catalina sale. With the addition of a box of tissue, my total was now $31.43, and I qualified for the $10 Catalina at the register.
This, of course, was before coupons! I had six $3 coupons for the dog food. The store's flyer also had a $1 coupon for any store-brand product, which I applied to the tissue. After all coupons, my total for the six bags of dog food was $11.94, and the box of tissue just 49 cents. I paid $12.43 and received a $10 Catalina at the register - effectively paying just $2.43 for 24 pounds of dog food and a box of tissue! The tissue was the filler. It was not something I necessarily wanted or needed, but it was essential to bringing my total at the register up to that necessary $30 dollar amount.
I shopped this sale numerous times throughout the week. Each time, I'd get as close to the $30 mark as I could, then use a box of facial tissue as the last item to bring the total over $30 so that I could receive another $10 coupon. By the time the sale ended, I was well stocked on lots of groceries and I had a small tower of store-brand tissue boxes in my stockpile! As an aside, it was fun to run into other seasoned coupon shoppers in the store during this sale - anyone with a brightly colored box of the store's tissue in their cart was likely buying them for the same reason! (I wonder if the store knew why their house brand of tissues was suddenly in demand.)
Again, it truly doesn't matter what your filler item is, as long as it is an item that is both inexpensive and included in the store's featured deal.
• Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to email@example.com.