Sunday, August 2, 2009

Catalina Madness at Shaw's

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Well, if you're an avid Shaw's shopper you're probably well aware that there is a catalina promotion running this week on General Mills and Unilever products. In the time that I've been a serious user of coupons, I have found that I am able to do my most successful stockpiling of groceries during these types of sales. Over that time, I've learned a lot about how to get as many groceries as possible for the least possible cost, after making many mistakes along the way!

Sale Basics:

  • These sales are almost always based on shelf prices rather than sale prices. In other words, if you are supposed to buy $30 in products to get a $15 catalina (money-off coupon for your next trip to Shaw's), you would look at the non-sale price to reach your total of $30.
  • You can, and should, use coupons on the items that you are purchasing. I have been able to maximize my savings by ordering coupons that will double at Shaw's (most of the coupons that come out in my local paper are for more than $1.00 and therefore will not double.) Usually there is a preview of the upcoming week's Shaw's ad on on Monday or Tuesday. I check over the items and see what I want to stock up on, and place an order for coupons for those items. I have usually been able to get my coupons by Friday or Saturday of that week.
  • When you receive a catalina, you can "roll" it by using it to pay for your next order.
  • If a catalina does not print, it is often because an item you purchased is not programmed into the system. (I find this is often the case with unusual varieties of certain products.) Shoppers on the Shaw's forums at websites like and are pretty good about reporting their results about which items are working well and which are not. It can also be because you didn't add up the prices correctly. Sometimes the catalina machine might be off (you can tell because it has a little green light when it's on.)
  • If a catalina doesn't print, you have a few options. If you have spent more than you wanted to out of pocket, you could return the items. You won't get your coupons back. If you've only spent a few dollars out of pocket, it's probably not worth it to return the items. I, and many other Shaw's sale shoppers, have not found most Shaw's managers and customer service people to be helpful with getting catalina issues resolved. They will often state that the sale is based on sale prices rather than shelf prices, or that you did not get the catalina because you used coupons. If the deal doesn't work the way I planned, I just go on my merry way.
  • These sales often double or triple (so you could buy $60 and get $30, or buy $90 and get $45.) Check to see if that's the case. It's easier to make fewer trips for more items.
When these sales are going on, I find that they take up more of my time than I want to spend on them. I really don't enjoy shopping- I like getting good deals and not spending more than I have to on groceries, but during weeks like this I end up making at least one trip per day to Shaw's, which I don't particularly relish. So what I do to avoid spending too much time on shopping:
  • On Thursday night, I gather all of the coupons that I have for any products that I might want to buy at that particular sale. At this week's sale, I am interested in Lipton tea (I am a dedicated tea drinker- the rest of America may run on Dunkin' but I run on Lipton...) chex mix, Chex Mix and Fiber One Bars, Honey Nut Cheerios, Suave Shampoo and Bodywash, Q-Tips, Betty Crocker Brownie Mix, and Country Crock.
  • I don't really plan my transactions too much ahead of time; some people find out shelf prices ahead of time and have a plan of what they're buying, and that works well for them. I don't worry about this too much, because I often go to different Shaw's stores with different shelf prices, and if they're out of something, I need to readjust.
  • I find that buying a mix of different items, when possible, tends to draw less attention and that way you aren't clearing shelves so other customers can partake of the sale, too. Also, if you are using coupons that double, you can only use 6 of any one kind of coupon, so keep that in mind when planning purchases.
  • I try not to use a ton of printable coupons at any one time- on this or any other transaction. Not because there's anything wrong with it, but some managers and cashiers can give you a hard time.
  • I started carrying a calculator with me into the store, to keep a running total of my sale prices. (I found it very helpful, but I think I need to have a better quality calculator- I got one for $1 at Wal-mart and the keys aren't very sensitive so I kept making mistakes and getting frustrated.)
  • As I put an item in my cart, I pull out the coupon that I have for it. I keep all the coupons I'm using clipped together so I can just hand them to the cashier when I go to buy the items.
  • I always ask politely if I can use the catalinas to pay for the purchase. Some cashiers don't know if they'll work, but they always go through. You may need to get some "filler" items because your out of pocket total may be less than $0 depending on how many catalinas you have. (I always try to be really nice to the cashiers and baggers at Shaw's, anyway. I worked there in high school... there can be a lot of difficult customers and nice ones are always appreciated.)
  • I try not to make special trips out of the house to go to Shaw's. I will go there on my way home from work or when I am doing other errands. If I'm visiting friends or family and there's a Shaw's nearby, I will sometimes make a quick side trip. I usually do end up going to a few different Shaw's stores, to avoid clearing shelves.
  • I don't buy things I don't want or need, even if they're practically free. These sales generally revolve around highly processed foods, so if I don't feel good about my family eating it, it's not good enough to donate to the food pantry, either.
I can't possibly take a picture of all the things I've bought at Shaw's the last few days- I am a little bit Type-A compulsive and things need to be put away pronto when I get home. This is the load of groceries I got on Saturday- I was visiting my parents and they live within walking distance of two Shaw's stores, so I hit them both. On this trip, I got about $150 worth of groceries for a total of $5.60 out of pocket- I had $20 in catalinas left over. (I should have had $35, but the Nature Valley granola bars weren't programmed into the system and messed up my totals. Not a huge loss.) I also picked up some nice natural & organic reduced items as part of that total. This picture doesn't include some yogurt that I bought for my parents and some rice milk that Diva needed to drink right away.

My food storage areas are ready to explode after several trips like this, but I know we'll eat this stuff up fast- we go through tons of cereal and granola bars every week. Until the next exciting episode...

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