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While there are many ways for someone to beat or cheat the system with coupons, I would never recommend doing so. The savings we can achieve legitimately without resorting to fraud are impressive.

Inflation continues to rage on, and I’m guessing that I’ve seen just as many price increases in my local supermarkets’ ads as you have. Price increases are happening at an unsettling rate, and the stories in the news continue to predict that things are going to get worse before they get better. Of course, we should continue our usual smart-shopping practices of stocking up when prices are low, but I’ve recently noticed another strategy that we can recognize and utilize.

Like many of my shopping strategies, this one was born out of a real-life experience. I noticed that the price of eggs was going up rapidly. With avian flu in the news, I knew that poultry farms were culling affected herds and price increases were likely. But when the price of a dozen of large eggs jumped by 90 cents in one week at the store I shop most regularly, I started watching egg prices at my local stores even more closely.

When the average price of a dozen large eggs reached $2.25, I realized that this was likely the “new normal” for a while in my area. Free-range eggs were even higher — nearly $5 a dozen.

And then I spotted a great deal on eggs. Our largest area supermarket had dozen cartons of free-range eggs on sale for $2.99 as part of a “buy eggs, get English muffins free” sale. While this might not have been as good a deal if one did not want the muffins, too, my family enjoys both. They usually sell for $1.50 or more at this store, so I viewed this sale like buying the eggs for $1.50 while also buying the muffins for $1.50.

Not only was $1.50 a good price for a dozen eggs, but it was also an excellent price for free-range eggs! So how could the store put these eggs on sale for such a great price amid wholesale egg pricing increases?

While I’m not privy to the exact details, I have a pretty good idea how this happened. The store’s “buy eggs, get English muffins free” sale was likely planned months ago, well before the price of eggs skyrocketed. It takes time not only to plan promotions but also to design, print and distribute the advertisements for that promotion.

At the time this promotion was planned, the wholesale price of the eggs was likely much lower. The store and manufacturer entered into both a temporary price reduction and Buy One Get One Free sale on these products.

By the time the sale took place, the price of the eggs had risen significantly — but with everything in place for the promotion, it ran as planned and shoppers got a great deal that week. I did this deal multiple times to stock up on as many as I had room for in the refrigerator, as eggs are typically good three to five weeks after the date on the carton.

Considering other potential increases, I’ve started looking at my grocery advertisements with this in mind — spotting lower-than-“new normal” deals that jump out to me as markedly lower than they “should” be in the current market, then stocking up on them as much as possible.

I’ve used this same technique to stock up on ground beef, steak, bacon and other meats recently by noticing similar steep declines in price. As shoppers, we learn to recognize prices that are lower than normal by looking at prices across a range of time. We notice trends when prices rise and drop — or in the case of many items lately, prices that rise and then remain in a “new normal” spot.

Once a “new normal” is established, I keep that figure in mind, and anything dipping below that mark represents an opportunity to move in and stock up. While this is not terribly different from the way we normally shop for deals, the added element of taking advantage of lower-than-normal promotional pricing that was planned before prices increased on specific categories is a new factor to consider.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.

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