No Shortcuts to Health

Lisa Says: The Virginian Pilot printed my letter to the Editor¬†today (copied below) in response to the front page article that ran 2/25 on “America’s ‘queen of coupons’”.

Virginian Pilot 12 March 2010 | 5:00 AM
No shortcuts to health

Re ‘Grocery coupon queen,’ front page, Feb. 25: The report shows the disconnect in understanding what gets us ’sick’ and how to save real money.

Americans need to choose between saving pennies at the grocery store and promoting chronic disease or saving thousands in medical care and enjoying robust health.

The article lists items clinically shown to promote such issues as diabetes, obesity and cancer, and shortsightedly promotes using these products and lowering your food budget, while medical costs are bankrupting you.

But you can eat healthy foods you enjoy and save money at both the grocery store and the doctor’s office. With a little research, you can learn to stretch your food dollar with healthier choices.
Lisa G Hamaker, Co-Director, Hunger For Health
Virginia Beach

Here’s the original article that ran. ‘Nuff said.

America’s ‘Coupon Queen’ shares her supermarket savvy
By Carolyn Shapiro
The Virginian-Pilot
© February 25, 2010

Susan Samtur stands in the cereal aisle and calculates.

A box of MultiGrain Cheerios normally costs $3.69. Harris Teeter supermarket has them on sale: two boxes for $5, or $2.50 each. Samtur has a coupon for 75 cents off, which the store will double, for a savings of $1.50. Her final price is $1.

The self-described “Coupon Queen,” who has written books on her grocery-shopping strategies, stopped Wednesday in Hampton Roads to demonstrate her skills at the Harris Teeter in north Suffolk. Up and down the aisles, she consults her coupon filing system, which her mother helped her make decades ago, as well as her shopping list and the store’s latest advertising flyer.

“This is another good one,” she says, heading toward the crackers. “They have the Ritz on sale for $2.99.”

Her coupon will take an additional $2 off the crackers with a purchase of any Coca-Cola product, so her cost for the Ritz comes to 99 cents. “I’ll always use Ritz crackers,” she explains. “I use them for crust when I’m baking.”

Her Harris Teeter visit is on Samtur’s East Coast supermarket tour. While preaching her gospel of grocery savings, she hopes to promote her fourth book, due this fall. On her Web site, she sells subscriptions to her quarterly magazine, Refundle Bundle, and a DVD called “Supershopping with the Coupon Queen,” which comes with an envelope of coupons worth $25 for the shipping price of $6.95, to cover costs, she says.

Samtur, 65, is a petite purchasing powerhouse, standing well under 5 feet. She has big eyes and a bigger Bronx accent, from her childhood in the New York City borough. A resident of Scarsdale, N.Y., her supermarket of choice at home is A&P.

Coupon competency requires preparation. Before shopping, Samtur says, she spends a half hour preparing a list, studying the store’s weekly flyer and comparing it against her pile of coupons to find the steepest discounts. For Harris Teeter, she also checked the chain’s Web site and other sources of online coupons. Some supermarkets don’t accept those, but Harris Teeter does.

Good coupon shoppers, Samtur says, must dispense with brand loyalty. They must forgo favorites for the best deal. In certain categories, such as laundry detergent, she has coupons for as many as 10 brands “because I don’t know what’s going to be on sale.”

In the dairy case, she gets six of Dannon’s Light & Fit yogurt cups Wednesday for 15 cents each. Harris Teeter had marked them down to 10 for $4, or 40 cents each. Samtur had a coupon for 75 cents off six, and Harris Teeter doubles coupons up to 99 cents. So that’s $2.40 in yogurt cups, less $1.50 with her coupon, for six for 90 cents.

Samtur grows excited about a can of Edge shaving gel on sale for $1.99. She has a 75-cent coupon, doubled for a savings of $1.50. “For 49 cents, where are you going to get a brand-name shaving cream?” she says.

She talks a mile a minute, scanning the shelves for sale prices and deals. Her keen eye catches freebies and value-added pitches that most shoppers would ignore.

She notices packages that say “20 percent more!” of a product for the same price as the usual size. She spots “free DVD” on a box of cereal – for five box “tokens,” the shopper can choose from a number of movies. She points out instant coupons attached to product packages, an offer of “free bananas” on a box of Nilla Wafers cookies, and a Tropicana orange juice carton that pitches “up to $15 savings.”

Samtur takes advantage of most of these deals. “Sometimes there are offers where you send away a part of your package and you get coupons back.”

Many of those coupons are for free items – no strings attached or other purchase required. Samtur’s file includes several of these. At Harris Teeter, she gets a $5.19 box of Cascade dish detergent and a $7.49 container of Folgers coffee – each for the price of a 44-cent stamp.

When Samtur reaches the cash register at Harris Teeter, she has a cartful of items culled from her list and a pile of coupons to match. While on tour, Samtur doesn’t actually buy the groceries. The store, which approves her visit ahead of time, returns items to the shelves and gives back her coupons.

The cashier rings her up at $156.93, including the savings from her VIC (Very Important Customer) frequent-shopper card, which gives her the in-store discounts. Then the store manager scans her coupons.

Her final total: $35.82. She saved 77 percent.

“The longer you do it, the better you get at it,” Samtur says, promising that any consumer can excel at coupon use. “It’s not like I have some special or unique gift.”

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