What are Catalinas? And why does everyone get so excited about them?
Catalinas are a great way to save even more on your total grocery bill. On any given day, a good portion of the emails I receive pertain to Catalinas. There is so much to know about Catalina deals — how they work, why they work, and why most of them aren’t advertised. I cover Catalinas in great detail in Super-Couponing 2, and if you’re crazy for Catalinas, I’d strongly encourage you to attend a session of Super-2 if you can.
But here’s a primer on Catalina basics:
The term “Catalina” refers not to the delicious red salad dressing but to those checkout coupons that print from the small machine near the cash register at the end of a shopping transaction.
Why are they called Catalinas? The company that makes the machines and offers the deals is called Catalina. The coupons themselves are actually called checkout coupons, but almost all couponers and couponing websites refer to the paper coupons themselves as “Catalinas,” so I do too.
How do they work? At any given time, there are dozens of Catalina promotions running at various stores. By purchasing an item, or a certain number of items, the register triggers the machine to print a coupon good for money off your next order, or a coupon for a product the machine feels you may be interested in buying based on past purchases. Some Catalina deals are based on purchasing an individual item, and others are based on quantities of a variety of items.
How do you know when a Catalina is going to print?
Some stores, like Walgreens, regularly advertise almost all of their Catalina promotions in the weekly flyer. That’s why I teach that these are the best deals for new couponers to learn the ropes of Catalinas with. First, when you know exactly what should print, you can plan your shopping trip a little easier — and if for some reason the Catalina doesn’t print, you have the flyer in hand to show the store and can usually encourage the store to either try to reprint the Catalina or make additional arrangements to compensate you for the Catalina you missed.
Why wouldn’t a Catalina print?
There are many reasons why a Catalina won’t print. The first ones are hardware related. The machine could be out of paper or ink. The machine could be turned off (look for the green light on the front of the machine, or ask a cashier to make sure the machine is on.) The machine could also temporarily lose its uplink to the satellite connection, which transmits your purchase history to Catalina and triggers the Catalina to print.
You could have also purchased the wrong item. Catalina deals are typically highly specific to varieties, sizes and types of products. One flavor of salad dressing could trigger the Catalina (no pun intended!) while another may not. And if you’re doing a multiple-item Catalina deal which requires you to purchase 6 participating items, purchasing even one wrong size or variety will ruin your entire order.
Worse, sometimes some varieties of items don’t get scanned into the Catalina system, and even when it’s supposed to generate a Catalina, it won’t — because that item’s UPC is not attached to the Catalina in their system due to some oversight. That frustrates everyone, but there’s truly nothing you can do about it. And it has happened. A few months ago, we saw a Mitchum deodorant deal in which each Mitchum purchased triggered a Catalina… except “Mountain Breeze.” Why? Mountain Breeze’s UPC wasn’t entered into the system, so purchasing it didn’t trigger the Catalina, even though “All Mitchum deodorant” was supposed to work.
How do you know about Catalina deals when they aren’t advertised?
This is the big question :) And that’s why Catalinas are a game unto themselves. There are typically 3 ways to find out about unadvertised Catalina deals.
1) In-store tags or cues. Many stores will have small shelf tags next to the price tag (square and white) that indicate the item has a Catalina deal attached to it. Jewel’s Spotlight magazine (available on the racks in the front of the store) often has Catalina promotion info inside as well.
2) On Catalinas themselves. This is one of the biggest reasons I say NOT to throw those Catalinas away! Whenever you get a Catalina, read the wording closely. They often contain information about upcoming Catalina deals, telling you either the dates a deal is coming up, or a web address to go to, which contains more information about the upcoming deal.
3) On couponing websites. This is where the “risk” element comes in. There isn’t one large, good resource about Catalinas – rather many diverse couponing sites that watch the deals. I would link them here but they’re fairly difficult to navigate for beginners — they use a lot of acronyms and couponing lingo, and because of their steep learning curve, they aren’t terribly friendly or receptive to questions for beginners either. (If you think the acronyms SS, P&G, RP and KL are confusing, you would not be happy with trying to translate some of these..!) Some of these deals may be completely unadvertised for Jewel, but may be advertised at a different state’s stores, like Albertsons, Acme, Supervalu or other stores in the same chain. When that’s the case, you kind of have to try them on “faith” to see if they’ll also work at Jewel — and if they don’t, you have no recourse to go to customer service and ask for a refund, because they were never advertised to begin with.
And then… if they’re working at Jewel, I might try and see if they’re working at Meijer too. Or Dominick’s. Or Kmart. Or any other stores that have Catalina machines. Grocery stores sometimes share some of the same Catalina deals. But many times they don’t. It really becomes a game of “does this work?”
What do I do when a Catalina doesn’t print?
This, again, is the reason I encourage new couponers to stick to advertised Catalina deals. People tend to get very upset when they don’t get a Catalina they’re expecting — and then instead of dealing with it at the store, they email ME and ask me to fix it for them :) I have no pull with the store. I just report what I know is working in my local store. Beyond that, there is ALWAYS an element of risk to a Catalina deal. If it’s unadvertised, going to the service counter and asking for reimbursement will never work. The stores almost never have information about the Catalina deals that are running at any given time.
Your best course of action is either to chalk it up to experience, or return the items that you bought expecting the Catalina, and let it go. Or, you can try again with a different size/flavor/variety of the item in the deal. But again, this is why Catalina deals are beautiful when they work… and frustrating when they don’t. Without an advertisement, there are no guarantees.
That’s why I try to post the best and easiest Catalina deals here for you guys (doing the hard work myself.) But there’s always risk involved. To do some of these higher-value Catalina deals, you need to understand that you are taking a chance on saving big. If you aren’t willing to lose from time to time, don’t get in the game. But if you’re buying items at a good price that you wanted anyway, saving more money is an even nicer bonus.