Tell Me How Tuesday | Catalinas 101

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It is the 1st Tuesday of the New Year so I want to try to get back on track with my Tell Me How Tuesday series. You can see all the previous posts HERE.

This weeks topic:

Catalina’s 101

When I talk about catalina’s, am I referring to my absolute favorite salad dressing of all time? Sometimes, but more likely I am talking about the “check out coupons” that print from those machines when you check out at various stores – drug stores, grocery, super stores. They are valid anywhere from 10 days – 3 months to use them, so check the dates.

So what are “Catalina coupons”? The nickname “catalina” comes from Catalina Marketing, the company founded in 1984 by five friends who, while sailing to Catalina Island off the coast of Long Beach, Calif., came up with the idea of using bar-code scanner technology to target coupon customers. This particular brand of advertising is referred to as behavioral marketing, because coupons are triggered in relation to the products which are purchased. They typically fall into three categories: money-off coupons, coupons for money off on your next shopping trip or alerts of upcoming sales.

  • Money Off Coupons – The computer sees the UPC of the brand you buy and spits out a $$ off coupon for a competitor product to get you to try it. I bought Kraft cheese and got a Sargento catalina coupon. That is marketing by Sargento to get customers from their competitors. You will sometimes get more coupons for the same product. Whenever I buy Dole pineapple, I get a get $1/8 Dole pineapple.
  • $$ off your next shopping trip – These are typically printed during manufacturer or store promotions such as “buy a certain $$ amt, get $$ towards next purchase” OR “buy a certain number of items and get $$ off next purchase.” These typically can be used “like cash” to buy anything in the store though certain exclusions apply. See Walgreens 101 for the complicated way Walgreens allows use of these coupons.
  • Alerts of upcoming sales – DO NOT TOSS these without reading them. They often tell of unadvertised catalina’s. Right now, there is an unadvertised catalina on NATURE VALLEY GRANOLA BARS 12/28 – 1/24 – Buy 3 get $1.50, Buy 4 get $2.50, Buy 5 or more get $3.50. They also give an early heads up for advertised deals – people received a catalina alerting them to the P&G Catalina running at Shaws 12/30 – 1/9. Having that info allowed people to use coupons that expired 12/31 prior to seeing the catalina advertised in the 1/1/10 flyer.

There is some strategy to optimizing your savings using these catalina’s. Today I will focus mainly on $$ off next purchase catalina’s you receive at grocery chains. As I said before, Walgreens has a totally different strategy in optimizing these which is complicated, so check it out HERE. I mainly shop these promotions at Shaws, but other grocery chains are similar so the basics still apply.

Buy $$, get $$ towards your next purchase promotions are sometimes manufacturer promotions, sometimes store promotions. You can really save BIG by using coupons on the sale items to reduce your oop (out-of-pocket) and then rolling the catalina you receive to get more products. You can do this for as many coupons you have. Once you are a seasoned couponer, you optimize your savings to feed your family AND donate to local food pantries. See HERE how I rolled my catalinas to get $360 in groceries and made $13 – yup, I made money!

A few tips about maximizing catalina savings (again, general tips, but specific to my knowledge of Shaws):

  • MAKE SURE THE Catalina machine is on (look for green light on the front) and has paper & ink. Ask the cashier if you do not see coupons being printed for the customers before you.
  • If the catalina promo is being offered by the manufacturer, the $$ required to spend is usually calculated from the pre-sale price. This is not secret squirrel info, it is because the catalina typically does not require you to use your store rewards card, so it is programmed against the price that rings in without it – or the shelf price. THIS will vary if it is a store promotion or requires use of your rewards card. There are also typically items not specifically shown in the flyer that will be included in the promotion. The safest savings comes from purchasing only advertised items and using sale price to make sure you reach the spending threshold.

NOTE: Though seasoned couponers use this info to maximize their savings, there is BIG RISK in playing the catalina deals this way. The stores have no knowledge or obligation to honor anything that is not spelled out in their flyer. If it is an unadvertised catalina, or your $$’s spent do not match what the flyer implies you need to do – ex. spend $20 at the prices advertised, you will get no where with customer service if your catalina does not print. Either accept the risk and chalk it up to experience or return the items (which is OK, but gets dicey if you used a ton of coupons and have a lot of items) and let it go. Without an advertisement there are no guarantees! The manufacturer is giving you the money and it is not fair to ask the store to reimburse you if it does not work – if you are not willing to accept the consequences, do not play the game this way!

If they are items you would normally buy, the extra savings is a bonus, but if you are buying stuff just to get the catalina, I would not risk a tricky scenario unless you know it will work.

  • If you are sure all items were included in the promotion and your catalina still did not print, call Catalina Marketing at 1-888-8COUPON (1-888-826-8766) and leaving a voicemail message. They’ll ask for some information off your receipt and look up your transaction, then mail you the coupon you’re owed. This is the same for Walgreens and other stores as well.
  • For “Buy certain # of item catalinas”, you typically are required to do it in one transaction.
  • Catalina’s sometimes double or triple – meaning if it is a Buy $20, get $5 promo, you MAY be able to buy $40 and get $10 in a single transaction. Again, this is a RISK area. I would not try it until you have confirmation it works.
  • You can use coupons on a catalina deal. Whether it is calculated using sale or shelf prices, it is before coupons. Sometimes when a catalina does not print, the store mgmt immediately jumps to “the catalina did not print because you used coupons” – I have heard this from Shaws and Walgreens and it is NOT TRUE. More than likely you made a mistake OR the catalina system was down or some other explainable phenomena.
  • BE CARFUL how things are rung into the register as it may affect your $$ spent total. I once had something ring in as the wrong sale price (the reported shelf price was OK), cashier offered to ring it in manually at the sale price. If she had done this, it would not have registered the shelf price and I would have been short on my spend. This is of course if you are doing the RISKY pre-sale price transactions. Also if a coupon does not scan or you use a competitor coupons, if they do not ring it in correctly as a coupons and just deduct a – $1 grocery, it will also affect your spend.

Catalina’s are typically manufacturer coupons and cannot be stacked with another mfg coupon.
Even though they are mfg coupons, using them at a different store is definitely YMMV – your mileage may vary. Some stores, especially ones that accept competitor coupons will sometimes accept them.

Well that is all I can think of right now. I hope that helps demystify the whole catalina process. It can be very rewarding, but take it slow.

Please ask any questions you have as we can all learn from each other. I will be constantly update and edit this post to make it clearer, but wanted to get it started!!


  1. Sharon says:

    Hi Lynn,
    Thank you for your wonderful blog full of money-saving tips. Question about catalinas – how do you find out about upcoming catalina deals ahead of time?


  2. If my boyfriend goes to the store and gets a catalina from Shaws for a free item the next time he spends $xx amount, can I use it with my own shaws reward card or does it not matter?

    If I get a Catalina for something I don’t want, can I give it to my friend? Is it tied to your Shaw’s reward card?



    • Great question! They are not tied to your card (or at least they have not been in the past). They should scan just fine for anyone.

  3. Thanks! Good to know, especially since if you ever check out in the self-serve lines, oftentimes people will leave their Catalinas there. You can pick up extras that people just didn’t want or didn’t notice print out for them.

  4. I am 100% confused. I go to Shaws all the time and would love to take advantage of this. Is there a site I can go to in order to learn more? Or videos I could watch?

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