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Dear Super Saver: I forgot how some of these things work. Could you please explain them to me again? For example, what exactly is a rain check? What is a comp ad? Who pays for double coupons? Are prices higher in stores where double coupons are offered? What is the money-saving tip that you live by? I know that these may seem like stupid questions, but I'm just not sure. I overheard someone ask for a rain check yesterday but I was too embarrassed to ask what they were.
-- Marnie Meyers, Peoria, Ill.

Dear Marnie: There's no such thing as a stupid question. Also, some of the processes you're asking about are things that don't happen every single day; therefore, without consistent reminders, it is easy to misunderstand or forget. Finally, if you don't really understand the process, you can't maximize its potential, so don't worry, reinforcement is a good thing.

A rain check is a fairly universal concept. When an item is advertised at a sale price, the retailer has an obligation to have a fair amount of the product on hand in an effort to satisfy everyone who comes to the store to purchase the advertised item. If, for example, the store were to advertise a regularly priced roll of expensive aluminum foil that sells for $3 at a price of $1 per roll, the store would be obligated to have enough rolls of foil on hand to satisfy the demand.

The purpose of the rain check is severalfold. First, it is by definition a piece of paper or coupon offered by the retailer's service desk that acts as proof that a customer requesting the sale item can obtain it within a reasonable time at the advertised price if the item is no longer in the store. Next, the rain check shows good faith on the part of the retailer that he did not advertise the item as a ruse simply to get customers to flock to the store in the hopes that they would purchase alternative items when they realized that the advertised item was not available. The only negative thing about a rain check is that in most cases it is up to the consumer to: a) know what a rain check is; b) ask for a rain check during the period of time that the item is advertised, and c) bring the rain check back to redeem the requested items when she comes into the store.

A comp ad is really a consumer's most excellent money-saving tool. It is a "competitor's advertisement." The way a comp ad works is that the store, usually a large discount store like Kmart or Wal-Mart, will accept the advertised sale prices of its competitors, under certain conditions. The conditions are that the store is within a 40-mile radius of its own, that the ad is current and that the date appears on the ad. Comp ads really come in handy for items that may be advertised in one store, but that store's supply may be depleted. The store across the street may have an overabundance of the item, but the price may be 50 percent higher. Smart shoppers will bring in the competitor's sale ad and be able to buy the item without a wait and save money in the bargain.

When a retailer offers a double-coupon promotion, it is the retailer himself who makes up the difference. For example, when a 50-cent coupon is doubled, the manufacturer that distributed the coupon reimburses the retailer for the coupon plus a handling fee of up to 13 cents. The additional 50 cents, however, is covered by the advertising retailer.

Your next question, if double-coupon stores have higher prices, would indicate that you feel that the customer ultimately pays for the doubling promotion through higher prices. Smart retailers don't simply offer double coupons and then increase prices by 20 or 30 percent. Consumers may shop there once, but they simply won't return. So no, traditionally double-coupon stores remain fairly competitive in price; however, like anything else, the caveat "buyer beware" should always be your watchword.

I think that the simplest money-saving tip that helps me is, "Make a list and stick to it." I go a little further and make my list in a way (according to the aisles in the stores) that also saves me time.

Please don't be embarrassed. There is no such thing as a stupid question. I hope my explanations help.

Savings 101

This week's Super Saver is Patti Alfonse of Houston, who writes:

"My Super Saver took place last fall, but I was just reminded about it when I opened up my linen closet. I always use sunscreen when I go outside, ride in the car or go to the beach or golf course. Sunscreen is fairly expensive. In October 1997, I ran into a great sale on a name-brand sunscreen. It retailed for $8 per bottle at my local pharmacy. One day I was standing right there when they put it on close-out for $1 per bottle. I had a dozen 50-cent coupons saved up in my coupon file. The store was doubling coupons. I actually got $80 worth of sunscreen free. Now I'm prepared for the beach, vacation and dozens of holes of golf, and I don't have to worry about my skin. I can keep one in the car, one in my golf bag, one on the deck, etc. I feel very smug."

Today's offers

$13.95 value Egg Beaters whisk offer. To receive a wire whisk valued at $13.95, send the proof-of-purchase from Egg Beaters plus a $4 postage and handling fee. Sunday supplement form required. Expires June 30, 1998.

$3 Bain de Soleil rebate. Send the UPC from a box of Bain de Soleil Sunless Creme, or write the UPC number on the receipt for a Sunless Spray product. Send a dated and circled cash register receipt. Required store form must be received by Dec. 1, 1998.

Send questions on coupons and refunding to Super Saver, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, in care of The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 639, Libertyville, Ill. 60048.

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