Sometimes grocery stores and supermarkets run ‘supersaver’ specials that look great on the surface. But, dig into the details, and they may not be a deal at all.

A particularly instructive example of this came to my attention a couple of weeks ago. SuperFresh began advertising a “Save XX% off on your next order (ONYO)” deal that you definitely have to think about twice before diving in with both feet.

The essence of the deal is that you can earn up to three 5% off ONYO certificates if your total spending at the store meets specific targets within a tight time window. The details of the deal are:

  • Purchases to qualify must be made using your “Savings Club Card” beginning July 31st and ending August 27th.
    The % off ONYO discount escalates:
  • 5% off ONYO if you spend between $200 and $399.99
  • 10% off ONYO if you spend between $400 and $599.99; and
  • 15% off ONYO if you spend more than $600
  • The savings certificates print out in 5% increments at the bottom of your cash register receipt, i.e. you get 5% off ONYO when you meet the $200 threshold, another 5% off ONYO when you have spent $400, and a final 5% off ONYO certificate if and when you spend more than $600 in the 4 week period. There is a limit of three certificates per household.

Not too bad yet….but….

  • Qualifying purchases are NET after all discounts such as sale prices, and exclude sales tax and the host of other items that are usually excluded (prescriptions, money orders, postage stamps, etc.)
  • The 5% off ONYO certificates must be redeemed between Friday August 28th and Thursday September 3rd. (This is crucial because it is a narrow window of time — right before Labor Day weekend.)
  • The maximum discount is $75 on a $500 dollar order (redemption of three 5% off ONYO certificates).
  • The discount on the redeeming purchases (that you can use the OYNO discount on) are NET after all discounts and exclude sales tax and other items usually excluded.

This deal is probably not stacked in your favor. For example, let’s say you make a habit of shopping sales and using manufacturer’s coupons. You make a trip to Superfresh and purchase an amount of groceries that prices out at $200 at full price, but you only pay $50 when your Savings Club card discounts and manufacturer coupon discounts are subtracted. The $50 is what counts as purchases towards receiving the “% off ONYO” deal. Assume that the savings you achieved on this shopping trip are typical for you (75% off). To reach the $200 threshold to receive one 5% ONYO certificate you will end up having to buy an amount of groceries that price out at $800 before sales discounts and coupons. This is a lot of groceries to purchase in a short 4 week period, even if the sales are great. Is it really worth it? And worse, if the sales are horrible and you pay full price for $200 of groceries, wouldn’t you save more by simply purchasing them at a store with better sales and coupon polices?

Even if you stockpile, you have to suspect that some of the groceries you will end up buying to meet the $200 threshold to receive one 5% discount coupon will fall into the “unnecessary” category. We all tend to add in an extra item or two on a shopping trip to “make the deal”, the magic number that gets the reward. Stores count on this. But, this begs the question: How much room do you have available for storing stuff you don’t really want and may never use?

There is also the matter of having to accumulate the coupons, and remember to bring them with you to redeem the 5% off ONYO certificate in a ultra-short period of 4 days, right before Labor Day weekend. After buying $800 worth of groceries, what are you going to need in that 4 day period such that a 5% discount will represent a significant incentive to shop even more?  Will you even plan to shop during a holiday/vacation period?

Then there is the considerably important fact that the 5% discount is taken off your NET redeeming purchases. If you take advantage of store sales and manufacturers coupons on that particular shopping trip, your additional 5% off could amount to very small savings. Using the shopping trip example from above ($200 worth of groceries for $75), you would end up saving 5% off $75, which is an added savings of $3.75. At current prices, $3.75 will get you just about 2 gallons of regular unleaded gasoline for your car. If you use more than 2 gallons of gas to make all of the shopping trips in this period of 4 weeks and 4 days, you really won’t come out ahead in the end at all.

So, in this example, you buy $1000 worth of groceries in 4 weeks and 4 days to get an additional $3.75 in savings. Your out-of-pocket grocery store costs, including the $3.75 off but excluding gasoline costs, end up being $371.25 for this deal. For a hardcore, cost-cutting coupon shopper, this deal makes no financial sense whatsoever.

But not everyone is a hardcore coupon-clipping supersaver.

If you aren’t in the habit of using manufacturer’s coupons and shopping store sales and you have an intense need to buy a whopping amount of groceries before Labor Day, obtaining as much as 15% off ONYO might be of some small benefit to you. To put it in concrete terms, you may end up spending as much as $600 to get $75 off $500 worth of additional groceries. $1,025 spent to achieve a savings of 6.8%.

Some savings is ultimately better than none, but, based on ample personal experience, I would urge you to look very carefully at the following before proceeding with this or any similar deals you see published:

  • the fine-print details of the deal, including the exclusions, dates, and redemption periods
  • your actual shopping needs
  • the real costs to you and your household
  • your ability to execute all of the purchases within the rigidly prescribed time windows.

This is a “use it or lose it” deal, so don’t expect any mercy from the store manager if you show up one day late (September 4th) and can’t redeem your savings certificates, or lose your coupon in the rush of back to school and late vacation planning.

In the end whether we save or not really is a matter of how much attention we pay to the details. This is definitely one of those deals. It’s the Store’s job to get you to SPEND. It’s your job to spend WISELY. A savings that costs you money is always a bad deal.

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