This is part 1, using the May 9, 2011, newspapers as a case study. Part 2 analyzes the May 15, 2011 newspapers. Part 3 analyzes the June 5, 2001 newspapers.

I hear this question over and over: “Which newspaper has the best coupons?”

The more specific question is: “Which Sunday paper is the best value for the money if you are in search of coupons?”

I’ve explained this before: You will have to do some trial and error as to what works for your family. The answer will depend quite a bit on the regional coupon distributions vs. what coupons you personally will find useful.

And since I’ve read and heard some chatter from couponers on their efforts to find the cheapest newspapers in their area that have good coupons, it’s fair to say the answer also depends on how much it costs to buy a particular newspaper.

If you are one of my national readers, stay with me. The best way I can demonstrate this concept is by detailing what I found in the three metro papers that are circulating in Monroe, Mich., and a random newspaper from another city as a further comparison.

May 8, 2011, is a good date for me to do that analysis because there was only one coupon book in each of the newspapers that I inspected. That particular coupon book also is one whose content is known to vary on a regional basis.

Monroe Evening News

The newspaper I work for is The Monroe Evening News, so I’ll start with this example. This is a home delivery paper in the Monroe, Mich., north 48162 zip code.

The rack rate for a single copy Sunday paper is $1.50. The newsstand racks are all over Monroe County, Mich.; along with some in Wayne County, Mich.

This particular SmartSource insert is zoned for: Livingston Daily Press and Argus, Lincoln Park News-Herald, Dearborn Press and Guide, Mount Clemens Macomb Daily, Detroit Sunday Select, Warrendale Press and Guide, Woodhaven News-Herald, Riverview News-Herald, Ecorse News-Herald, Melvindale News-Herald, Romulus News-Herald, Novi News, Royal Oak Daily Tribune, Northville Record, Brownstown News Herald, Monroe News, Lapeer County Press, South Lyon Herald, Milford Times, Huron Valley News-Herald, Southgate News Herald, Wyandotte News-Herald, Trenton News-Herald, Allen Park News-Herald, Dearborn Heights Press and Guide, Taylor News-Herald.

Total: 53 grocery and personal care product coupons.

The coupons are: $1 off any two Ken’s 16-ounce dressing, $1 off any two Ken’s 8 or 9-ounce dressing, 50 cents off Mrs. Dash, $1 off purchase of fresh beef with purchase of Mrs. Dash, 55 cents off eggs with purchase of New York Style bagel crisps, 40 cents off six cups Yoplait, 50 cents off eight cups Yoplait, $1 off Fullbar multipack, 75 cents off 2 Fullbar singles, $3 off twin pack Clear Care solution, $1 off one bottle Clear Care solution, $3 off Zaditor, $2 off Viactive, $1 off Mitchem advanced control, 55 cents off any one Jack Daniels product, 75 cents off Jack Daniels barbecue sauce, $1 off any two Litehouse products, $1.50 off Genteal, $1 off Dulcolax, $3 off any two Dulcolax, $3 off Raid Max bug barrier starter, $1 off Raid Max bug barrier refill, $1 off Newtons fruit things, $1 off Scott tissue, $1 off Zantac, 55 cents off Tyson refrigerated Grilled and Ready, $1 off Tyson frozen chicken Grilled and Ready, $2 off Revlon cosmetic, buy one get one free Purina Beggin’ strips, $4 off Allegra, $2 off Allegra, $2 off Precise by Tylenol, $5 off Precise by Tylenol, $1 off Smart Balance buttery spread or sticks, 75 cents off Smart Balance peanut butter, $1.50 off Smart Balance milk, 75 cents off Smart Balance cooking oil or spray, 75 cents off Smart Balance popcorn, 75 cents off Smart Balance mayo, $3 off any two Schick disposable razors, $1 off any Schick disposable razors, $3 off L’Oreal hair color, $1 off Carefree, $1 off Stayfree, $1 off o.ob., 50 cents off Resolve pretreat, $1 off Resolve in-wash stain remover, 75 cents off Arm & Hammer toothpaste or related product, $1 off Purina cat food, $1 off Neutrogena suncare item, $1 off Neutrogena naturals cleanser, free Air Wick warmer unit with qualifying purchase, $1 off Air Wick refills

Detroit Free Press

The other newspaper I get every week is the Detroit Free Press. This example you are seeing is a home delivery paper in the Monroe, Mich., north 48162 zip code.

The rack rate for a single copy Sunday paper is $1.50 in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties. For all other areas, the rack rate will be $2. I’m not entirely certain of its delivery area; but I have seen same-day copies of the Freep as far south as Maumee, Ohio, and as far north as Mackinac Island, Mich.

This particular SmartSource insert is zoned for: Detroit News and Free Press. Do remember that the Sunday paper in that city is published by the Free Press.

Total: 60 grocery and personal care item coupons.

The coupons in that packet are: $1 off any two Ken’s 16-ounce dressing, $1 off any two Ken’s 8 or 9-ounce dressing, 50 cents off Mrs. Dash, $1 off fresh beef with purchase of Mrs. Dash, 55 cents off eggs with purchase of New York Style bagel crisps, 40 cents off six Yoplait, 50 cents off eight Yoplait, $1 off Fullbar multipack, 75 cents off Fullbar singles, $2 off Vactive, $1 off Dulcolax, $3 off any two Dulcolax, $3 off twinpack Clear Care solution, $1 off Clear Care solution, $3 off Zaditor, $1 off Hormel Compleats, $1 off any two Litehouse, 55 cents off two cans Hormel chili, $1 off Hormel Always Tender flavored meat, 55 cents off Hormel pepperoni, 50 cents off Hormel deli meat, 55 cents off Hormel Compleats meal, $1 off Newtons fruit thins, $1 off Scott bath tissue, $1 off Zantac, 55 cents off Tyson refrigerated Grilled and Ready, $1 off Tyson frozen chicken Grilled and Ready, $2 off Revlon cosmetic, buy one get one free Purina Beggin’ strips, $4 off Allegra, $2 off Allegra, $2 off Precise by Tylenol, $5 off Precise by Tylenol, $1 off two Smart Balance buttery spreads or sticks, 75 cents off Smart Balance peanut butter, $1.50 off Smart Balance milk, 75 cents off Smart Balance cooking oil or spray, 75 cents off Smart Balance popcorn, 75 cents off Smart Balance mayo, $3 off two Schick disposable razors, $1 off Schick disposable razor pack, $3 off L’Oreal haircolor, $1 off Carefree, $1 off Stayfree, $1 off o.b., 50 cents off Resolve laundry pre-treat, $1 off Resolve in-wash stain remover, 75 cents off Arm & Hammer toothpaste and related products, $1 off Purina cat food, $1 off Neutrogena suncare item, $1 off Neutrogena naturals cleanser, $3 off Raid Max bug barrier starter, $1 off Raid Max bug barrier refill, free Air Wick warmer with qualifying purchase, $1 off Air Wick refills, 55 cents off a Jack Daniels product, 75 cents off a Jack Daniels barbecue sauce, $1.50 off GenTeal, $1 off Mitchum advanced control.

Toledo Blade

This photo is from a Toledo Blade that was delivered to another customer in the Monroe, Mich., south 48161 zip code.

The rack rate for a single copy newspaper is $2. The delivery area is not posted on its web site; but, I know that the Toledo paper is distributed in most of northwest Ohio and part of southeast Michigan.

This particular SmartSource insert is zoned for: Port Clinton News Herald, Sylvania Herald, Wapakoneta Daily News, Napoleon Northwest Signal, Toledo Blade, Lima News, Fremont News-Messenger, Defiance Crescent News, and Bryant Times.

Total: 40 grocery and personal care item coupons.

The coupons in that packet are: $1 off any two Ken’s 16-ounce dressing, $1 off any two Ken’s 8 or 8-ounce dressing, 40 cents off six Yoplait, 50 cents off eight Yoplait, $1 off any Finesse product, free Air Wick double fresh warmer unit with qualifying purchase, $1 off any Air Wick refil packs, 55 cents off Tyson refrigerated grilled and ready product, $1 off Tyson frozen grilled and ready chicken, $1 off Mitchum advanced control, 50 cents off any Resolve laundry pretreat, $1 off any Resolve in-wash stain remover, $1 off any two True Lemon, 50 cents off any Mrs. Dash, $1 off any beef purchase with qualifying Mrs. Dash purchase, 55 cents off any carton of eggs with qualifying New York Style bagel crisp purchase, $2 off Precise by Tylenol, $5 off Precise by Tylenol, $3 off two Schick disposable razors, $1 off one Schick disposable razors, $1 off any two Smart Balance buttery spreads or sticks, 75 cents off Smart Balance peanut butter, $1.50 off Smart Balance milk, 75 cents off Smart Balance cooking oil or cooking spray, 75 cents off Smart Balance popcorn, 75 cents Smart Balance mayo, 55 cents off Hormel Compleats microwave meal, 55 cents off two cans Hormel chili, $1 off Hormel Always Tender flavored meat, 35 cents off Hormel pepperoni, 50 cents off Hormel deli meat, $1 off Hormel Compleats kids meal, 55 cents off Jack Daniels’ product, 75 cents off Jack Daniels barbecue sauce, $1 off Carefree, $1 off Stayfree, $1 off o.b., $1 off Zantac, $3 off Raid Max bug barrier starter, $1 off Raid Max bug barrier refill.

South Bend (Ind.) Tribune

This photo is from a single-copy newspaper copy of The South Bend Tribune that I bought that morning at a 7-Eleven near the South Bend airport. The rack rate is $1.50 for the Indiana edition. Yes, I was out of town last weekend and I bought a Sunday paper. I like to read the news when I’m having breakfast.

The Tribune does put a note on its page that its coupon count is meant “for home subscribers;” so I consider myself lucky to have found any coupon book in my news stand copy.

This particular SmartSource insert is zoned for: Goshen News Extra TMC, Plymouth Pilot News, South Bend Tribune, Warsaw Times Union, Rochester Sentinel, Goshen News, Elkhart Truth.

Total: 34 grocery and personal care item coupons.

The coupons in that packet are: 40 cents of Wacky Mac, 55 cents off Hormel Compleats, 55 cents off two cans Hormel chili, $1 off Hormel Always Tender flavored meat, 55 cents off Hormel Pepperoni, 50 cents off Hormel deli sandwich meat, $1 off Hormel Compleats meal, 55 cents off a Jack Daniels product, 75 cents off a Jack Daniels barbecue sauce, $1 off Mitchem advanced control, $2 off Revlon cosmetic, $3 off Raid Max bug barrier starter, $1 off Raid Max bug barrier refill, free Air Wick warmer with qualifying purchase, $1 off Air Wick refills, $1 off Dulcolax, $3 off two Dulcolax, $1 off Finesse, $1 off Newtons fruit thins, $2 off Precise by Tylenol, $5 off Precise by Tylenol), $1 off two Smart Balance buttery spread or sticks, 75 cents off Smart Balance peanut butter, $1 off Smart Balance milk, 75 cents off Smart Balance cooking oil or cooking spray, 75 cents off Smart Balance popcorn, 75 cents off Smart Balance mayo, 55 cents off Tyson refrigerated Grilled and Ready, $1 off Tyson frozen Grilled and Ready, $4 off Luster 1 hour, $1.50 off Luster White 7, $2 off six cans Purina dog food, $2 off Purina 4.5-pound bag dog food, $4 off Purina 11.5-pound bag dog food.

What are the take-away lessons?

The first point I want to make is: Don’t get too focused on what newspaper has the best coupons.

I want you to make your newspaper-buying decisions based on which newspaper has the best mix of grocery and drugstore ads for the stores you would like to shop at. That could mean just one paper. It could also mean two or three different papers.

You do have other resources for coupons that include swapping with friends or family members, especially those who get “the other newspaper.” There are community swap boxes at most of the library branches in Monroe County, Mich. I also know there are efforts to start a “coupon library” in the metro Detroit area (I’ll be happy to blog about it when and if it launches).

But unless you are reading the retailer web sites and using the “store locater” feature to see the flier for the store you wish to visit, I cannot guarantee that the sales and deals you see on the web will be valid at the store you shop at.

I do get very specific as to which cities my shopping reports and brags are good for. But you do not find that level of detail on many bargain and coupon sites.

On the other hand, newspaper grocery ads are already zoned by metro area and zip code.

The second point is: If you would like to get extra coupons on the “good coupon weeks,” then start paying attention to the zoning districts for the coupon books. You’ll find them listed on the spine of the cover. Those are the newspapers you can pick from in your region and in theory, you’ll get the same mix.

If you have figured out, as some of the northwest Ohio couponers have, that one can bypass the $2 metro paper for a smaller newspaper that costs 75 cents and get the same coupon book, well, then, I think you know the tip I’ve heard in that area.

I’ve also explained from my own experience what happens when coupons cross the state line.

Bottom line: manufacturer grocery coupons will be honored no matter what newspaper they were distributed in. You might already be using an Ohio newspaper coupon at a Michigan supermarket, or vice versa, and have no idea that’s what you are doing. Just be aware that restaurant coupons commonly don’t cross over from one community to the next.

This is the most detailed coupon analysis I’ve ever done – and it was with HALF the usual coupon distribution. There are two to three coupon books in the Sunday papers most weeks. It still took me a couple of hours to work onĀ  this report. Therefore: such a detailed coupon report will not be repeated very often!

But I think my readers now can understand why I refuse to use or teach the coupon database method for matching coupons to the sales. We really do see a different mix of coupons in the three newspapers that are circulating in Monroe.

I teach how to DIY your couponing efforts.

Here’s my Couponing 101 series; and here’s my 8 week checklist so you can see savings as fast as possible.

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