Last week, I discussed the sale cycles that many grocery stores operate on. For about three months, nearly everything will go on sale — but not every sale is the rock-bottom, lowest-of-the-low prices that coupon shoppers seek. During each 12-week sales cycle, expect to see an item at its lowest price just once. When that low-price sale appears, smart shoppers move in and stock up for the short term, buying about 12 weeks’ worth of a product.

Whenever we see a low price, we can expect that we won’t see prices that low again for another 12-week cycle. The goal is to buy enough to last until the next time you anticipate a low sale price to come. However, buying 12 weeks’ worth of products does not mean buying en masse. If your household uses one tube of toothpaste every month, stocking up means you’re buying three — not 30!

Understand, too, that we’re chasing a range of low prices. The lowest price in each 12-week cycle may not be identical. About three months ago, one of my local grocery stores had boxes of cereal on sale for 99 cents each — a great price. About three months later, the same cereal was back with another great deal, but this time, it was 88 cents per box!

How do you know when a price is low enough to entice even the most frugal coupon shoppers? You can manually track sales cycles by creating a pricing book, or you can follow a coupon blog in your area, which will note the best sale prices each week and specify which coupons to use with them. Sometimes, though, you may find that you’re standing in the store staring at the shelf wondering if a sale price is a good sale price.

Here’s an easy method you can take advantage of without researching past sales patterns. Is the item 50% off or better? My goal as a coupon shopper is to cut the price of an item by half or more. This may be achieved by combining a sale with a coupon, a sale with a purchase incentive (“Buy 5 and Save $5 instantly”) or simply with a low sale price that occurs on its own.

Begin paying attention to the regular shelf prices of the items you buy, comparing them to the weekly sale tag next to the full-price tag on the shelf. A jar of peanut butter that regularly sells for $4.99 is a good buy when you can drop its price to $2.50 or less. If it’s on sale for $2.99 and you have a 50-cent coupon, you’ve hit the mark. If the peanut butter goes on sale for $1.99, it’s also a good time to buy, because its current sale price is less than half of its full, regular price.

Once you start paying attention to the prices at the store, you’ll also gain a “shopping sense” that helps you recognize lower-than-normal prices. Once you’ve committed to memory that the peanut butter is a reasonable price at $2.50, you’ll undoubtedly notice a week where the store is advertising the same jar at a loss-leader price of 99 cents! (Loss leaders refer to prices near or below the actual wholesale price of an item. Stores often sell selected products as loss leaders, as it’s an effective way to entice shoppers to come in for deals. The store hopes that you then do all of your shopping there, purchasing non-sale items to offset the loss leader.)

Note that not all stores operate on weekly pricing cycles. Some stores follow an “everyday low price” structure. These stores keep the same prices week to week, rarely having sales. While their prices are often not too high, they’re also typically not too low. They tend to ride the middle line, courting the shoppers who would rather pay a midline price than play the game of seeking out the lowest priced items each week. I have found that I can save significantly more money, though, when I skim the lowest-price sales at a traditional supermarket.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.