As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m an avid couponer and sales shopper, and I actually save quite a bit of money! I’ve had a few people ask me how I do this, so I thought this would be a good place to go over a few details. It’s really not hard, and now that it’s part of my regular routine, I can’t imagine doing it any other way!
So, as I mentioned in Cereal, anyone? , I’m pretty frugal. (sounds nicer than cheap!) Right now since Clay is in school, we’re on a very limited budget…as in once the bills are paid, we pretty much don’t have anything extra. So if we want any extra money, I need to trim it from the grocery budget. I’ve always been a pretty frugal shopper, but last Fall I started using coupons and really racking-up the savings. Our grocery budget is around $200 a month for Clay, Evelyne, and me, and I’ve been spending around $120-180 or so. (I don’t keep track of it as much as I should) That ends-up being around $30-45 a week. I usually save about $10-13 in coupons alone, and when you add-in coupons and store sales, I save on average 40-50%. (usually my original total is around $60 and I pay $30 or so)
Here are a few steps I take that work for us:
1. The most important thing I do when shopping is to only buy things we really need. I’m usually pretty good about not buying silly snacky things that aren’t really healthy anyway (although I have gotten more lately because of the great deals I’ve been finding). I don’t buy packaged cookies and rarely buy chips, and those are some of the biggest money wasters in the store.
2. We eat almost everything I buy. We rarely throw-away food and regularly eat leftovers.
3. I’m very mindful of prices and know what a “good price” for a product is. I should keep a written price book of sales prices, but I mostly know it in my head. I know what is a good sale and what’s just marketing that won’t really save us money. I know how much I can get an item for when it’s on sale or with a coupon, so I try not to buy it at full price. For example, I never buy canned tomatoes at Kroger, even when they’re on sale for $.75-$1, because I know I can get them for about $.35 per can at Aldi. I can get bread at Aldi for $.79, so I try not to get it anywhere else. Sometimes “sales prices” aren’t really much of a sale, it’s just hype to get you to buy the product. If you know how cheap you could get it, it doesn’t make much sense to buy it at a bad price.
4. I do a lot of my needs shopping at Aldi. Like the canned tomatoes and bread, there are several items that I can’t find cheaper anywhere else. I’m familiar with their products and prices, so I usually stock-up on the same items when I go. (If you go to Aldi, bring a quarter, you have to rent the cart!)
5. I follow the sales. Start looking at the weekly ads that come in your mailbox and you’ll notice a pattern. I do this mainly for buying meat. For instance, every few weeks one of the local grocery stores will have ground beef on sale for $1.38 (higher grades of meat for slightly more, but either way, it’s a great sales price) and when they do, I go and stock-up. Sanderson Farms chicken breasts will go on sale for $.97/lb. (about 65% off of the regular price), so I buy about 8 packages. The idea is that if I only buy at this sales price, I should have enough to last me until the next time they go on sale. Why would I pay full-price if I know they’re going to be on sale again in a week? I also go to the discounted meat section every time I’m at the store. This is where I get pork or steak for about half-off. If I don’t use it immediately, I just freeze it. I saw 1 lb. packages of Ground Round beef on sale for $1.19 the other day (I think usually it’s over $2), so I bought 15 of them!!! It’s a great price and a higher quality meat than I usually buy and I KNOW we’ll eat it. Stocking-up on good prices means you don’t have to buy it at a regular price, you just wait until the next sale!
6. I clip coupons. I started doing this in a formal way last Fall, before that I would use one coupon here and there, and it wasn’t really saving any money. You kinda have to have a plan when you use coupons, and you definitely have to know your prices. Saving fifty cents on a $3 item you wouldn’t normally buy anyway isn’t really that great of a deal. Saving fifty cents on a $1 item that you love is a great deal! I snag coupons from my mom’s copy of the Sunday paper, but I’ll have to buy my own subscription when we move to Seattle. You can also print a TON of coupons from online for free or find coupon inserts in newspapers around town at gas stations or restaurants.
The secret to using coupons is to use them on items that you know you will use while they are on sale. When you do this, you get an item that you would buy anyway for next to nothing. For example, I got some Lawry’s Teriyaki marinade yestreday. The normal price is $3.25, and it was on sale for $1.67. I had a $.50 coupon that Kroger doubled to $1. (YES, Kroger doubles coupons up to $.60! Most grocery stores do this, little-known fact.) So, I got the Lawry’s for 67 cents! I would’ve wanted to buy it anyway, and all it took was a little planning ahead to get it for pennies.
I started couponing by using The Grocery Game. The beauty about this system is that most of the work is already done for you, it’s a great way to enter the world of couponing without overwhelming yourself. It is a website that you sign-up with and every week they send you “The List.” I signed-up for the List for Kroger, but I could also get one for Schnucks, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid. (there is a small fee; I pay $8 every two months for the Kroger list, it would be $5 extra for every other store that I add. I gain so much savings at Kroger that this is a tiny price to pay, but I don’t go to the other stores as often, so paying for a list wouldn’t make much sense.) Depending on the area of the country you live, they also offer lists for many other stores.
The Grocery Game keeps tabs on the grocery store sales cycles (sales usually repeat every 12 weeks), and they match-up items that are on sale with the current coupons that are out. The weekly list shows you which items are a good deal that week, shows you what coupons to use, and where to find them. They also color-code the items to show you if it’s a so-so deal or a GREAT deal. (commpared to the regular price) This is a great way to start-out, and you can get a month free trial, so there’s no real reason not to try it!
After doing the Grocery Game for awhile, I noticed that there are other resources on the Internet for FREE that basically do the same thing. Coupon Mom makes similar lists, and this site even includes Target, but it doesn’t seem to track sales and the best time to use your coupons as much as it just matches coupons with what’s on sale. (The Grocery Game knows whether you should use a coupon this week or wait until next week when the item goes on a bigger sale)
Hot Coupon World is another great resource. This is a huge website with message boards for every store you can imagine where people post deals they’re finding. What I use most is their Coupon Database. Say you want to buy some toilet paper. You go to the coupon database, type-in “toilet paper”, and they give you a list of every coupon that’s out there for toilet paper and where to find it. Some of them are from the paper, some of them are random, and some of them are online printables. Get the coupon, take it to the store with you and save some money on something you were planning to get anyway.
Hot Coupon World also has a Target coupon generator. Another little-known fact: Target regularly puts-out coupons for products in their store, and often they’re a great deal. The coupon generator lets you print-out as many coupons as you want, and this allows you to really stock-up. You’re gonna laugh, but right now I have about 15 containers of Huggies diaper wipes in Evelyne’s room. A couple of months ago they had a coupon on the Target generator that made Huggies wipes SO cheap, under a dollar each tub. So I printed-out 20 coupons and bought 20 of them! It’s something I KNOW I’m going to use and I usually pay about twice that amount for the cheapest Target wipes. If it’s truly a good deal, this is a great way to stock-up on savings. Last summer they had a Gerber coupon out that made buying jars of baby food close to free. I printed-out a ton of coupons and bought over 150 jars for around 2-10 cents each, and that ended-up lasting the entire several months Evelyne was on baby food. For around $20.
Money Saving Mom is also a great resource. This is just a blog that posts great deals online and at stores, everything from random freebies to coupons. She regularly will list deals at my local stores like Kroger and Walgreens, give you links to printable coupons (most of her deals use online coupons), and show you exactly what you can get. She has several very helpful links on how to get started couponing and shopping certain stores like Walgreens and CVS which regularly have sales that make items free or nearly free. A GREAT place to start.
6. Rebates. I’ve recently started doing rebates at Walgreens. (Rite-Aid and CVS have them, too, but we don’t have a CVS near me and Walgreens is much more convenient to me than Rite-Aid) Little-known fact: these stores have several items each month that are FREE after rebate. You might be thinking of a time-consuming and annoying process of mailing receipts, but times are a’changing. When you go in Walgreens, pick-up the little EasySaver booklet by the front door. Besides all the coupons that are in it, there’s a list in the back of all the items that have a rebate that month, and at the top of the list are the items that are FREE after rebate. Usually there’s about 5-7 of them. Go and buy those items, making sure that you get the right ones by matching them with the pictures in the booklet. Go home and get on the Walgreens website. Enter-in the numbers are the top of your receipt, click which items you bought, and you’re done. They’ll mail you a check or a giftcard. (If you choose to get a giftcard, they’ll give you 10% more than your refund amount) If you use coupons on these products, you’re literally making money. The only thing is that you can submit one rebate list a month, so it might be better to enter them all at the end of the month if you think you might buy more rebate items throughout the month. MoneySavingMom has lists each month of the things that are free or nearly free at Walgreens and CVS, and she’ll also link you to coupons that will turn the deal into a money-maker. Lately I’ve gotten some nice Schnick razors for Clay, a Bic Soleil razor for me, allergy medicine, make-up, toothpaste, toothbrush, Garnier Nutrioniste face lotion, and several other things for FREE by using rebates.
OK, so these are pretty much the things I started doing that regularly save us LOTS of money! Even on the months where our total spending doesn’t go down, I’m getting WAY more food for my money and we’re eating better than we did before. Please feel free to add any websites or other ways you save money at the grocery store in the comments section!