I used to spend an exorbitant amount of money at the grocery store. I bought whatever I felt like whenever I felt like going. Now I look back on that time with disbelief because there’s no telling how much money I wasted!
There are SO many ways to save money on groceries, and it all comes down to personal preference and how much work you’re willing to put into it.
The most common way to save is to use coupons, because they’re so readily available from newspapers, the internet, mailings, etc. There are manufacturer’s coupons, store coupons, and catalina coupons (the ones that print off at the register) that can all be used to save money. Everyone has seen these and gotten them in the mail, for example a coupon for .50 off any Charmin product. Usually you can “stack” one store and one manufacturer’s coupon on the same product for additional savings, so if Target had a coupon in their Sunday insert for $1 off a 9 pack of Charmin toilet paper, you could also use your .50 off coupon from the paper to save 1.50 off of the sticker price. When you check out, the cashier may hand you a catalina coupon that says $2 off any 2 Charmin products. The catalina coupons are always based on what you buy, and in my experience, each time you use one, you get another one for more $ off a larger quantity of the same product or brand. Coupons are small and flimsy and thus very easy to lose. I keep a small coupon accordion style organizer in my bag, and I have a binder at home to keep everything together and accessible.
Another way to save is shopping the sales. Using this method, you would plan your menu for the week based solely on what is a reduced price. This is a great method to use if your pantry is stocked and there’s nothing special going on that week that may require special ingredients. I know in my house, those weeks are few and far between because there’s always a church event to bake for, a meal to deliver, or dinner guests to plan for, but I do try to buy mostly items that are at a reduced price. The trick with that is to know the regular price of the items you always buy or you may end up actually wasting money. For example, if your favorite cereal is “on sale” for $2.79, you may be tempted to stock up even though you just opened a new box that morning. You might stand in the aisle for an awkward amount of time wondering how much room on the top shelf of your pantry is empty and does anyone else in your family really like this kind when you should be racking your brain to remember the average price of this cereal. If it was $3.49 the last two weeks, then $2.79 seems like a good price, but if it was $2.89 for the 6 weeks before that, then it’s not really worth it to stock up. (Unless you also have a coupon that’s about to expire!) Stores are tricky and they expect you to be kind of dumb in remembering prices, but remain loyal to your product, so they’re hoping to get you to buy it by advertising that it’s on sale. If you can keep a ballpark price range of your staples, you’ll always know when a sale is a good one.
My personal favorite way to save money at the grocery store is price matching. Each store has different policies, so be sure to call your local store and find out if they accept competitors’ ads, and if there are any exceptions, such as Buy One Get One sales, etc. This method has really worked out well for me in the last year or so that I’ve been taking advantage of it. The best part is that it’s totally FREE and not a huge time commitment. When I worked in an office, I would just devote one lunch hour a week to making my grocery list using the store ads that come in the mail each week. If your area does not mail these to you, they are all available online. This site is a great resource to find local ads each week. If your store price matches, just take in the competitor’s ad and they will honor the lower price for that product, provided you’re following any size and date restrictions. Sometimes stores will even accept other store coupons, but remember there are always restrictions. My Walmart will price match anything that has a dollar amount and accepts coupons for x amount of dollars off a product, provided that the product rings up more than the coupon takes off. Essentially, Walmart will not allow any transaction that will not at least make them a few pennies.
If you’re willing to devote more time to it, you can use a combination of all of the above methods to really maximize your savings. Let’s go back to the Charmin example from earlier: You have a manufacturer’s coupon for .50 off, and a Target coupon for $1 off a 9 pack, and when you peruse the weekly ads, you see that Kroger has it on sale for $5.99. I would take the coupons and the ad to Walmart and get 9 rolls of toilet paper for $4.50, and then I would try to get some more coupons so I could stock up because that is a great price for name brand TP! Now you may be wondering if all that work is really worth saving a measly $1.50 off your bill. Probably not. BUT if you utilize these methods and make them a habit, then you’ll be saving a little on each product, and that will add up. I very rarely pay full price for anything at the grocery store because I buy what’s on sale and use coupons. I try to stack my savings by using a coupon on a product that is already on sale. On average, I save as much as I spend on groceries, and it has made a gigantic difference in our budget!
If you’ve never used coupons before, you may feel embarrassed or frustrated the first few times you try if you pick up the wrong size of the product or the person in line behind you is staring, but don’t let it affect you. Everyone can stand to save a little money right now in this economy and if the manufacturers want to give away money in the form of 50 cent barcodes, take advantage! My advice is start small; look for coupons for products you already buy or just start with price matching ads if that’s an option in your area. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed, but with enough practice you can save tons of money at the grocery store. Who knows, maybe you’ll love it and I can watch you on Extreme Couponing one day!