Saving Money at the Grocery Store

Saving Money at the Grocery Store

 

I dread going grocery shopping each month.  Most food doesn’t have a long shelf life, so it is hard to stock up on food items like I can with other products.  It is especially hard when your family doesn’t eat things that do have longer shelf lives, like pasta and canned goods.  My fiancé doesn’t like pasta or vegetables, or beans.  My 1 year old is like is father and also won’t eat pasta, including Chef Boyardee things (what kid doesn’t eat that??)  We don’t own a deep freezer at this point in time even though I’d like to invest in one eventually, because I think that will help when it comes to being able to save even more.  But for now, I make do with what I have. However, it is a very difficult task to save money when you can’t stock up on the stockable items and when the majority of the 10 for $10 deals are things that will just go to waste in the house from no one eating them…  Finding quick and easy foods that my family can have for lunch is probably my biggest challenge.  Who wants to eat sandwiches every day for lunch? Not us.  Between my family devouring the meals that I make for dinner (I’m a good cook, what can I say?) and our income not being enough to be able to make meals in gigantic batches we don’t usually have food leftover to eat the next day at lunch.  So how do I save?

 

Well realistically, if you have decided to start couponing because you watched the show “Extreme Couponing” on TLC, you need to change your outlook.  Is it possible to save like that?  Yes, but not at the grocery store.  Not on food.  It just isn’t possible.  Not if you are a real human and eat things like fresh produce, and meats.  Not if you don’t live off the 10 for $10 deals.  All day I can save you money at the drugstores and even at the Super Centers.  But when it comes to groceries… Oh man, that is my hardest spot.  There just are no good enough deals for what my family needs, and living on the income and budget that my family has, every penny needs to be stretched as far as it can be.

 

The truth behind that show is that it is made for entertainment.  It opens your eyes to the world of couponing, and that yes, it is possible to save even 100% or more on PRODUCTS that you buy… but when it comes to groceries, really how often have you ever seen them buying tons of meat or fresh produce on the show?  Think about what you have seen those people buy.  Why would anyone buy the amounts of things that the people buy for that show?  That is not realistic, even the things with long shelf lives will expire before those people get to them.  I only have something like 25 boxes of toothpaste in my stock, and have noticed that I’m nearing the expiration date on a couple of them.  Another thing to think about would be how much the guest of that show saved in their shopping trip.  Does the store that they shopped at double coupons, and if so up to what value?  Most only double up to $0.99 but for that show grocery stores that don’t normally double coupons have doubled even higher than $0.99 and have also allowed the guests of the show to use coupons for products that they didn’t even purchase – just for the sake of the show.  It is entertainment, and money talks.

 

Realistic ways to save on groceries:

 

The first thing I would have to say was a very smart move on our behalf was to quit buying bottled water.  After reading an article about bottled water vs. tap water, and seeing a lot of the benefits of quitting bottled water, we have purchased a filter for our tap instead, both saving us money and getting fresher water at the same time.

 

I like to shop at stores that offer me rewards.  Stores that give me a reason to shop there over somewhere that doesn’t offer anything for going there.  There are three grocery stores that are close enough for me to shop at – Market Basket, Hannaford, and Stop & Shop.  I go to Stop & Shop. Yes, the most expensive of the three.  Why do I shop there if I am on such a tight budget?  Truthfully, the reason I shop there is because of the rewards.  Not only do they double coupons up to $0.99 where the other two stores do not double coupons at all, they also offer store coupons that can be stacked with the manufacturers coupons, and they offer gas rewards.  I get to earn points towards saving gas money for buying food.  I am always able to find items that earn extra gas rewards as well.  With the price of gas these days, how could I not want to save money on gas if I can?  It is nice to get rewarded to buy something that I have no choice but to buy anyhow.  My family would starve if we didn’t buy food, and my car wouldn’t move if I didn’t buy gas.  Neither Market Basket nor Hannaford double coupons or offer any gas rewards.  I personally also think the quality of the produce and meats are not as good at Market Basket.  I’ll admit it, I did once try going to Market Basket one time instead because the general groceries are cheaper than at Stop & Shop – but I did far worse.  I got so much less for my money it was ridiculous.  The way I shop, I need those rewards.  I really can’t wait for them to complete the Price Choppers in my area so I can start going there.

 

Use coupons that double! That is if you are shopping at a store that doubles coupons like I do.  Anything under $0.99 doubles at Stop & Shop, Shaw’s and I believe Price Chopper.  Not too sure about other grocery stores, since I have never shopped at any other than Hannaford, Market Basket, Shaw’s and Stop & Shop.  If I have a coupon for $0.60 off a product or a $1.00 coupon for the same product, I use the $0.60 off coupon because it will double to $1.20 off.  That is a bigger savings, even if it may not seem like a whole lot it does add up.

 

On the gas deals, they generally say to buy 5 of these items and you will receive a certain amount of gas rewards.  Look for the cheapest priced item(s) on there that your family will use (no point in buying it if it is going to go to waste) and stock up on it if it is a stockable item.  Once I bought something like eight 4-packs of butter because it was the cheapest thing on the gas rewards offers that week, and it saved me tons of money on gas (with the other items I purchased, it wasn’t only butter) – but that was something that I was able to stick in the freezer and it lasted me for several months, something like 6-8 months it lasted – I’m finally on the final stick of butter now.  When it comes to the gas rewards programs, let’s use this week’s sale as an example.

 

This week, if you buy 6 of any of the following items, you save an additional $0.30 per gallon (up to 35 gallons):

-Nature Made Granola Bars 2/$6

-General Mills Cereal 2/$6

-Yoplait Gogurt 2/$4

-Old El Paso Taco Shells 3/$5

-Betty Crocker Fruit Snacks 2/$4

-Toaster Struddles 3/$7

-Pizza Rolls or Yoplait Smoothie 2/$6

-Betty Crocker Premium Brownie or Muffin Mix 2/$5

-General Mills Treat Bars 2/$5

-Green Giant Boxed Vegetables or Health Blends 3/$5

-Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers 2/$4

-Progresso Vegetable Classics Soups 2/$3

-Cascadian Farm Granola Bars 2/$6

 

 

So there are a lot of 2 for $ or 3 for $ prices up there.  Does that mean you have to buy 2 of this product, and 2 of this one, and 2 of this one? No.  You can buy 1 of any of them.  The goal?  Buy 6.  No more than 6.  IN ONE TRANSACTION.  That is KEY.  If you buy 12 in one transaction, you will not earn twice those gas points.  HOWEVER, if you do 6 items from the above in one transaction, and 6 items from the above in a second transaction, you will earn not just $0.30/gallon you will turn that into $0.60/gallon.  Or more, depending on how many items from the above you want to purchase.  Yesterday I bought 3 Old El Paso Taco Shells and 2 Yoplait Gogurts and 1 General Mills treat bars in one transaction.  In a second transaction I bought 3 Toaster Struddles and 3 boxes of Green Giant vegetables.  In a third transaction I bought 2 boxes of Betty Crocker Fruit Snacks, and 4 boxes of Betty Crocker brownie mix.  Those three transactions alone saved me $0.90/gallon in gas. Those were not the only items I purchased so my gas rewards were even more (at Stop & Shop you additionally earn 1 point for every dollar you spend – each 100 points is a $0.10/gallon saving on gas).  I bought the items that my family uses (or devours is more like it). Did I have to buy 3 boxes of taco shells? No, not really, but they will be eaten in my house, and not be wasted, and the coupon I used was to save on 3 boxes so I bought 3.  You may say ok, but 4 boxes of brownie mix?  I make 2 boxes in one batch, so really I only just bought 2 times worth of making brownies.  I also used 2 coupons to save on both sets of 2.

 

Which leads me to my next way to save – and one of the most important; USE COUPONS!!!! EVERY ITEM I buy I use a coupon for.  Ok, maybe not EVERY item, but 98% of them.  I ONLY LOOK TO BUY THINGS THAT ARE ON SALE AND THAT I HAVE COUPONS FOR.  IF THE THINGS MY FAMILY OR I WANT AREN’T ON SALE AND/OR I DON’T HAVE A COUPON THEN I DON’T BUY IT. Well, except meat and fresh produce, because that is nearly impossible to get coupons for those items. Sometimes special circumstances come up like yesterday, we were completely out of sugar and I forgot my coupon binder at home, not having sugar written on my list ahead of time I didn’t look to see if it was on sale anywhere or if I had a coupon for it, so I did buy a bag of sugar without a coupon. But I bought the store brand to save money buying the cheaper brand.

 

STACK COUPONS!!  If you have a manufacturer coupon for an item, and you have a store coupon for that item, use them together on that item to save even more!!  Use e-Coupons, like SavingStar (http://savingstar.com)  even though SavingStar coupons will not change the amount of money you save at the register, the value of that coupon from them will go into your SavingStar account, once you have reached $5 you can pick your payout!

 

To save money on groceries, the most important thing is to change the way you shop.  Cook meals based off of what is on sale, not off a weekly menu plan.  Or base that weekly menu plan off of what is on sale.  It is best to shop at different stores if you can.  Stock up on what you can before you run out and need that item and can’t get it on sale or with a coupon.  Take your coupons with you to the store, every time.  This way, when something unexpected comes up you can flip to the appropriate section in your binder and see if you have a coupon for that item unlike me with the sugar yesterday.

 

Look for other ways to save.  One of the promo’s Stop & Shop is running this week is to buy $25 worth of select products, and you receive a $10 Mail-In Rebate for a Visa Prepaid Card.  So, buy $25 worth of products (total of $25 before coupons), use coupons to make that less then submit the MIR, and get another $10 back.  They often offer instant savings where if you buy a certain dollar amount of select items you instantly save a certain amount.  All these amounts that you need to spend to save that amount are all before using coupons.  If you see a deal that if you buy this amount of these products you get a Catalina for free milk for example, don’t buy the milk in that transaction.  Instead buy the items that will print that Catalina out for you, and buy the milk in a separate transaction so you can use that Catalina on it.  (A Catalina is the coupon that prints out on the little machine next to the register tape; it is almost always coupons of some sort that you are handed with your receipt…)

 

It is VERY IMPORTANT to know your stores coupon policy.  Do they accept coupons? Do they double coupons?  Offer store coupons that you can stack with manufacturer coupons?  What if there is any overages from your coupon, is the coupon adjusted down to the price of the product? Are the overages applied toward your other purchases? Do they give you any overages back as cash or store credit?  Look up your stores coupon policy online, and print out a copy of it to keep in your binder.  If you run into any problems, you can polity show the store employee the coupon policy to resolve any problems in an appropriate manner without causing any big issues.  This is important for ANY store that you coupon shop at, not only at the grocery store.

 

If you can not find something in stock – ask.  You may be offered an alternative to still get the gas rewards or you can get a raincheck to honor the sale price at a later date.  This also goes for any store that you shop at, not just the grocery store.  Some of my biggest savings have happened just because I asked.  Once at CVS I noticed in the ad that there were two sales involving one brand of product, one was to get extra bucks on buying ANY of that brand items, and one was to get extra bucks on buying SELECT items from that brand.  Guess what, I bought the select items, and when I got to the register, I pointed out in the ad the differences.  Only one reward printed on my receipt, but the employee (with managers permission) honored the other deal as well and I earned the extra bucks from both because I asked.  At Rite Aid once they did not carry the size bottles of Febreeze that was on sale with rewards, so because I asked the store sold me the bigger bottle at the sale price, AND applied the rewards that I was supposed to have earned with it to that price as well.  I also used my coupons and saved even more, and got 2 big bottles for less than I would have gotten the smaller bottles for.

 

OTHER HELPFUL THINGS TO KNOW:

 

BE POLITE! The friendlier you are, the nicer the employees tend to be.  Thank your cashier for their help and patience if you are doing multiple transactions or using lots of coupons.  If you frequent a store, you are bound to see those employees quite often.  It is best to establish a friendly atmosphere with them.  They will be more helpful in helping you save if you are polite to them!  If I am making multiple transactions, I will purchase one transaction, and if I have someone behind me I let them go before I continue.  Sometimes I spend a lot of time at the register separating my items and making sure I haven’t missed any coupons.  It is polite and puts everyone in a better mood if you let the people behind you go ahead of you if you are doing multiple transactions.

 

Don’t be a shelf clearer… if there are 6 products of a hot item on the shelf, don’t buy all 6.  Let someone else get in on the deal.  It is so frustrating when you go to the store on the 2nd day of the sale to find an item is already out of stock.  If you absolutely must have all 6 of that item, then go to different stores to get some of it.  Be mindful of others who want to save money too!  These sales WILL and do come back again every few months!!

 

Make lists ahead of time, separate your coupons and put them in envelopes with your lists to make sure that you have each and every coupon you are going to use… it saves time and it makes checkout faster and smoother being prepared ahead of time.

 

Lastly that I can think of for now,  beware of getting “couponing burnout”… it happens to the best of us… especially when you are first starting out… you get so excited and want to grab all of the deals, feel like you are missing out if you miss any of the deals… you shop and shop and put so much time into clipping, printing, matching up ads, making lists, and then you are burned out.  You don’t want to think about clipping another coupon for anything.  Don’t overdo it.  The sales will be back! They really will be.  You don’t have to stock up for a lifetime; you just need to stock up for a few months at a time before that sale will be back.  Usually it is 2-4 month cycles.  You don’t have to go to every store.  Especially if you are just learning to coupon… PICK ONE STORE and get familiar with it! SOOOO important! When I first started, I didn’t want to miss any deals at any stores.  I hit up CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens.  I burned myself out.  After my fiancé came back to me my method of shopping changed and I was finding myself not buying my papers for coupons, I had no internet to print coupons, and I just bought as we needed living off the stock I had built up while he was gone.  It diminished fast.  I didn’t like that.  So I started getting my coupons again, and started to show him what I could do.  What we could be saving.  And here we are now, my stock piles are growing again and I’m at it full force.  But I have learned my mistake, and now I don’t run out to grab every deal – I just get the best of them so I can save on the things we really need.  With a baby on the way, it is sooooo important for us to save in every way that we can, and to get diapers as many diapers as possible for as cheap as possible…. Two kids in diapers is going to kill us, but I’m already ahead of the game with my stockpiling 🙂

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