After sending my sister a ridiculous number of emails asking how she saves so much money on groceries, she finally agreed to guest post on the topic– probably just to get me out of her hair. You see, she’s a master at getting healthy food (you won’t see 100 bottles of mustard at her house!) at great prices and I wanted some of that couponing mojo to rub off on me. I’m so excited she’s sharing her wisdom on the blog today. After all, it’s Spice Up Your Kitchen week and you can’t have a spicy kitchen without food– so you might as well get is as inexpensively as possible, and perhaps use that extra cash to get something you’ll really love. 🙂
I saved $90 at the grocery store last week. I saved money on fresh produce, lean meats, and organic dairy. I paid $100, so it was only a 45% savings off of my grocery bill– but it usually doesn’t get better than that for me at my local grocery store. I am not an extreme couponer, buying things I don’t need or changing my family’s eating values just because some food is free. But I’m also not a casual couponer, who uses a coupon as soon as she gets it. I like to use the term Strategic Shopper; it places me at the happy medium, with great savings and healthy food. The truth is, we eat really well in my family. We also save money really well.
This is not a guest post in the typical sense. I’m not a blogger, just Carrie’s sister. Please bear with me if I’m not the best blogger you’ve ever read and my pictures aren’t perfect. I just hope I share a little knowledge that will take your grocery budget a long way. At least, longer than it has been stretching lately.
I love to save money. I am always looking for ways to reduce our expenses without sacrificing our lifestyle. Before I started using coupons, I heard several myths about saving money that I soon realized just weren’t true. Below are the top 5 money-saving myths that are getting in the way of you saving money at the grocery store, and how you can beat them!
Myth #1: Buy In Bulk
This was a hard lesson for me to learn. I used to go to Target to “stock up.” Now I cringe to think about the prices I paid for household goods that I thought I was getting for a bargain. I would walk out of there with a bill larger than what I now spend in a month, with a third of the stuff. That is not to say that buying in bulk never saves you money, just that you can probably get it for less with a little finesse.
For example, if you peek into my stockpile you will see 9oz bottles of Dawn. Who buys those tiny bottles?! We all know that the unit price on those little teeny bottles is terrible. Right? Wrong. Big, national drugstores regularly sell those bottles for $1 each. Subtract a coupon you get from the weekly coupon inserts and you can get the bottle for almost free (sometimes, totally free.) Use that same coupon on a large 24 oz bottle and it goes far less, and it certainly won’t be free. In the end, the unit price for the small bottle of Dawn is much less than the unit price for the large bottle when you use coupons strategically.
Myth #2: Buy Generic
It is true that the sticker price on a generic item is usually the lowest price available. Generic products, however, rarely issue coupons. Although a bag of store-brand frozen vegetables runs $1 – $1.50, there are a few different brand name vegetables that regularly go on sale for $1 per bag. Those brand names also regularly issue coupons. Lately, I have been getting frozen vegetables for free or $0.50 per bag. Because frozen food doesn’t spoil quickly, I can buy a month’s supply during one sale and not have to ever pay more than $1 because it’s not on sale. Canned tomatoes are another item where this holds true. What to do about more perishable items? That’s why the next myth needs to be debunked.
Myth #3: Shop Less
Many sites suggest not going to the grocery store more than once a week. This isn’t an out-and-out myth, because it is sometimes true. I am a mom, so I am busy. I strive to go only once a week. But there are two scenarios in particular that drive me to the store more than once a week. The first scenario is when a desired, highly perishable item is on sale. For my family, these items are chicken breasts and red peppers. I will buy a package of chicken breasts at the beginning of the week, and stop by the store at the end of the week so we can eat chicken breasts the next week. Because they go on sale every 3 – 4 weeks, we usually only skip 1 or 2 weeks of chicken dinners (and even then, I might thaw some that I packed away).
The second scenario is not exactly going to make me seem sane, so first hear me out. My local store sometimes has gift card promotions, where you get a $10 Catalina when you buy a gift card for $50 or more. A Catalina is a coupon that prints at the register when you buy something that triggers the coupon. You have to use it in a subsequent transaction. My store will only let you do this gift card deal once a day. When those deals happen, you’ll see me go to the store once a day. I typically buy an Amazon gift card or an iTunes card for my niece (never pay full price for an iTunes card — they are always on sale somewhere!). I made $10 every time I went, which isn’t too bad for 15 minutes of my time. After a week, I saved $70 off of my groceries without using a single coupon. That is how you save money on the items that never go on sale, and get gift cards you can use for items you’ll buy elsewhere.
Myth #4: Coupons are only for junk food
This is not one of the grocery “tips” I found online. This is what people say to me, directly or indirectly, when they hear about my money-saving hobby. I tell people that I save a ton of money with coupons and they think of ramen noodles, candy bars, and fake cheese.
This is 2013. You can find a coupon for organic, gluten-free, or lactose-free foods if that’s what you want to eat. My family eats 10% organic, 80% “whole,” and 90% lean foods. We are also 100% against confining ourselves to any single dietary category. Let’s suffice to say that you can save money on just about anything at the grocery store. I use coupons for hormone-free eggs, organic yogurt, whole grain pasta, brown rice, and almond milk. If there isn’t a coupon for it, I time my purchases so I only buy them when they’re on sale. Here is a picture of my cart a few weeks ago. I’m not going to pretend to be perfect in our food choices, but I’m still hesitant to share our weekly eats with the internet. I know all you Lemonade readers are kind, so I’m putting it out there for you to see. The point I want to share is that I paid retail for only two items. Can you spot them?
Jelly and broccoli. They weren’t on sale, but my family devours them. Everything else in there was on sale (Chicken breasts BOGO [buy one get one free]), had a coupon (deli meat had a peelie coupon), or both (frozen corn was on sale for $1 and I had a $1 coupon, making it free).
Myth #5: I don’t have time to save money
Heck, I don’t have a lot of time on my hands either. One reason why I put together elaborate shopping lists and pair sales with coupons is because I like the thrill of getting items for a steal. But the truth is, once you get the hang of the sales cycle and your price points, you could probably save 20% off of your monthly grocery budget with about 10 minutes of planning with the store circular and 10 minutes planning your meals for the week based on what’s on sale and what’s in your stockpile. If you take the next step, adding coupons into the mix, the easiest way to get them is to order from a coupon clipping service. It takes me about 20 minutes to order $40 worth of coupons on items I already buy. I pay about $4. Is 20 minutes of your time worth $36? Mine is!
Now that I’m in the groove, “strategic shopping” probably costs me about 2 hours a week, to put together my grocery list, print and clip and order coupons, and the extra time I spend in the store. With $90 in savings, I’m saving $45 an hour. But even if you put in 20 minutes and save 20%, that’s a great ‘paycheck’ for you, for a little extra time.
Thanks for letting me bust these ‘money saving myths’, and share simple ways to save you money at the grocery store. I’d love to share more money saving ideas and my strategic shopping system in future posts, what do you think?
Aren’t those great tips? And she’s the real deal, too– her family eats healthy food often made from scratch. Plus, if she can find time to strategically shop than I can too, because she works full-time and has a long commute on top of being a mom to a preschooler. Do you have questions about saving money at the grocery store, or anywhere else for that matter? I know ‘Professor Rebecca’ would love to answer your questions!