Of course, everyone would like to cut the supermarket bill by 50% or more. For a moderate budget for a family of four, the most recent figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate you would spend between $1,166 and $1,358 a month for groceries. But you don’t have to go to the extremes you see on Extreme Couponing or map out the invasion of the store like it’s a small dictatorship. Instead, stock up on common sense and some planning. Here are 12 tips to slash that grocery bill and keep more money in your pocket. Ka-ching!
If I handed you a $10 bill, you wouldn’t throw it away, right? So why toss those weekly newspaper coupon inserts? Think of a coupon as cash. In fact, when you use a manufacturer’s coupon at Bed, Bath & Beyond (yes, the retail giant takes coupons for any product it stocks), the stores actually ring up coupons as cash towards your payment.
Learn the secrets of saving more money with coupons in less time
Maximize your coupon sources
Coupons aren’t just found in newspapers anymore. Nowadays the best “coupon” deals are often found on a retailer’s smartphone app or on an app such as Ibotta.
Show some loyalty
Sure, markets are tracking your every purchase, but shoppers who use coupons and loyalty cards save, on average, more than 10% on groceries a year. Though stores won’t reveal their criteria, frequent shoppers receive customized mailings filled with coupons four to six times a year.
Keep track of sales cycles
To really save money, keep tabs on a store’s circular week after week. You’ll spot sales patterns and learn to wait so you can time your purchases and stock up when deep discounts happen. Depending on the item or brand, you can expect it to go on sale every four to 10 weeks. Seasonal items are usually a good bet when trying to find great deals.
Skip the hand basket
A study found that shoppers who use a basket tend to impulse buy. Researchers say the tension and strain on the arm makes shoppers more likely to pick up rewards such as candy and soda to make up for the the sacrifice of carrying a shopping basket! So push a regular shopping cart down the aisles to help you stick to your list. Which reminds me: Make a list before going grocery shopping.
Locate clearance shelves
Supermarkets don’t make them easy to find, but they are a treasure trove and should be your first stop. Stockers regularly comb shelves for slightly damaged goods (say, a torn box) or pull merchandise that is being rebranded. These “Manager’s Specials” items are marked down as much as 50%. If the product itself is undamaged (avoid dented cans), you can get a steal. If you happen to have a coupon, even better. I once found eight bars of soap marked down to $1.48. With my $1 off coupon, I paid 48 cents.
Shop late in the day
This is when you’ll find discounts on perishable items such as meat, produce and bread. Make friends with the butcher. Often all you have to do is ask for a discount at day’s end. If they’ve got excess inventory, likely they’d rather sell it than toss it.
Buy store-brand products
You might be loyal to certain brands for certain products, but it’s worth trying out store brands to find ones that are comparable. Not only will your total bill be less, but often, the quality of store-labeled products is the same, if not better, than the brand names.
Find the friendly checker
You know the one — with the big smile who isn’t counting the minutes until his next break. I’ll wait an extra 10 minutes to get Tony as my checkout clerk. That’s because he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t roll his eyes when I plop down 20 or 30 coupons. Tony will rescan a coupon or type it in by hand if needed. And if I have a BOGO, he patiently checks the price so I get the full credit.
Learn how to stack
Stacking is when you use both a store’s coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon toward the purchase of a single product. (For instance: a $1 Target coupon for Colgate toothpaste plus a $1 manufacturers’ coupon for that same toothpaste equals $2 off at Target). With stores like Walgreens, Target, RiteAid and Whole Foods generating their own coupons, this is a way to double your buying power.
Don’t forget your catalinas
Named for the machine manufacturer that dispenses them, catalinas are those extra coupons generated at check-out. Here’s how it typically works. Say you buy two cans of Del Monte pineapple. Competitor Dole programs the register to note when someone purchases Del Monte and spit out a coupon for Dole pineapple. Dole figures you like pineapple and may be willing to change brands with that added incentive. They’re right. According to new research by MaxPoint Interactive, three of four shoppers say they are more likely to try a new product at the grocery store if they have a coupon for it.
Most large national groceries have stopped doubling coupons, but if you live somewhere with a regional food chain that will give you twice a coupon’s value, you’re in luck! That’s a windfall, because every coupon worth 50 cents or more is worth $1. Be aware that many of these chains’ doubling policies are made on a store-by-store basis.
What are your tips for saving money on groceries? What has been your best recent deal?
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I have to disagree about using the hand basket. I’ll pass up items if my basket is already full and it’s getting too heavy. I live alone so I usually buy groceries this way just because I’m usually not buying a lot.
Laura Daily says
I applaud you for your self-control (and carrying a basket IS a great way to keep those arm muscles strong). I think that the issue for many using a basket are those little impulse buys, the small stuff like candy, gum, that you simply toss in your basket because you are so mobile moving in the store. But they can add up.
Doug McNeill says
Avoid the end caps, the displays at the end of one or more aisles often stuffed with higher priced items.
Buy from the bulk bins if your store has them. You can get just the amount you need or items with a long shelf life there.
Dried beans are your friend. (Dried fruit not so much). They cost less than canned and work just as well with a little planning.
Doug McNeill says
–Shop your home pantry first. You won’t end up with 8 boxes of pasta you will not use.
–Shop the fresh produce first and cut stuff up yourself. Precut veggies are convenient but expensive.
–Meat is not your financial friend (or health friend for that matter). Stretch out that meatloaf with one cup of cooked lentils and you will up your nutrition and reduce your costs.
–Steel-cut oats make perfect overnight oatmeal (and even something very much like polenta).
Dave S says
I have some comments about this article on saving money. First, I have found that most coupons are for items which are for processed foods. I prefer to do my own cooking from scratch as best as I can. So, for example, I don’t ever buy spaghetti sauce or salad dressing, as it’s much cheaper to make by myself and it doesn’t have added chemicals. For so many items that I cook, there are not coupons available. And for store brand goods there are never any chemicals.
I also have not seen supermarkets doing double couponing in my area for many many years. Where I live, we have Kroger, Food Lion, Wegmans, Publix and Walmart as the main grocery stores. Wegmans and Publix are new to our area over the past several years, but as far as I can remember over the last 40 years, I don’t remember Kroger or Food Lion ever having double couponing. Grocery stores are also cutting back on expenses with Covid. Kroger has cut out the 5% discount for seniors on Tuesdays, they have eliminated the 5 cent credit for each bag you bring in yourself. They have also cut out giving fuel points at the pharmacy for controlled Rx items.
People should also think about NOT buying over the counter medical and beauty items at a grocery store, as things like shampoos, deodorants, pain killers, and nearly every item in the pharmacy section of grocery stores are *highly* marked up and even with using coupons I have found Walmart MUCH cheaper than the grocery stores on those items. Oh, toilet paper, aluminum foil, paper towels, etc. also fall into that same category.
Also, if you have a Kroger in your area, they give fuel points for gift cards and often have promotions where instead of getting 2x the face value in fuel points, they give out 4x times the face value. So, before I do any shopping on Amazon, Lowes, Home Depot, most restaurants, I will buy gift cards when Kroger is offering 4x value. So, If you buy a $100 gift card to Amazon, you would get 400 fuel points, or 40 cents per gallon off on fuel. If you get a thousand fuel points in a month, that’s $1.00 of per gallon at the Kroger gas pumps. If you wait until you are really low on gas, then go to the Kroger pump with $1.00 off per gallon, you can save a LOT of money on the fill up.
Dave S says
I should have proofread my message first! I said, “And for store brand goods there are never any chemicals.” I meant so say there are no COUPONS.
When was this article written? Double coupons haven’t been around in our area for year and year…
Gigi Lehman says
Hi, Julie. You’re right that most large groceries no longer double coupons, but some regional food stores still do. To name three current examples: ACME stores in the mid-Atlantic region; ShopRite in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic; and Brookshire’s in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas still double coupons.Their websites all state that the double-coupon policy is made on a store-by-store basis.