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 $1,263.5 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.
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.
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.
However, “stacking” coupons is still possible in many stores; see Tip No. 11 below.
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 4 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.
What are your tips for saving money on groceries? What has been your best recent deal?
Editor’s Meal Planning Tip
The best cooking tactic I ever learned was freezer cooking – cooking in advance, then freezing the extra portions so you can bring them out to cook quickly (or heat up) when you need them. Having a healthy meal ready to go in the freezer is the best way to avoid the takeout blues (and the cost of not planning).
I thought I was a master of freezer cooking until I met Erin Chase, who runs My FreezEasy. Erin takes freezer cooking and meal planning to a whole new level, and as the mother of four boys, she knows the challenges of pleasing a hungry family.
Erin has developed a system in which she can prepare 10 delicious meals and load them into the freezer in less than an hour. That’s TWO WEEKS’ worth of weeknight meals!!
And her system makes it all so easy. Every month, you get eight new freezer meal plans (you can tailor them to your taste), plus recipes, shopping lists and step-by-step instructions, including videos. Her system works whether you’re an experienced cook or you’re just starting out.
Don’t worry if your family is picky or has special dietary needs: You have a choice of a traditional plan, gluten-free, slow cooker, clean eats, 20 meals, all chicken, all ground beef or all pork chops – with gluten-free and dairy-free modifications for all recipes. Or, you can create your own customized plan using her recipe collection.
Here’s what one happy customer said about MyFreezEasy:
“So, I finally got round to giving this meal plan a try and I freaking loved it! I love that I have prepared meals sitting in the freezer that I can pull out (or – shock..horror, my hubby can!) and we will have good food cooking so easily. I really loved this concept and now I can let go of the “what’s for dinner” stumper every night!”
If you’re been wanting to try freezer cooking but aren’t sure where to start, this is a great way to learn. MyFreezEasy program start at just $8.25 per month when you sign up for a year. You will more than earn back the cost in the money you’ll save because you won’t waste food or turn to takeout. And that doesn’t even account for the time you’ll save once you’re not wracking your brain about what to make for dinner.