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Category: 31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget

31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Everyone Should Use Coupons

Missed the first posts in this series? Read them here.

I’m going to make a bold statement: I believe everyone should use coupons.

There. I said it.

Wait. I take my statement back. If you are one of the .0002 people in America who have never touched food unless it was grown in your own yard, you make toothpaste out of tree bark and use cloth toilet paper, then I’ll exempt you.

But the rest of you? You’re non-exempt.

And I know some of you are making excuses right now and explaining why you’re the exception to my rule. Well, give me a chance to address your excuses and see if I can’t change your mind just a tiny little bit.

Excuse #1: I Don’t Eat Processed Food

Newsflash: Coupons are not just for junk food.

In fact, there are often coupons available for fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, flour, baking soda, toothbrushes, razors, toilet paper, and light bulbs.

Like I said earlier, unless you literally grow all your own food, make all your household products from scratch, and you use cloth instead of disposable for all paper products, there are likely at least 10-15 items you routinely buy which you could get for much less if you used coupons.

In addition, once you become adept at using coupons, you will usually regularly happen upon deals which give you overage. Even if your family doesn’t use the item which gives overage, you could buy it to donate and then use the overage to purchase items your family does use.

Excuse #2: I Tried Using Coupons and Didn’t Save Any Money

If you buy your Sunday paper, clip all the coupons and then use them all on your next shopping trip, you’re not going to save any money. Instead, you’d probably end up buying  a lot of over-priced items you won’t use or wouldn’t normally buy and end up spending a considerable amount more than you save.

That’s not how to use coupons.

Using coupons wisely requires strategy and patience. In most cases, it involves waiting until an item is at its rock-bottom price and then pairing it with a coupon (and perhaps even a catalina deal!) so that you get it for pennies on the dollar–or even more than free!

Excuse #3: I Don’t Have Time to Use Coupons

Life is busy and there are constantly a hundred demands pulling us in different directions. The thought of adding in something extra like clipping coupons might be overwhelming–but it doesn’t have to be.

How Much Is Your Time Worth?

One of my favorite ways to evaluate whether a money-saving idea or technique is worth my time is to evaluate it in terms of an hourly wage. For instance, if it saves our family $30-$50 and requires an hour’s worth of work, it is totally worth my time.

Coupons are worth my time because when I put in an hour’s worth of time, I’m usually saving $40-$75 for doing so. That sounds like a pretty good hourly wage to me!

Yes, it takes a bit of time to learn the ropes. Don’t expect that you’ll go out tomorrow and save 90% off your grocery bill if you’ve never used a coupon in your life.

However, it doesn’t have to take hours of your week. In fact, I think that you can see significant savings by committing to spend an extra hour each week to checking the sales fliers, making a menu plan and grocery list, clipping coupons, and mapping out your shopping route.

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing tips and techniques for obtaining, organizing and using coupons effectively to make the most of your time and maximize your savings. Slowly implement the ideas I share, find out what works best for you and reap the rewards of money saved!

Do you think everyone should use coupons in some way, shape or form? Why or why not?

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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Shop at More Than One Store (Part 3)

Missed the first posts in this series? Read them here.

Taking all the information you gathered by scouting out your local stores and making a price book, it’s time to make your game plan for shopping at more than one store. Here’s what I’d suggest:

1) Consider How Much Time You Have to Invest

Time is money. So if it’s scarce for you, don’t expect that you’ll be able to spend six hours grocery shopping each week. That’s just not feasible or realistic.

I’d suggest that you be willing to set aside at least two hours each week if you want to see fairly significant savings. Invest 30 minutes in planning and clipping/organizing coupons and an hour and a half in shopping. In that timeframe, you should be able to plan your shopping trips and shop at one to three stores. It might sound unrealistic right now, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

But I Don’t Have Two Hours to Spend!

Maybe you don’t. But how important is saving money to you? Is it worth giving up time spend watching TV or working on a hobby? Look at your schedule and see if there is something you regularly do each week that you’d be willing give up in order to save money. You might find that clipping coupons and reducing your grocery budget can become a fun hobby in and of itself. And it’s one of the best hobbies ever because it doesn’t cost you money, it saves you money. Plus, it greatly benefits your family!

If you have more than two hours to invest per week, you can tailor your plan accordingly. Perhaps you have time to hit four or five stores, instead of two. Or maybe you have time to research more deals and clip more coupons. Do what works for you. However, don’t overdo!

2) Rotate the Stores You Shop At

When the weekly sales change in your area, sit down and quickly scan the grocery store fliers (most larger chains offer their fliers online), your price book, and your coupons, and decide which stores are running the best sales. Keep in mind what your schedule is for the week and what areas of town you’ll already be in. Based upon which stores have the best deals and what your schedule looks like for the week, plan your shopping trip accordingly.

I rarely shop at more than three stores in a week. A more normal week would include a stop at either Aldi or Dillons (a Kroger affiliate) and a stop at the health food store to look for mark-downs.

However, I rotate the stores very frequently depending upon the sales and what coupons I have. I usually go to a local store once a month when they have their Double Dollar coupon event, and then I go to Target once every 4-6 weeks, Walgreens and Walmart once or twice a quarter, Sam’s Club once or twice a year, and a Bulk Foods Store once every four to six months. On occasion, I’ll also pop into the dollar store.

So in a six month time period, I’ve likely shopped at nine to ten different stores–but I never shop at all of them in the same week, or even in the same month!

That’s the beauty of shopping at more than one store. You don’t have to shop at five stores each week, or even more than one. But you can rotate which stores you shop at every week in order to get the best deals and lowest prices.

3) Don’t Feel Obligated to Hit Every Deal

I think one of the biggest mistakes new couponers make is that they discover this world of paying pennies on the dollar and get so excited about all the money they are saving, that they go a little overboard. Pretty soon, they are completely burnt out and go back to spending large amounts at the grocery store each week.

The better approach is to take it slow. Pick and choose the best deals to do and don’t worry about hitting the others. There will always be another sale on milk and cereal or whatever else it is that seems like such a great deal at the time. Pace yourself and you’ll find that you enjoy it a lot more.

In addition, realize that it’s okay to step back and take a break every now and then. Sometimes, I’ll shelve my coupon box for a week–or even a month!–and just do my shopping at Aldi. Or even skip shopping and eat from the pantry that week. Maybe I didn’t get the rock bottom prices that week or miss out on some stellar deal, but over the course of the year, it’s much more money-saving and sanity-saving to pace myself.

How much time do you spend on bargain-shopping and coupon-clipping each week? Tell us in the comments because I’m very curious to know!

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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Shop At More Than One Store (Part 2)

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

Yesterday, we talked about the importance of shopping at more than one store and how this can have significant impact on your grocery budget. Today, I want to give you some steps to get started in this venture. It’s not rocket science, I promise!

1) Make a List of All Stores in Your Area

Don’t just list the grocery stores, think of any possible place you might be able to buy grocery-related items:

::Co-ops

::Dollar Stores

::Scratch and Dent Stores

::Overstock Stores (Big Lots, etc.)

::Big Box Stores (KMart, Walmart, Target)

::Warehouse Stores (Costco, Sam’s Club, B.J.’s)

::Drug Stores (CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid)

::Asian Markets

::Bulk Foods Stores

::CSA’s

::Farmer’s Markets

::Health Food Stores

I’d recommend searching online or pulling out the phone book to see if you have any of the above stores in your area if you’re not sure. And ask your friends and neighbors if they know of any great places to shop which you might not know about.

If you live in a small town, this should be simple. In fact, you might only have two stores to choose from. (And if you only have one store to choose from, you’re exempt from any of this legwork!)

If you live in a larger town or big metropolis, this is going to be a bigger undertaking. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the options, limit the stores to those within a 5 mile radius or which are close to areas you regularly frequent.

2) Visit Your Area Stores and Record the Prices of 25 Items You Routinely Buy

Thanks to Joy at FiveJs, we have some handy free downloadable Price Book Forms you can use to record these numbers:

  1. Price Book (by Store) :: Record the prices for products at a single store. This can be done first, and then the information transferred to individual product sheets like, like the Price Book (by Product) form below.
  2. Price Book (by Product) :: Record the prices for a particular product at multiple stores.
  3. Half-Sheet Price Book (by Product) :: Record the prices for a particular product at multiple stores, but laid out two to a page.

Once again, if this feels overwhelming, just pick two or three grocery stores to start with. You’ll have plenty of time to branch out in the future.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew and end up burning out on this whole bargain-shopping thing before you’ve even really started!

3) Find Out What Your Local Stores’ Coupon and Mark-Down Policies Are

Questions to Ask Regarding Coupons:

::Does this store double coupons? If so, up to what amount? Are there limitations on the doubling (some stores will only double one or three of the same kind of coupon per transaction.)

::Does the store accept expired coupons?

::Does the store offer store coupons which can be used in addition to manufacturer’s coupons?

::Does the store accept competitor’s coupons?

::Does the store mark down produce, dairy, and meat on a regular basis? If so, what days and times does this usually occur?

4) Determine Which Store(s) Regularly Have the Lowest Prices and Best Sales

After filling out the price book forms and finding out your local stores’ coupon policies and mark-down policies, you will have a pretty clear picture of which stores are best to shop at on a regular basis. However, most stores run their sales cycles every twelve weeks or so, with a few incredible sales and loss-leaders thrown in on occasion. To get a more accurate picture, I’d recommend tracking the sales at a few stores for three months.

This does not mean that you necessarily need to go to five different stores and fill out a price book form every week. But I would recommend scanning the sales fliers each week and actually visiting each store at least once a month.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to take this information gathered and make a shopping gameplan which will, in turn, reduce your grocery bill.

Of the different stores listed above, which ones do you regularly shop at and find the best deals at? Have you discovered any little-known places for scoring great deals? Tell us about them!

Get the latest coupons delivered right to your door for
as low as $1 per week with Discounted Newspapers!

31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Shop at More Than One Store (Part 1)

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

When I mention how I save a lot of money by shopping at more than one store, I’m often met with resistance:

“But I don’t have time to go to more than one store! I can barely make it into Walmart once a week.”

“That’s not saving money! You’re wasting all sorts of time and gas running around to fifteen different stores in one day. Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective and efficient to just do all your shopping at one store each week?”

“I’m glad that works for you, but I don’t have near the patience or organization to even attempt something like that!”

Yes, one can make a lot of excuses for not shopping at more than one store. But I think all of these excuses show a lack of understanding as to what it really means to shop at more than one store.

Let me be clear: I am not advocating going to 15 different stores which are 45 minutes away from your home in order to save $2 at each store.

That’s not saving money, in my definition. Instead, that’s wasting enormous amounts of time and effort and producing little to show for it but wear and tear on your vehicle and an exorbitant gas bill.

What I am advocating is taking a little bit of time to scout at your nearby stores each week and pick a few which have the best sales and deals. Then base your grocery trip planning on shopping only at those stores.

A simple example…

Last week I flew to Baltimore and ended up spending quite a bit of time at the airport between my four different flights and layovers. I only packed one checked bag since I also had Silas, a stroller, a laptop, and a diaper bag. So I had limited space to bring snacks to eat on my flight days.

Because of this, I ended up buying a few items at the airport stores to tide me over for breakfast and lunch. Instead of just going to the first shop I found and plunking down whatever dollar amount they were asking, I took five minutes to survey my options.

I quickly walked over to each of the shops within a minute of where I was and checked out their menu boards and prices. By doing this, I was able to put together a relatively healthy meal for less than $6. While that number might seem high–and it is!–compared to how expensive some of the meals were at the airport, I definitely saved at least $3-$5 by taking five minutes to check out my options.

$3 to $5 in savings for a little walking and five minutes is a pretty good investment, in my opinion. In fact, if I were to save $4 every five minutes, that’s like saving $48 an hour–which isn’t an hourly wage to sneeze at! Plus, did I mention that when you save money, it’s tax-free?

In the same way, by putting forth a little bit of effort and learning what are the best deals for your area and picking a few stores to shop at each week that are running the best sales, you can get rock-bottom prices on your groceries and save significant amounts of money each week.

Tomorrow, I’ll share some step-by-step ideas for getting started shopping at more than one store while keeping it simple and not wasting a lot of time, effort, and mileage to do so.

Do you shop at more than one store for groceries? If not, what’s holding you back from doing so?

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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: The Buy Ahead Principle

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

Last night when I went grocery shopping, I bought 18 sticks of deodorant. Yes, I said 18!

Did I buy all this deodorant because I heard that there was going to be a shortage of deodorant for the next 4 years? Um, no.

I bought 18 sticks of deodorant because I had coupons which made them free or more-than-free.

Never Pay Retail

One of my biggest secrets for grocery saving success is that I practice the Buy Ahead Principle. Which means, basically, other than dairy products and produce, I aim to never pay full price for anything. 

If you’re willing to be patient and observant, you can almost always buy most items at 50% off their retail price or more. Because I’ve been using coupons and bargain-shopping for over 10 years now, I aim to purchase most things when they are 75-100% off of the retail price.

I don’t just buy one of an item when it is at it’s rock-bottom price. Instead, I purchase as many items as I can afford in my grocery budget to tide me over until the next sale.

For many people who are used to buying only what groceries you’ll use in the next week, the concept of buying ahead can be mind-boggling. However, it makes complete sense if you stop and consider it.

Paying Retail vs. Buying Ahead

If your family uses 10 tubes of toothpaste in a year’s time and the retail price of toothpaste is $2.49, if you bought it at retail, you’d be paying $24.90 per year for toothpaste.

If, however, you practiced the Buy Ahead Principle, and you collected your $1/1 toothpaste coupons and waited until toothpaste went on sale for $1 (which it does a few times per year in our area), you could buy 10 tubes of toothpaste for free.

That’s a savings of $24.90 per year!

How to Build a Stockpile of Food and Toiletries

What if you were to practice the Buy Ahead principle on when buying the majority of your groceries? Think about how much you would save! From my best estimates, I would say we routinely save at least $30-$50 each week by practicing the Buy Ahead Principle.

Would you like to see significant savings by Buying Ahead as well? Here are some suggestions:

1) Designate a Small Portion of Your Grocery Budget to Building Your Stockpile

If this is a new concept for you, don’t go out and spend $500 tomorrow trying to build up a stockpile. Instead, designate a small percentage of your grocery budget each week to buying extra of those heavily-discounted items which you know you will use sometime in the next few months.

Even $5 or $10 a week devoted to stocking up on deeply-discounted items can go quite far. If you don’t find any really great deals one week, save your designated “Stockpile Money” for the next week.

2) Designate a Small Area of Your Home to Store Your Stockpile

The argument I often hear when I suggest people practice the Buy Ahead Principle is “But I don’t have any space to stock up.” Well, in very rare cases (say, if your family of 6 is living in a one-bedroom apartment!), I’d agree. But in most cases, there are plenty of creative nooks and crannies in your home you could use to store extra non-perishable food and household supplies.

Maybe you need to clear out some items you’re not using to make room. Or maybe you could install some extra shelving in a closet. Perhaps you could store things under the bed or in a few boxes in a closet. Get creative, think outside the box, and I’m guessing you’ll find someplace you can use!

When we were living in a one-bedroom apartment which only had one small closer, I used a little cabinet in the living room to store extra stuff. When we were living in a two-bedroom apartment, I used the cupboards over the washer and dryer to store extra stuff. I was amazed at how much I could fit in a small space when I set my mind to it!

3) Determine When Enough is Enough

I think it’s extremely cost-effective to Buy Ahead. However, I also think it’s just as important to know when enough is a enough. If you have mountains of unopened tubes of toothpaste falling down on top of you when you open up the bathroom cupboard, you probably don’t need to go out and buy 55 more tubes!

Yes, I bought 18 sticks of deodorant yesterday. That’s more than we’ll use in the next 2 years. But what I didn’t tell you earlier was that I’ll likely donate at least half–if not more–of those. I love being able to share from our surplus of items with those in need. Or just pass on a great deal to a friend, too!

My philosophy is that if there is plenty of an item on the shelf, I have a lot of coupons, the item is free, it’s something we’ll use, and it’s something I can easily donate if we have a surplus, I’ll buy as many as I have coupons for.Your philosophy might be different. So decide when enough is enough for you, and then stick to that.

Twice a year, I go through all of our stockpile of groceries and household items and pare down to the basics which will last me for 4-8 weeks. This way, we never have an over-abundance. In addition, taking the Eat From the Pantry challenge is a great way for us to make sure and use up some of our stockpile.

If you don’t apply any of the other 30 ways to cut your grocery budget that I’ll be sharing in this series, but you adopt the Buy Ahead Principle and stick with a grocery budget, I guarantee you will see a significant savings in your grocery bill. And you’ll likely be shopping less and eating better than ever before!

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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Shop With Cash

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

Up until this point, the posts in this series have been pretty non-controversial. But today, that’s all changing, because I’m going to make a bold statement:

You will very likely see significant savings on your grocery bill if you only shop with cash.

I know all of you “But-I’m-So-Responsible-With-My-Credit-Card” people probably aren’t going to be happy with me for saying this, but I really believe that.

You see, when you shop with a credit card (or even a debit card, for that matter!) you can have your budget in your head and you can do the best to stick with it when you check out, but it’s so much easier to go just a little bit over here and there when you’re swiping. You can justify that $2 you went over your budget to buy something which was a “great deal” when paying with your card.

$2 might not seem like much, but if you spend $2 to $3 more on groceries every week, that’s adds up to around $130 in extra spending over a year’s time!

Paying with cash forces you to stick to your budget.

When I know that all I have to use at checkout is the cash in my grocery budget envelope, you better believe I carefully evaluate every impulse purchase or great deal I come across: “Do I really need this?” “Is this in the budget?”

Sometimes, it truly is a great deal and I have the money in my cash envelope to pay for it so it goes in the cart. Other times, I decide it’s a good enough deal that I skip buying something else on my list that we can do without in order to afford it. Or, many times, I put it back on the shelf.

The Cash-Only Challenge

Maybe you’re one of those extremely responsible–and very rare!–people who can stick to your budget while swiping a card. If you are, kuddos to you!

However, if you find yourself struggling financially and wishing you could figure out why your grocery budget is so high, can I challenge you to take a Cash-Only Challenge for 3 months and see if it impacts your grocery spending over the course of a three-month period?

Here’s how the Cash-Only Challenge works:

1) Commit to only spend what is in your grocery envelope for the next 3 months.

2) Go to the bank and withdraw cash in the amount of your pre-determined Grocery Budget. Put this cash in an envelope and keep it in a safe place. For more on cash-only shopping, read The Envelope System Experiment.

3) Leave your credit/debit cards/checkbook at home and only bring your cash envelope and a calculator with you to the grocery store.

4) Calculate your purchases on the calculator as you add them to your cart. This will motivate you to carefully evaluate all purchases, will make you aware of how much items actually cost, encourage you to look for the best deal, and force you to get creative if your list is longer than you have room for in the budget.

5) Pay with cash when you checkout and see significant grocery savings–hopefully!

6) Decide you’ll never go back to paying with your credit/debit card. Well, okay so you might not get quite that drastic, but I can almost guarantee you that going cash-only for a short-time will have taught you something worthwhile!

Have you tried a cash-only system? If so, what benefits have you found from doing so? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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