(Article by S. Denise Hoyle)
As an experienced couponer, I consistently save between 70% and 90% on my grocery bill, but couponing isn’t for everyone. The amazing thing is that only about half of that savings actually comes from coupons, which means that you can easily save 35% to 45% on your grocery budget WITHOUT even using one!
Here’s how it works – a couponer’s strategy is to only buy things when they’re on sale, match coupons with the sale items wherever possible, and buy enough of the discounted item to last until the next sale comes along. Sounds easy, but it does take time and for some people it just isn’t worth the trouble. If you’d like to save on your food bill without the hassle, just drop the coupon clipping part!
1. The BOGO (Buy One Get One Free)
Most grocery stores run different buy one get one free deals on a weekly basis and odds are that a couple of those BOGO items occasionally show up on your grocery list. The BOGO sale items are typically pantry staples like breakfast cereal, peanut butter, pickles, tea, margarine and fruit juice that you may buy on a weekly basis. The trick to saving a bundle is to NOT just pick up enough for this week, but to buy enough cereal when it’s half price to last say the next two months, or less depending on the item’s shelf life.
Start out slowly using this strategy and you’ll quickly figure out the sale cycles. For example, I stock up on BBQ sauce, salad dressing and razors during the summer months when they’re promoted heavily and then don’t buy any again for the rest of the year. It’s a nice feeling to know you’ve got a small stockpile, but don’t buy more than your family can use or comfortably store.
2. Menu Planning
Shopping sale cycles will save the biggest chunk of change, but menu planning can save you 10% to 15% more on your budget, and can greatly reduce your food waste as well. Start by taking an inventory of the things you already have in your pantry and freezer and set aside half an hour each week to plan that week’s meals around the things you already have on hand or that are currently on sale. If you need some meal inspiration use a free online service like Recipe.com where you can type in the ingredients you have and get a list of recipes in return.
You save money with menu planning because you’re shopping at home first, you’re not buying things you don’t need and you’re reducing waste, but the best payoff in my opinion is the much lower stress level that comes with always knowing in advance what you’re having for dinner.
Guest post by S. Denise Hoyle – the Chief Exhausted Officer of SpecterWeb.com LLC, a domain investment firm, and a proud shop-a-holic with frugal tendencies who blogs about deals and steals at ShopperStrategy.com.
(Photo by kodomut)
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Last week was my first real attempt at coupon clipping. I have to say, I think I’m addicted! My savings was far more than I expected, and the BOGO coupons from my Sunday paper were the biggest source of savings.
I’m ready to suffer through the hassle. Your tips here should add to my savings.
I was a coupon clipper, the whole reason why I had a Sunday newspaper subscription, but my cooking style has changed and there aren’t many coupons for unprocessed foods. Meal planning is extremely useful for keeping the food budget and stress levels down. It really does help to cut down on waste because you’re not overbuying perishables or you can plan to use that sour cream/buttermilk/half a pound of bacon leftover from Monday’s dinner later in the week. Thanks for sharing your grocery budget shrinking strategies.
If you start using these methods effectively, you may just find that clipping coupons follows naturally as the ‘saving’ bug kicks in. My wife thought clipping coupons was a poor use of time, but once she started saving money by timing sales and what not, she start clipping coupons enthusiastically to add to her ‘look how much I saved this week’ moments of glory.
Kitchen Penguin, I agree. I like the savings but buy so few packaged goods. I save money by planning meals around whatever produce is on sale, and then make sure I can use that produce in more than one meal that week. I also always make enough so that we have leftovers for lunch the next day. I make a pot of soup every Monday for dinner, and the kids take soup to school in thermoses many days (they’re not big into sandwiches). I cut coupons on things I’d buy anyways like yogurts, sour cream, etc.
I think that the stocking up is a great idea in theory, but we go through 4 boxes of cereal in two weeks. Where am I supposed to store 16 boxes of cereal? ;)
The great thing to me about BOGO offers is that you don’t have to actually buy one to get one free at most stores. With the exception of stores in Florida and drugstores, you can buy one item for half-price. Stocking up isn’t always practical for people who live alone or who have minimal pantry space.
I’m not a huge coupon clipper, but 70-90% on groceries is a pretty powerful number. I might have to try it out for a few weeks…
I’m actually getting better at couponing by following Denise’s blog. Last week Walgreen’s had a great $5 off a bottle of Pediacare, AND coupled with some $2 off 1 bottle and $1.50 off one bottle, I was able to get quite a few bottles for 50 cents and 99 cents (great savings from the regular $7.49 price), and with several small grandchildren who seem to get sick at the same time, I figured even a little “couponing” would help there!
Those are great tips! I cut coupons and save about 10% weekly using those, but I save another 20% or more from selecting sale items from the store. When menu planning, don’t just consider what is in your pantry…also consider what items are on sale in the store that week and be flexible with your menu. Also, eat seasonally: In-season produce will be less expensive than out-of-season items. (Aside from the fact that it’ll taste better and likely means you’re receiving a more local product that something that traveled across the globe to your store!)
Personally, I don’t do a whole lot of “stocking up.” I have a small house and don’t have enough pantry space to store a whole lot of extra items. Nor do I have the extra grocery budget to stock up on something we won’t use in the next month. However, I will grab a couple extras of something that we use on a regular basis, especially if it is on sale and I have multiple coupons!
Angie, Money Beagle & Jason – it’s the best retail therapy for those of us that like to shop!
Kitchen Penguin & CM – I’m still amazed at how much more we save with meal planning and it feels great not having any waste. Btw, I’m actually seeing more and more coupons for organic foods and produce, thankfully the Internet makes them a little easier to find.
Rachel & Andrea – you’re right, storage space is tough to come by for a lot of people! Good news is that the cereal sales come around much more often so you could buy enough of your faves when they’re on sale to last 2-3 weeks. When storage is an issue I’d recommend dedicating a small part of a closet or a large storage box and just concentrate on staples when they’re on sale. For example, the razors my husband likes retail for $12.99 but I can get them for between $.99 and $1.99 during the summer so I’d stock up on those.
Sarah – I stocked up on that deal last week too!!
Jenna – thanks for the seasonal produce tip! One of my favorite things about meal planning is that you’re really using the freshest foods because the best sales on meat and produce come when they’re in abundance.
Your response to Kitchen Penguin & CM mentioned you are seeing coupons for produce on the internet? Can you elaborate on where you are finding these? How about unprocessed food? A solid 80% of my weekly grocery trip is for produce and non-processed starter ingredients.
I don’t use coupons because every time I do they end up staying at home, in my purse or even my pocket! :) I do, however, take advantage of BOGO’s and I plan a weeks worth of menus at a time. My personal favorite place to get recipes is cookinglight.com! They really good recipes.
I use coupons whenever possible and definitely focus on sale items; although produce is the hardest one because I have my favorites. My only gripe on coupons for groceries is that 80% of them are for unhealthy foods. I love when I see the rare coupon on a product that isn’t loaded with sugar or HFCS.
Melissa & Mark – coupons for produce and organic foods have traditionally been harder to find because the producers don’t tend to have the big budgets that larger companies do, but we are seeing more of them! My favorite sources include:
Andrea, in just about all stores I shop in (in NY) BOGO means just that. They do not allow you to take one at half price. In fact, years ago my local grocery store used to have almost everything priced at 2 for __, and you really had to take 2 to get the sale price. The first item would ring up at regular price and only the second was discounted enough to make it come out at the 2 for price. Supermarkets have generally veered away from the “must buy 2” or “must buy 4” promotions, but they do still sometimes have them. You have to read the fine print. Also beware the fine print for promotions that call for a high minimum purchase.
Thanks for guest posting Denise! You made my travels out to SXSW much more relaxing ;) Here’s to saving!!!!
Sometimes people get tired clipping coupons. The techniques mentioned in this article can help save some more money aside from using these coupons.
I don’t know how many of you have a Kroger in your community but I have found the Kroger Plus card to be very helpful. One option I use on the website is to download coupons on to my Kroger Plus card. It eliminates coupon cutting and you have access to all weekly specials. Another added benefit is that as you rack up Kroger points you can get 10 cents a gallon off of your fuel bill.
I went to my supermarkert’s website this week and they had ecoupons for items that I actually buy, like the brand of organic baby yoghurt that we like and the string cheese I like in my lunches. I didn’t even have to print and/or clip them, I just added them to my club card and saved money on a few items that I already planned on buying. I also went to the yoghurt company’s website and they had a manufacturers coupon for the same youghurt. Not all couponing is for bad food or things you wouldn’t buy. I often find, however, that the generic is cheaper than the brand with a coupon, even if it’s on sale.
Awesome! We’ve started finding good ones at Safeway too – we just log on before we go, add them to our card or account or whatever, and then when we check out they’re already there! Presto :)