Monday, February 9, 2009

Top Five Grocery Savings Strategies (Without Clipping Coupons)

I hear of people who save 60% (or more) on their grocery bills by clipping coupons (like my friend Alicia). I'm in awe of her "deals" sometimes, but have had to come to grips with the fact that I can't keep that up right now. I don't have enough mental power these days. 

Even though I don't use many coupons, I still manage to save money when I shop for groceries (we frequently hit the thrifty level on the average U.S. grocery cost chart). It all comes down to what you buy on a regular basis. For our small family, we buy very few convenience, beauty, or cleaning products. The bulk of the coupons I've seen tend to be for these primary categories. We buy generic goods, have fairly low-maintenance health/beauty routines, and use a limited array of cleaning products (more on that in another post). So, here's how we save money:

1. Sam's (or BJ's, Cosco, etc.). This is tricky.... It's so easy to walk into these stores and come out with legitimately great deals on things you truly don't need (there's a very funny article to this end in the January, 2008 issue of Real Simple magazine). However, if you can use a list and some self-control, there are wonderful savings to be had. We keep a running "Sam's" list and make a monthly run for things like: infant formula (both generic and name brand--don't need anymore, but it saved us tons when the boys were consuming formula), diapers, dog food (even our vet recommended the Purina Fit and Trim you can get at Sam's over our more pricey Nutro), paper towels, toilet paper, ziploc freezer bags, dairy products (especially the 5 pound block of American cheese--a true essential in a house with toddlers), bread and English muffins (great prices on these; put a loaf in the freezer), and meat. The meat prices at Sam's are typically what meat goes on sale for at our regular grocery. So, we stock up on these items.

2. Sales! I don't have the energy to create and keep a grocery price book like some people recommend. But, pay a little attention, and you'll soon notice the regular sales on things you use most. Here's a short list of things I wait for and stock up on: frozen veggies, toothpaste, hot dogs, weird organic cereals that are fun now and then, dairy (you can freeze milk and butter!), tuna, canned tomato products, canned fruit, canned beans..... You get the idea.

3. A grocery list!!!!! Truly a must.

4. A strategy: I've figured out what is genuinely cheaper at Sam's. I get the Kroger weekly flyers emailed to me and make my weekly list from there. I stock up on the food we use regularly when it's cheaper at Kroger than the regular price at Sam's (meat, dairy, etc.). We have a local produce stand we visit for our produce. Benefits: I get coupons from Kroger in the mail for things like $5 off $45 bill, or $2 off $10 of frozen food--things I can use on many different types of products (what's on sale!) rather than a particular brand or size. So, my weekly shopping looks like this: Kroger once a week, Pratt's (local produce market--just down the road) once a week or so, Sam's once every 6 weeks or so. That's pretty much it.

5. Limited convenience foods. These are expensive, folks. I don't make everything from scratch. But I do avoid frozen lasagnas, most boxed cereals, granola bars, chips, etc. unless they're part of a specific meal (i.e. we have tortilla chips when we have chili). I don't have school-age kids, so I'm sure some of that will change when I pack school lunches, but for now, that's how we operate.

I have used more coupons lately because Alicia gives me some, and I've even ordered some from The Coupon Clippers. I'm trying to simplify things, though, so that means I'm heading back to my old, scanty-coupon-use. For some great food-oriented blogs that are geared to money-saving tips, both in shopping and in food preparation, check out $5 Dinners and The Grocery Cart Challenge.

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