18 April 2013

How I Save Money On Groceries

 I know this isn't a decorating post. But I figured I'd do one about my grocery shopping strategies because they really save us a lot of money. And extra money means more I can spend on the house, so indirectly this is a decorating post- most decorating costs some money and besides what I make from my blog, this is a way I help support my decorating habit.  

I do the "extreme couponing". Only don't picture the people on that show "Extreme Couponers"- that's not me. Those people are AMAZING and spend dozens of hours each week prepping for their epic shopping trips where they come away with $1,000 worth of groceries that they scored for like 99 cents. It blows my mind and I'd love to be able to say I was that good, but honestly I just don't have the self-discipline to spend that much time on my shopping list. If I had to dumpster-dive for newspapers and create price charts for all my local stores, I'd never stick with this type of shopping. 

I do the simplified version- the lazy-couponer's version. 

Before I begin, let me tell you about my first shopping trip using coupons. It was a few years ago and I had heard about extreme couponing, and some of my friends were starting to do it, so I decided I was going to start doing it too. I made up my shopping list, found as many coupons as I could for the items I needed, plus I added items to the list that I had coupons for, then I set out to Walmart with a big list and a big stack of coupons. I ended up spending close to $300 and saving around $50 and I left wondering what the hell had happened. My friends had been talking about their shopping trips so I knew that the amount that they were saving was way bigger than what I was walking away with- it was usually at least equal to what they were spending. Plus I knew my friends weren't hyperventilating at the cash register and terrified to show their husbands their receipts because they'd spent so freaking much money. 

But after reading some books and learning more about couponing, I figured out what I'd done wrong- I had made up my list according to what we wanted and the meals I was planning on making that week, and then looked for coupons to go along with those items. Instead, I should have made up my list according to what was on sale that week AND that had coupons that matched up with those sale items. Then meals and stuff could be planned around what I ended up getting. 

So here is how I shop now:

Every Monday I go to the grocery store around the corner from my house and I buy 6 Sunday newspapers. (you can check with your local paper to see if you can subscribe to multiple Sunday papers- mine doesn't happen to be one that lets you do that.) The reason I get 6 is because for couponing to really be effective you have to have multiple of the same coupons. So the basic rule is get one paper for every member of your family, but make sure you get an even number of papers so that you have even numbers of coupons for Buy One Get One (BOGO) sales. So, I have 5 members in my family + 1 more to be even = 6 papers each week. 

When I get the papers home I take out all the coupon inserts but I don't cut out the coupons- you don't end up using all of them, not even half, so cutting them all out is a huge waste of time. Instead I just write the date of the newspaper they came in on the front of each insert like this:

I separate the inserts by type- the main ones are Red Plum (like the one in the photo above) or Smart Source but sometimes there are others. I put each stack of like inserts for that date in a plastic sleeve and put it into a big 3 ring binder that I have for coupons. 

I use dividers to separate the binder into sections for each insert type (like Red Plum, or Smart Source) and then the sleeves full of inserts are in order by date in each section. 

I do not bother with the store ads that come in the newspaper. I use the internet to find out about the store sales; it's much easier. (More on that in a sec.) What I will do is quickly glance through to see if there are any store coupons and if so I'll save those in a section of my binder specifically for store coupons.  

Early in the week I make my shopping list by going to a coupon matching site that tells what the week's sales are at each store, and tells what coupons match up with the sales. The site will list the coupons by newspaper date and then abbreviated insert name like RP for Red Plum and SS for Smart Source. So the way I have my coupons organized makes it super easy to find them. (I can't take credit for that organizing method by the way- I read about it in a couponing book I got.) If there are printable coupons for any of the sale items the site will list those next to the items as well and link to them. 

The site I use is Southern Savers and I love it. Obviously by the name, it's for the stores that you find in the south, so if you aren't a southerner and don't have stores like Publix or Winn-Dixie than this site won't work for you. (Although it does list sales for some national chains like Target.) When we were living in Minnesota I used a site called Pocket Your Dollars. I think if you google something like "coupon matching sites for <your state> stores" then you should be able to find one that will work for you and your local chain stores. 

For you gals (and guys) in the south- I've narrowed down the stores that work best for me and these are the three I hit weekly: Winn-Dixie for meat- because each week they have BOGO meat sales that make getting everything from shrimp to beef roasts much cheaper than normal, even without coupons. CVS for beauty and personal products, also cleaning supplies and the random grocery item here and there depending on their sales and coupons. Publix for everything else. For items that we just cannot live without but that aren't on sale that week at any of my normal grocery stores, my husband picks up from Sam's Club on his way home from work. If you're not shopping with coupons it's usually cheaper to get it in bulk from Sams or another store like it. 

For the most part, I only buy what is on sale that I also have coupons for- that is the most important part of this whole thing! 

When you shop like this, it is really different from "regular" shopping. When you go to the store normally without a planned strategy, you'll have a list of lots of different types of items and you usually only buy like 1 or 2 of the same type of item. So you come home with one of lots of different things. 
With this type of shopping you'll be getting less different types of items each week, but because of your multiple coupons you'll be bringing home more of each type of item. Since I have 6 copies of each coupon, I get 6 of each item that is on sale (for the most part- some things are different depending on the type of coupon). Since I'm only buying the sale items that I have coupons for, I'm not getting a big variety of things during my weekly trip, but I'm stocking up on the things that I am buying, that way I have enough that I won't have to get more until they are on sale again. 

And since each week I'm buying so much of the things that we need -even though it's spread out where one week I may be getting a ton of snack items, and the next I may be getting a ton of toiletry items- our stockpile of all this stuff starts really adding up, so the list of things we run out of each week ends up being really small. Like milk, eggs and fresh produce small. (Cause those particular items aren't ones I stock up on so those are a weekly purchase.) 

Buy One Get One deals are my favorite- they are why I love Publix so much because they have BOGO sales every week, and that is pretty much all I buy from that store. Since the deals are buy one get one free, I am already only paying for half of what I buy. Then when I stack coupons on top of that the savings really adds up. I can use a coupon for each item that I have- even the free ones. So the amount that the coupon is for will come off of the price I'm paying on the other items that aren't free. 

Here's an example:
Lets say fruit snacks are on sale buy on get one free at $3.00. Since it's $3.00 for 2 boxes I'm already only paying $1.50 a box. Now let's say I have 6 coupons, each for $1.00 off a box of fruit snacks. I get 6 boxes to go along with my 6 coupons. Again since it's a BOGO sale I'm already only paying for 3 of them. Then at the register I hand over my 6 coupons and an additional $6.00 get's taken off the price of those 3 boxes of fruit snacks that I do have to pay for. I walk out with $18.00 worth of fruit snacks that I just paid $3.00 for. That's .50/box. 

Another deal I like is the Extra Care Bucks rewards from CVS- I only buy items each week that I will get extra bucks rewards for, and I do multiple transactions when I pay so that the CVS bucks I get back from one item will help pay for my next one. I would have to ramble on for a whole other post in order to explain the ins and outs of CVS shopping, so here is a good guide for strategic use of Extra Care Bucks via Southern Savers

A few extra tips:

-Know your store's coupon policies. Nothing sucks more than excitedly heading to the cash register anticipating all your awesome deals, then finding out that this particular chain doesn't allow the same type of coupon use that another one does. 

-You are not allowed to use two coupons for one item UNLESS one of the coupons is a store coupon and one is a manufacturer's coupon. So if you have one coupon for .50 off Yoplait yogurt from Smart Source and one coupon for .50 off Yoplait Yogurt from Publix, you can use both coupons on the same container of Yogurt. What you can't do is use two of the Smart Source coupons or two of the Publix coupons on that one item. That's a no-no. 

-If you get your newspapers from the grocery store DO NOT just pick the inserts out and tuck them in your bag. Buy the newspapers. I HATE when people do that. Nothing gets my blood boiling like paying for a crap load of newspapers I'll never read then getting home and realizing that someone picked through and swiped out all the inserts and I just wasted my money on a newspaper. 

-Check your newspapers before you buy them to make sure they have coupon inserts. {See above tip}

And that, my friends, is how I grocery shop. On average I save about twice the amount that I've spent. Nothing that would leave anyone picking their jaws up off the floor, but it's significant. And it really REALLY helps the monthly budget. 
I think this post goes down in my blog's history as one of my wordiest. 


  1. Lots of great info Brooke! My mind is spinning but you did an excellent job of spelling out the specifics. Thanks.

  2. I like the way you think. Saving money in groceries = more home projects.
    Have a nice anniversary weekend.

  3. Brooke,

    I just LOVE that you took the time to post this!! I will use this for sure and can't wait to find out more about CVS too. You are such a great help to all of us moms. Thank you <3

  4. I just can't get in to couponing, which is crazy since I shop thrift stores and naturally like to save money! But I usually shop at Trader Joes and Costco and I really HATE spending time trying to match up this or that to save $1.00. I try to get my savings elsewhere. Plus, the things I like to eat rarely have coupons, especially organic stuff. So, sigh..... But one day... I will be sure to save your post in the event I can force myself to change my food habits! :)

    Thrift Diving