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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Start Saving Part 4: Grocery Store Tips

In this Start Saving series, I'm trying to share some of my experiences and advice with people who are new to the couponing world. If you missed the first three parts of this series, you can catch up HERE, HERE, and HERE.


We've all heard some form of grocery shopping advice before. Don't shop on an empty stomach, shop with a list, don't let the kids buy everything they want. Doing all of these things is wise, but let's talk about some other ways to make your grocery dollars go further.

The Grocery List

We keep a running grocery list going at our house. It's not a menu-based list, just a list of items that we are almost out of. My husband and I both write on the list any items that we see running low or used up. I add those to the appropriate list (Kroger, CVS, etc.) for the week so that they aren't forgotten.

Before I ever create my grocery list, I plan a menu. I do this by first looking at what's in our pantry, freezer, and fridge. Do we have several bags of frozen chicken from last week's sale? Do I have a gazillion cans of diced tomatoes that I got for pennies? I peruse the kitchen to see what I can do with what I already have. Then I jot down items that I need to complete the things on my menu. I also plan around family events and my work schedule. The goal is to not cook on the 3 days that I work. I use the crock pot, or we have planned leftovers.

Once I have my menu planned and have a list of things I need to complete it, I check the sale flyer for my local Kroger. If I have a day when I still need a meal idea, I'll use what's on sale in the ad to create another day's menu. I also jot down items that are listed at rock-bottom prices. For example, last week Kroger had Kellogg's cereals for $2.18 a box (the big boxes!!). I had some $1 off coupons, which made the cereal $1.18 a box, a really good price! I list items like this, check my coupons, and create my shopping list.

I also use blog sites as resources for my grocery list creation. Many bloggers will note what's on sale each week and tell you if there are coupons that can be matched with those sales to make the deals even better. For my Kroger shopping, I use Kroger's website (to view the ad), Nickels-n-Dimes (printable coupon matchups), Stretching a Buck (Great Lakes Region deals). If you don't shop at Kroger, you can do a Google search for coupon matchups at your store of choice.

I make it my goal to find the best deals and stock up on them. That way, when I sit down to create my next menu, I'll have new items on-hand. This lets me shop for just perishables and the best deals each week.

Off to the Store -- Coupons

Rule #1.... Always take your coupon binder/box with you to the grocery store. It only took me a few times of missing great deals to live out this rule. I remember one time when Kroger had the Ziploc Big Bags on an incredible clearance sale (I believe they were $1?), and I knew I had $1 coupons for them. But I'd left my coupons at home! The next time I stopped by, they were gone.... probably snatched up by someone else who had remembered to bring their coupon binder!

You'll have to check the coupon policy at your local grocery store, but my Kroger allows me to use coupons on clearance items. Not too long ago, I found some Quaker granola bars in the clearance bin. They were not expired, just a manager's special. They were a little over $1 a box, and I had $1 off coupons. So I got almost-free granola bars. My Rite Aid is famous for this in their makeup department. They must cycle the products through pretty regularly, because they always have 75% off makeup items available. And I can still use my coupons! I've gotten some 25 cent lip gloss and nail polish and used them as part of some Christmas gifts.

Discounted Merchandise

In addition to the clearance bins, I also check for discounted produce and meat. I've bought bananas in bulk and frozen them for baking or smoothies. They're still yellow, and they're usually bagged for bulk sale. I do the same thing with meat. The discounted meat is usually a couple of days from it's sell-by date. I either use it the same day I buy it, or I freeze it. Since prduce and meat are big budget-busters, I try to buy them at discounted prices whenever I can.

You'll be amazed at how many manager's special items you can find if you keep your eyes open for them! If you shop with kids or a spouse, you may want to recruit their help in spotting these sale tags.

Don't Fall for the 10 for $10

Our Kroger runs 10 for $10 sales regularly, and they're usually pretty good deals. Just know that you do NOT have to buy 10 of any one item to get the $1 price. In fact, you don't even have to mix-and-match 10 of the items to get the $1 price. When you see a 10 for $10 sale, think of it as s $1 sale instead. Buy just what you want/need.

Brand Loyalty

I used to be VERY brand loyal when it came to certain items.... toothpaste (still am!), laundry soap, softner, hair color, facial cleanser... the list goes on and on. Some of it was my favorable experiences with products. Some of it was just habit. I wasn't paying attention, and I was just buying what I always bought. Couponing changed all of that!

Now I try new products that I would have never even considered before. In fact, when I was a novice coupon-clipper, I wouldn't even clip the coupons for products I didn't already buy! (No wonder I had such a tiny coupon stash!) Now I clip anything I think I might possibly use. I also clip for items that would make good donations to the women's shelter.

I have found a few new products that I absolutely love... just because I stopped being brand loyal and tried a different brand. For example, I tried Garnier's hair color and thought that it worked a million times better than what I was using before (and it smelled better!). I've tried All Small & Mighty laundry detergent and Snuggle fabric softner. I was a diehard Tide/Downy fan before. We've also tried some foods that we wouldn't have tried without coupons. It's fun to be able to try something when it's free or almost-free. If you don't like it, you're not out much. If you do like it, then you have a new favorite!

Do you have any money-saving tips for navigating the grocery store? Feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Come back tomorrow when we discuss shopping at CVS. I'll try to help CVS newbies make sense of ECBs, CRTs, and other CVS goodies.


MelRae said...

We have a dry erase board that we use to list things that we are low on or out of. It is small, and magnetized, so it sticks to the side of our fridge. The other day my hubby said that it may be one of the best things we have bought in almost 14 years of marriage!

Jennifer said...

Ooohh.... I love it when an investment of $5 saves you hundreds! A list like this can keep you from making those quick trips back to the store. Those can be really expensive when you find things that you didn't realize you needed! :)