Food is expensive. The average family spends at least 10% of their income a year just on food. And while wages have remained pretty stagnant over the last few years, the price of food keeps going up. Let’s face it. Most of us are on a budget. Figuring out how to stretch those grocery dollars is a priority.
B.M. (Before Motherhood) I casually couponed. Maybe I saw a coupon in the Sunday paper I would clip or find one on a grocery store shelf. I would glance at the weekly ad but not study it or try to match coupons with sales. I just shopped. Sometimes I would make a list and would invariably purchase way more stuff than was on it. I was a sucker for the end caps and the glossy magazines in the checkout line. But then I had a baby in 2014. And started buying formula and diapers at an alarming rate. The maternity leave fund I had worked 9 months for? Dwindling faster than a one hit wonder. What was I to do? I turned to old faithful – google. And WOW was I in for an education. I am not going to lay out for you the coupon bible for you here. It is vast and I am still learning. And frankly, who has the time? But what I will do is give you some easy steps you can do NOW to get you started on saving some major MOOLAH on your weekly grocery bill. And as I continue to learn I will share with you what I know.
I average 30% or more a week in savings. I have learned terms like “coupon stacking” and sales cycles. I now have a stockpile so I don’t run out of my favorite foods – all of which I bought with coupons. And the baby who started all this? A rambunctious toddler who refuses to sit in the shopping cart but wants to push it down the aisles. Let’s just say I try to grocery shop on days the hubby does daycare pick up.
How to Get Started Using Coupons
1. Start Reading Your Weekly Grocery Sales Circular
I’m going to let you in on a little secret – Extreme grocery savings do NOT, for the most part, come from the coupons. The bulk of your savings will come from the store sales. The better the promotion, the bigger the savings, so the FIRST step in saving money on your grocery bill is to SHOP THE SALES. I love and shop at Publix. They take my groceries to the car for me and usually I don’t have to wait in line. I love it. I thought I would have to switch to Walmart (the lines! The crowds!) or shop at 10 stores a week to get the best deals. But by following the sales circular and reading a Publix blog (yes, there are dedicated BLOGS out there for how to coupon at specific grocery stores and they will save you TIME as well as link you to coupons that match the current sales. Check out this one for another of my faves) I create my grocery list in a few short minutes. And I print out coupons right then and there. It is great. And EASY. No excuses.
2. Know Where to Find Coupons
Obviously, having coupons is the first thing you need to get started. But, where do you find them? These days there are so many options to getting coupons – from paper to printables to electronic coupons. Here are the top 6 ways to find the best coupons.
Inserts in your weekly paper – these are inserts that vary each week in your Sunday paper. Inserts are from Smart Source, Red Plum and/or P&G. Remember – if you want more than one coupon you have to buy more than one paper – or beg your neighbors/friends for theirs.
Printable Coupon – coupons.com is a top source for printable coupons. You can usually get 2 prints from each computer on these. Copies are illegal and frowned upon – use ethics please.
Catalina Printouts – these are coupons that print at your store after checkout
Magazines – Look for magazines with coupons. All You Magazine is one of the top magazine for the best coupons. However, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, Better Homes & Garden Magazine and even Shape magazine have some great coupons
Tearpads/Blinkies – These are coupons that are found in store. You can find them on displays or hanging from the shelf.
eCoupons or rebate apps – These are becoming more and more popular. eCoupons are coupons that load onto your store loyalty card or your smart phone. They are deducted at the register when you make a qualifying purchase. For me I am loving the Cartwheel app Target has for their store. Publix also has digital coupons. Rebate apps are apps where you load a picture of your receipt and if they have a corresponding deal you get money back. I am loving ibotta for this.
3. Know When to Use Coupons
Clipping and using coupons is only the first step in saving on your groceries. Knowing when to use your coupons is what will get you the biggest bang for your buck.
Learn to match coupons to store sales – Waiting to use your coupons when the items go on sale is the secret to saving the most money. Don’t waste your coupons on full price items. Hang onto them for the lowest price sale and then use that coupon. Most coupons last 30-60 days, so you have time to use them. Patience is the virtue here.
Follow Sales Cycles – Sales on products usually run in cycles of about 6-12 weeks. Also, sales follow cycles of holidays and events throughout the year. For instance, snack and finger foods always go on sale around Super Bowl and baking goods go on sale before Thanksgiving and Christmas. Usually the holiday will correlate with the sales items. Think hot dogs deals for July 4th, and candy for Halloween.
Buy at the Lowest Price – This goes along with the first point which is wait for a sale. If you wait for that item to go on sale, you are able to get it at it’s lowest price, combined with a coupon and even a store promotion. Take a look at our example below on cereal to see just how much you can save by waiting for the lowest price and combining offers.
4. Know How to Use Coupons
Have you asked your customer service department at your store if they accept competitor coupons? If not, you should! There might be some ways to save at your store that you didn’t even know about. For example, for me I get to use Target coupons at my local grocery store (yes, Target has store coupons and yes you can find them HERE).
Some things you should ask your store so you know that you are taking advantage of every savings opportunity:
Double Coupons – Does the store double coupons? If so, does a $0.50 coupon double up to $1? Does a $0.75 double up to $1.50? Is there a limit to the amount of coupons that double? Make sure you understand exactly how their double coupon policy works.
Stacking Store Coupons – Make sure to ask the store if they allow you to use a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon. This is called stacking coupons. Although you can never use 2 manufacturer coupons on the same product, you can, for most stores, stack a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon.
Competitor Coupons – Does your store accept competitor coupons? Make sure to ask. If they do, it’s even more of a savings opportunity. Since I found out that I can use Target coupons as a store coupon at my local grocery store, I combine them with a manufacturer coupon and save normally double the amount.
5. Stock Up
Stocking up on sale items is a very important part of getting the most savings at the grocery store. It gives you control of what you are paying for your groceries instead of the store having control of your prices.
Lets say your family eats a lot of Cheerios cereal and you were able to purchase a box for just $0.50. After 1 week, that box of Cheerios would be gone. When you go back to the store the next week, you’ll need to buy another box of Cheerios. And, guess what…it’s no longer on sale. So, you wind up paying $3.99 or maybe even $2.99 if you have another coupon. That is a big difference from the $0.50 you bought the week before.
Now, lets say you bought 8 boxes of Cheerios at the sale price of $0.50 (after coupons). You are now in control of the price you will pay because you can wait for another sale. You are not forced to pay a higher price for that product since you have enough to get you through a couple of months.
Stocking up does not mean turning your house into a mini market but it does mean having a stock of items that will last your family about 2-3 months. A typical stockpile will consist of products that can be stored on 3-4 shelves. That’s all you need.
Now that you know the 5 basic steps to saving at the grocery store, what are you waiting for? Get going and SAVE!