What? You don’t? Well, you should. Seriously. Because doing otherwise is like not picking up free money off your doorstep because you don’t feel like bending over.
If you use a grocery-store-issued discount card, you can save a few dollars off the “shelf price” of certain items. If you use your store card carefully, shopping in bulk, when items are on sale (most stores regularly have “dollar sales” in the guise of 10/$10 or 5/$5 specials), you do a little better, and might wind up with a receipt like this one, from a trip to a local Kroger store last night:
Pretty good, huh? I mean, getting 25% off your grocery order is not too shabby, and if you buy in bulk when things are cheap and stock your pantry and freezer well, you can save a lot of money like this. BUT: When you apply this shopping philosophy and also factor in coupon-clipping, you come up with results more like THIS, from the same Kroger store, same time, last night:
THAT is more like it. $155.49 worth of groceries, for which I paid $56.16, including the tax (Hello, Governor Beebe!).
I am a recent convert to coupon-clipping, having studied at the virtual feet of Florida blogger Atilla the Mom, when she posted her primer on coupon-clipping last year. What I’ve learned from her, and from my experience locally, I’m going to share with you. Because I’m good like that, but also (read: mostly) because I can’t shut up about it. I’ll be taking mainly about Kroger in this post, simply because that’s where I do most of my own grocery-shopping due to their coupon-doubling policy.
The first thing you need is the weekly sale flyer (spellcheck is trying to make me type “flier,” but in this context, I can’t seem to bring myself to do it) from the grocery store of your choice. Those usually come out in Wednesday’s newspapers, although where I live, Kroger sends them in the mail. They’re also usually available online, and Kroger’s website has a feature that allows you to compile and print a shopping list directly from their online sale flyer. Around here, the sales run from Wednesday-toWednesday, which means that the optimum time to hit the stores to take advantage of coupon savings is Sunday evening.
You know about coupons. They come in those semi-glossy, annoying inserts in your Sunday newspaper, and if you’re like most people, you probably throw them away. Stop that. As a matter of fact, not only do you want to save those inserts, you want to get extra ones, as well. There are lots of ways to do this. Buying extra newspapers is most obvious, but you can also pick up plenty for free if you just know where to look and who to ask. I won’t go into detail on that, because you can figure it out on your own.
I do, however, have a specifically local tip: Subscribe to the Arkansas Leader newspaper. I mean, you should, anyway, for the writing, but for reasons specific to thrifty grocery-shopping as well, it’s more than worth the subscription price (which is discounted regularly via a coupon on the back of the Knight’s Grocery sale-circular). Not only does the Leader carry grocery circulars for some additional stores like Knight’s and Price-Cutter, but it carries the exact same coupon inserts that come in the Sunday Democrat-Gazette…but the Leader’s coupons are in its Saturday paper, which is available until Wednesday. Which, by way of an extra-special bonus, only costs 25 cents at the newsstand or paper-box, so you can painlessly pick up a couple of extra copies. Which, after relieving them of their coupons, you then donate to some newspaper-less place like your doctor’s office.
The main mental shift you have to make to maximize your savings is to start thinking differently about bulk-shopping. You won’t be picking up a box of Cheerios of a jar of Newman’s Own spaghetti sauce or a bag of Green Giant frozen vegetables–you’ll be picking up 6 boxes of cereal, 8 jars of sauce, and 10 bags of broccoli at a time. You’ll learn to think differently about what you store in your freezer, so that you can buy more on sale (bread, cheese, milk, etc.). That results in a different look for your pantry and freezer, which will usually be stuffed. On one recent and famous (at least in my mind) occasion, I came home from Kroger with something like 80 individual servings of Mott’s Organic no-sugar-added Applesauce. Admittedly, that’s a lot of applesauce, even for a crazy person. But my daughter loves the stuff, I use it in cooking, and with my combined savings, it didn’t cost me a thing. Anyway, the goal is to buy what’s on sale, and buy as many of each item as you have coupons for. If your grocery store doubles coupons, even better.
This past weekend, there were three circulars: One from Valassis, one from Smart Source, and one from Proctor & Gamble. I had two sets from each of my delivered papers, and then picked up a couple more by purchasing extra copies of the Leader.
I don’t clip coupons for products I absolutely don’t use, but I do clip for things I might use if the price is right–and if you play your cards right, the price can be ridiculously low, or even free. I become a super-dork on occasions that the perfect storm of a store special, a coupon, and a store’s coupon-doubling policy result in my hauling stuff out of the store without paying for it–legally (see Famous Applesauce Incident, referenced above).
I also clip for things *I* might not need, but that I could possibly donate for use elsewhere, from food to toiletries. Toothpaste is one item that springs to mind that is frequently obtainable for free, for example, by way of 10/$10 sales on Colgate or Crest at Kroger. Kroger doubles coupons up to 65 cents in value, and if you clip coupons regularly, you will almost always have a handful of 50-cents-off coupons for both leading brands of toothpaste. Bingo, free toothpaste. You’ll have more than you could ever use, and it’s something that there’s a need for at shelters. Charitable giving of food and toiletries only gets easier and more frequent as you begin paying less to feed and care for yourself–not to mention that you are getting more value for the things you’re giving, and thus can give more.
There are also occasions, more than you might think, on which the redeemable value of combined sales/coupons/doubling exceeds the actual price of the item. I have seen receipts, posted on coupon-clippers’ online forums (yes, we are SUPER-geeks), from shopping trips that resulted in the customer being GIVEN money (usually just a little, but still!) by the store they’re shopping from. It’s never happened to me, but I’m still relatively new at this, and don’t have the advantage of extra “tricks” like the insanely popular Grocery Game (not yet available in most of Arkansas for anything but Walgreen’s). Heck, I’m still inspired all to pieces by receipts like this.
A quick note about coupon organization, from Atilla to me to you: Forget those little “coupon organizer” thingies. You need a three-ring photo binder, the kind that holds snapshot-sized photos. How you order the coupons is up to you. Most people seem to group them by category/type of item, but that got overwhelming for me, and I now group them alphabetically. Not strict alphabetical order, but by letter, according to brand-name. Then when I’m reading the sale circulars, it’s easy for me to find exactly the corresponding coupons that I need.
In a later post, I’ll discuss big-box stores, like Wal-Mart, as well as that wonderful oddity that is the Walgreen’s rebate system, which you can use to routinely obtain items for “less than free.” Right now, I’m all geeked typed out, and I have groceries to put away.