Using Common Cents
Like many of you I've read too many money saving articles on the net or in magazines that promise to slash your grocery bill in half. Once you buy the magazine or click on the link you end up reading yet another useless list of "tips" that a five year old could probably figure out. Some of these people even get paid actual money to write books filled with tips that are already obvious or flat out false.
I am a real mom, a real wife. I live in Michigan, and like most people in this state right now, we are on a tight budget. The only difference for me is that I have been doing this for 20 years, through the money highs and lows. Its the way I shop no matter what my checkbook says. I've shown countless people how to organize their coupon boxes and streamline their shopping trips, whether their goal is to save money, save time, or both.
So to get started on the path to saving money on your grocery shopping, there are a few key things you can do in just a few minutes a week.
1. Look at your store circulars
I mean, really look at them. Compare all the circulars for stores in your area. Figure out which stores offer you the best prices on the items your family will actually use.
2. Buy the Sunday paper.
Ask friends and relatives to save their coupons for you. I buy one paper but my mother in law gives me hers, as does my neighbor, my dad and my sister in law.
3. Invest in a coupon box or organizer.
Something sturdy that you can throw in your purse or in the car and that will take a beating in the store. You cant use the coupon if you can't find it. organize it by the store you shop in most often, and lable it accordingly. (meat, dairy, household items, canned, frozen, etc)
4. Make a menu based on whats on sale and what you have coupons for.
5. Know your local stores
Know which stores have the best produce, which days they clearance out the meat, or have double coupon days.
Your basic strategy at first needs to be to keep track of what you buy that you need and what are impulse buys. Many times people buy something like cereal that goes bad because they have four boxes at home or they buy them at full price because they ran out before the next sale. Or they buy that bag of potato chips because they sounded good or they over buy on cans of soup only to find out they had too many of that kind at home already, and should have bought something different.
You also need to (at first) plan your weekly menus around what is on sale at the store. The first few trips may seem heavy on burger or something else, but until you cycle through a few sales and build up some variety, the first few weeks may feel a bit wierd. If burger is the best deal, plan tacos, meatloaf, burgers, etc and break it up with another meat that is a good deal that week. Buy a few extra packages for the freezer, and in a few weeks you will find yourself spending less and buying more items that are actually part of real meals instead of random items.
Join the loyalty programs of every store you shop at. They will send you coupons to your home that are based on the items you buy. You can get coupons for money off meat, produce, light bulbs, just about anything. These stores want you to remain loyal, and they will reward you for shopping there.
As for using your coupons, there is no law that says if you clip it you have to use it. I have clipped juice coupons that I had little interest in until three weeks later the store had it on sale and I ended up getting it for free. Often the coupons are part of a marketing campaign where the item will be featured at certain stores. Sometimes its the same week the coupon comes out, sometimes its weeks later. Save the coupons until the items are on sale and then stock up.
You'll find that at first it seems like the majority of coupons are for things like shampoos, razors, detergent, and cleansers. There are a lot of them out there. Those are the easiest items to match up with a sale and get for free. I haven't paid for shampoo or toothpaste in years and I use name brands like Crest. You can easily start out saving a minimum of $10 on these types of items, savings you can put in your pocket, or use to buy more groceries.
You need to have some patience. The best way to maximize your savings is to combine the circular sale price with the coupons. When it hits at the right time, stock up. I often get free boxes of brownie mix, or flour or other staples at this time of year. Companies know that people bake more from now until after the holidays. They will print a ton of coupons now, and many shoppers will use them right away. If you wait a few weeks, prices will drop and you will get many items for free or half off rather than just the .50 cents or a dollar.
I think one of the biggest things is to keep in mind this isnt a full time job, it doesnt have to take up more than half an hour a week. At first, it may take a bit longer until you find your routine, or figure out what works for you. I clip my coupons on sunday evening while watching tv with the family. It takes me approximately 20 minutes to clip an entire stack, and 10 minutes to file them away by category. Once every other month I sort through and throw away the expired ones. So many people shy away from this because they see it as time consuming. It really isnt. Once you know what you are buying and have your coupons in hand you spend much less time in the store than wandering around trying to figure out what to buy for dinner. Maybe with the savings, you can afford dinner out occasionally!