Last year’s “extreme couponing” boom came at the heels of a huge increase in “coupon bloggers” on the internet. It’s easy to find bloggers and web forums about extreme couponing, and many of them feature pictures of people with 30 free boxes of cereal and 28 free packs of ballpoint pens.
It’s important to remember that these photos aren’t typical results for even seasoned bargain shoppers. These folks are investing many hours per week planning shopping trips to get such results. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not practical for many of us who have other demands on our time.
Luckily, there are still ways we can cut down on our grocery expenses without spending many hours doing it. Try a few of these tricks, and watch that receipt shink:
- Minimize the amount of time you spend in the grocery store. The less time you are in the store, the less money you will spend. Therefore, have non-perishable items you know you need, like toilet paper, shipped directly to your home from online retailers like Amazon.com. Save the grocery store for perishable items.
- Make a plan, and stick with it. In the internet age, menu planning doesn’t have to be painful. There are many websites and apps devoted to helping you plan a week’s or month’s worth of meals. Most of them generate a grocery list automatically. Try Plan to Eat, which doesn’t require payment information for its 30-day free trial. This step alone can cut your spending dramatically.
- Try to shop alone. Yes, we love our families, but let’s face it: some of them enjoy the grocery store a little too much. Your children beg you for cereals with the same chemical ingredients as batteries. Your spouse is adding every flavor of non-dairy creamer to the basket because ‘they all sound good’. In some families, it actually saves money to pay a babysitter for an hour to watch the children so you can shop efficiently.
- Learn what freezes and what does not. Once-a-month shoppers know how to use their freezers at a level that most of us didn’t know existed. Freezing staples like baked goods, meats and some dairy products can help you shop less frequently. Bookmark a site like Favorite Freezer Foods to refer to as you’re making your meal plan for the week or month.
- Study the store’s weekly ad. For maximum grocery savings, plan your meals around the sale items in your store’s weekly ad, especially when it comes to meats. For example, my grocery store is offering chicken breasts this week for $1.47 per pound, which is a good deal. I go over to Plan to Eat and search the recipes for ‘chicken breasts’, and then pick the recipes I think my family would enjoy the most and add them to our meal plan.
- Plan one meatless evening meal each week. Meats are the most expensive staple item for most families, so one meatless meal per week can make a difference in the grocery budget. Try spaghetti with marinara or fettuccini alfredo once per week with a salad and garlic bread.
- Use what you have before a trip to the store. Remember that the less time we’re in the store, the less we spend, so do not go to the store unless you absolutely have to. If you aren’t sure what’s for dinner, survey your fridge, freezer and pantry. What can you serve from what you already have? You can go back to your meal-planning app and enter the ingredients you have on hand to get suggestions.
- Obviously coupons are a great way to grow your business, but there are many other benefits to coupons and keeping up with them.
- Use substitutions. Print out a chart of ingredient substitutions and attach it to the inside of one of your cabinet or hang it on the fridge. You can often substitute something you do not have on hand with something you do. You’ve just saved yourself a trip to the store!
- Cook from scratch. Convenience foods are expensive – the worst offenders are breakfast cereals and chips and salty snacks. If you create a homemade substitute for breakfast and snacks (or teach your family to eat fresh fruit for snacks), you will save a great deal of money and eat far fewer chemicals, preservatives and dyes.