Coupons. People either love them or hate them. I use them regularly when we eat out at restaurants, and I will not shop at a department store without one, but grocery coupons are completely different for me.
You might have heard of the extreme shoppers who can buy $200 worth of groceries, but only pay $4.25. Yeah, that is not me.
While I have success finding coupons in the Sunday paper and online printing sources, like Coupons.com for hygiene, paper, and cleaning products, food is another story.
I don’t find too many coupons for foods that we eat and I only save about $3-5 in paper coupons on each weekly shopping trip, which is hardly extreme. Most of the coupons I use come directly from the store, either from their in-store magazines, kiosks, or the coupons that print with my store receipt.
So I don’t rely on coupons to save big at the grocery store, and I don’t need to, because there are so many ways to save money on groceries, and coupons are not involved.
How to Save Money on Groceries WITHOUT Coupons
1. Menu Plan
Groceries is a big budget category that you have the most control over. If you plan for your grocery trip, you should be able to stay on track. It’s those impulsive, last minute trips that seem to wreck havoc on spending. When I plan a menu, my spending is generally under control. When I don’t plan, I am sure to blow our budget. The difference between the two can be $100-$150. That is a lot of money, so I plan a menu.
Develop your own routine and read my post, Eleven Tips for Easier Menu Planning for more ideas.
2. Institute a ‘Raid the Fridge’ Night
American households waste as much as $600 a year on food**. That’s about what a typical family might spend on food in a month. Designate one night a week as “raid the fridge’ night to get rid of leftovers. Everyone’s plate might look different, but you’ll at least use up the leftovers and reduce the waste. If you don’t think the food in the fridge will be eaten before it goes bad, place leftovers in a freezer container, label, and store in the freezer. You’ll be thankful later.
3. Utilize the Freezer
Speaking of freezer, this appliance can be your biggest tool to saving money at the grocery store and not just for saving leftovers.
Ways to Use Your Freezer and Save:
With the exception of maybe pasta dishes, a lot of food can be frozen.
- Batch cooking: Buy in bulk, batch cook, and freeze in portion sizes. I do this often with grilled chicken and meats, waffles, pancakes, and breakfast burritos.
- Freezer cooking sessions: This wildly popular cooking technique saves time and money by setting aside a time to prepare a lot of meals at once. Here’s my favorite 8 Freezer Meals.
- Raw vegetables like carrots, peppers, onions, and parsley can be shredded or chopped and bagged and stored in the freezer for future dishes.
- Freeze garden and in season produce. It so so nice to eat locally grown strawberries, peaches, and blueberries in the winter months. I also buy apples in bulk from a local orchard and make Homemade Sugar-Free Applesauce to eat year round.
- Bread, rolls, bagels, and other baked goods freeze really well, so when you find a great price, store in the freezer.
- Cooked chicken and veggies can be frozen and used in soups or casseroles at a later date.
- During the holidays a few years ago, Wegman’s offered 5 lb sacks of flour on sale for .99 cents. I bought the limit and stored in the freezer until I was ready to use. This also helps to prevent bugs.
4. Compare price per unit.
Generally, stores list the unit price on the sign, but to calculate: unit price = product price / size of product. Often the larger the size, the better the unit price, but it’s always good to compare.
- Heinz ketchup: $2.29/32 oz = .071/oz, vs. $3.49/64 oz = .053/oz. I’ll chose the larger size.
- ground turkey: $8.99/3 lbs = $2.99/lb vs. $3.49/1 lb = $3.49/lb. I’ll chose the larger size and divide and freeze in 1 lb portions.
- laundry detergent: $1.97/40 oz (loss leader sale) = .049/oz, vs. $9.99/100 oz = .099/oz. I’ll buy the smaller bottle, and stock up if there isn’t a limit.
NOTE: only go for the best price per unit, if the size makes sense. If I think I won’t consume the larger, but better priced product in time and freezing isn’t an option then I buy the size that makes sense.
5. Compare Store Brands vs. National Brands.
Always compare the price per unit between a store brand and a name brand. Generally the store brands are cheaper. Give the store version of a product a try and if you don’t like it, go back to the brand name. No harm, no foul.
I buy store brand versions of many things from butter, flour and sugar to pretzels, bread, canned tomatoes, and aluminum foil, because of price. There are a few instances where I went back to the name brand, like Heinz ketchup and yogurt.
I compared the prices of some store products and the name brand counterparts of some items on my shopping list and found savings of 20% – 40%.
- Canned, diced tomatoes, 15.5 oz, store brand 59 cents vs. $1.00 for the national brand.
- Canned red kidney beans, 15.5 oz, store brand 59 cents vs. 95 cents for national brand.
- O’s cereal, 12.9 oz, store brand $1.99 vs. $2.79 for national brand.
- aluminum foil, 75 square foot, store brand $2.69 vs. $3.29 national brand.
6. Determine your Buy Price and Stock up when you find a good deal.
The ‘buy’ price is the price per unit that you are willing to spend on food. My price might be different than yours depending on location, brand loyalty and taste differences.
Instead of a bulky price book, I use the Notes app of my phone to list my buy price for the higher priced staples, such as paper products, detergent, and meat. When I see the best price, I stock up. For example, a typical sale for chicken breast is $1.99 a pound, so when the price dips below that I’ll stock up for the freezer.
Focus on your most expensive pantry/freezer staple items and learn the best price to stock up.
7. Buy local produce in season. Freeze for later use.
Early spring is asparagus season in the northeast where I live. When the price for asparagus goes down to $1.49 a pound or even 99 cents a pound, we eat a lot of it. During the winter the price is usually $2.99/lb, so I don’t buy it and honestly, the taste isn’t quite as good in the winter.
After asparagus season comes strawberry season, which besides Christmas is my most favorite time of the year. 😉 There is nothing better than local, fresh, ripe strawberries picked right off the vine at a U-Pick farm for $1.30 a pound vs. $3.99/lb whitish strawberries in the winter. That price makes a trip to the U-Pick farm worth it, because berries freeze well.
After strawberry season, we head in to high summer vegetable season and, well, you get the point by now…
Farm stands, U-Pick farms, and even your own garden are great sources for locally grown, in season produce at reasonable prices.
8. Use cash back apps.
It took me awhile to jump on the grocery app bandwagon. They seemed more time consuming than they were worth. But I have found 4 grocery apps that I now use regularly and I have a system in place to use them efficiently. I earn cash back from almost every grocery trip and I don’t have to clip one coupon.
From my strategy, read: Earn Cash Back from these 4 Simple Grocery Apps.
9. Have an emergency back-up meal in the freezer or pantry.
For those crazy evenings when life is go-go-go, avoid impulsive trips to the store and have a back up meal ready to go. Use the Cook Once, Eat Twice method to stock your freezer with easy to thaw meals.
Cook Once, Eat Twice ideas:
- Chicken & Black Bean Enchiladas – Double the recipe. This link has freezer instructions.
- 8 Freezer Meals
- Make double batches of your favorite homemade chili or soup and freeze the extra portion. Soup is easy to thaw in the microwave and I serve it with some fruit and grilled cheese sandwiches.
10. Shop at Discount and Outlet Stores
Typically, I am not a big fan of shopping at multiple stores, but it might be worth a visit to your local discount outlets or “dent & bent” stores.
A local bread/bakery outlet in my town has English Muffins, sandwich thins, flat bread, kaiser rolls, hamburger rolls, hot dog rolls, tortillas, baked goods, snack foods and more at prices of 50% off or more off the grocery store price. The brand name English muffins that sell for $3 at a regular grocery store are discounted at the outlet for $1.
The only caveat is that you need to check the expiration date. I have noticed the expiration date on the bread is usually within a few days, so I take the loaves home and put them in our freezer right away. I just take out what I need and I have never had a problem.
11. Look for grocery clearance.
Many stores will offer deep discounts on food that is near the sell by date or just not selling well. This food could be marked as “manager’s special” or with bold clearance stickers. I regularly find produce, dry foods, and meat marked down 40% to 75% off. I have been buying marked down meat for many years and have never had a problem. In fact, I recently scored 16 lbs of meat and paid just $17.20.
12. Cut out the junk food and save some dough.
I adore root beer, but I rarely buy it. In fact, besides milk, I rarely buy drinks, because we drink tap water to quench our thirst. I also love junk food and Cool Ranch Doritos scream at me in the store, but I really try not cave in.
For two reasons: I can’t stop at just one and if it doesn’t contribute to the nutrition of our family, I try to avoid it. I am not a purist though, I do splurge on occasion, but we try to limit the non-necessities. By eating whole, real foods, you’ll consume nutrient dense calories, instead of empty calories that will cause you to be hungry in a short period of time.
13. Avoid disposable products.
In an effort over the years, to save money at the grocery store and reduce our waste, we’ve found reusable alternatives to many disposable products, such as paper towels, paper napkins, storage containers, and bags. With those items not on my grocery list, I’ve made more room in my grocery budget for actual food.
It’s not hard to make the switch to reusable alternatives and here’s a list of 10 Paper Products to Stop Buying.
14. Stock up on Seasonal Foods/Meats
The holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter are a fantastic time to stock up on seasonal foods. At Thanksgiving, Turkeys can be as low as 29 cents a pound and many grocery stores will offer a free turkey if you spend a certain amount of money within a time period. It’s not hard to spend $400 in a 4-5 week time frame, so I earn a free turkey every year. Baking products and hams will be on sale for Christmas and Easter.
And I’ve found great bargains on sausages around St. Patrick’s Day and you’ll find some of the best deals on hamburgers, hot dogs, rolls, ice cream, and other picnic foods around the summer holidays. If you have freezer space, stock up.
15. Keep your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer tidy.
Have you ever bought an ingredient only to realize that you have multiple on hand? Avoid duplicate purchases by keeping your kitchen tidy. A tidy kitchen also makes tip #1 so much easier.
To Clip or Not to Clip
There is nothing wrong with clipping coupons, but they are not the only way to save big at the grocery store. In fact, stacking a coupon to some of these top tips will only increase your savings. But simply planning your trip will keep you on task and help you avoid impulsive purchases that add up and eat away at your budget. Follow these 15 tips and you should be able to eat well while saving a ton of money.
What do you think about coupons? What are some other ways, besides coupons, that help you save at the grocery store? Let us know in the comments.
Source = ** USA Today