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Why I Quit "The Grocery Game" and other thoughts about saving money

A while back, I got really into the concept of the "grocery game" - the idea of saving tons of money on your groceries by combing coupons, sales, and store loyalty cards. It really is an art of sorts - the concept is that by pairing the coupons that you have with things that are on sale, you can save a huge percentage off your grocery bill - I'm talking 60-70%. It also incorporates the idea of stockpiling your groceries, so you buy as many of the item as you have coupons for, and then you don't have to buy it again until the next sale roles around. I read blog after blog, and multiple books about the subject. I learned the ins and outs of couponing, sales, match-ups, stockpiling, etc. And then I quit..sort of.

Like anyone, I desperately want to save money on my groceries. But at what expense? I could get my grocery bill down to $50 a week, but what would we be eating for that $50? For the most part, my husband and I eat pretty healthy. I like to cook and bake, and so much of what we eat is home made. My idea of fixing dinner is more "pasta noodles from scratch" than hamburger helper. We can argue and argue about how there are coupons for healthy items, but the fact of the matter is, the majority of coupons are for processed foods. Everyone's idea of healthy is different, and I would say that I have a rather strict version of what I believe to be healthy. Some would say that eating hot dogs for dinner is better than eating fast food, so they are still able to eat healthy on their stockpiled grocery, and there is an argument to be made there but I wouldn't be eating fast food anyway, so it isn't really relevant in my life. I'm not judging anyone that feels this way - we all have different goals, priorities, and abilities. I only work part time, so my ability to cook things and spend my day making homemade items or going to the farmer's market is certainly different than someone with children and a full time job. I also like to cook, which is certainly not everyone's idea of a good time.
So after really diving head first into the idea of the grocery game, I fell off the wagon of obsessively chasing every coupon, and settled back into my normal routine - with one major difference - I watch the sales fliers like nobody's business.
Here is what I learned from my time saving money and reevaluating the way I shop:

1) Shop the sales fliers. There are items called  "loss leaders" in the ads. These are usually printed on the front page of the ad (though not always) and they are usually the items that are limited (ie. limit 4). These are items that the store is actually selling at a loss, but by doing that they are hoping that you will come in and grab a few things other than just those items, and they will more than make up for their lost profit. Not so, not so if you are a savvy shopper.

2) Absolutely utilize the Commissary if you have access to one or the ability to use it. I cannot even tell you how many times I have bought things on sales and paired with coupons at the grocery stores, and it was STILL cheaper at the Commissary. They sell at cost, so it is hard to beat their everyday prices. I'm not going to dwell on this too much since it is not really applicable to everyone, but if you have the ability to shop there, use it.

3) Make your grocery list for the week (or month, or whatever) based on what is on sale. They have a great tool on Allrecipes.com that allows you to search for recipes based on the ingrediants that you have. So, for example, if London Broil is on sale this week, you can search for recipes involving that cut of meat, and go from there. For me, this is most applicable to the meats that are on sale, since I tend to just throw some side dishes together. Meat is the star of the show in my house. I will say that this is the one place that I have found grocery store sales to be consistently cheaper than the Commissary.

4) Grocery shop as infrequently as you can. The more times you have to visit the store, the more likely you are to throw things in your basket on impulse. Make a list, stick to it, and try to not be a daily visitor.

5) Keep playing the grocery game for toiletries, household items, cleaning supplies, and the like. There are some really great deals out there. I get pretty much all of my cleaning supplies for free, and I rarely pay more than 25cent for shampoo or around 30 cents for toothpaste. Many people talk about these items being completely free for them, but I'm not quite dedicated enough for that (yet).

6) Get in touch with the companies whose items you buy frequently or would like to try and ask for coupons.  I really want to be able to eat more organically. I've emailed many organic companies, and ended up with some great high value coupons from places like Amy's Organics, Muir Glen, Cascadian Farms, etc. It only takes a few minutes, and I have saved a pretty high percentage off these items (like I purchase frozen organic blueberries for the same price as conventional frozen blueberries when I count my coupon savings).

These are my grocery principles, and I find that they are working pretty well for me. After all this, I use coupons the way most people say not to- I make my list of the rest of the ingrediants I need, and I find the coupons that match with them, and I go from there. I usually save around $30 a week on the rest of my food items. By pairing up the sales/coupons/matchups for my non food items, it has allowed some room in the budget for more organic items. I'm hoping to get to the point that my budget has enough room for grass-fed, local meat, eggs, milk, etc. I'm not quite there yet, but working on it.

What do you do to save money? Do you have any tips or tricks? I would love to hear them!

If you want to learn more about coupon matchups and the like, I would recommend the websites MoneySavingMom and TheKrazyCouponLady


  1. This is awesome and I SO TOTALLY agree with you. But I wish I were better about playing the "grocery game" with toiletries and cleaning products.

  2. Great idea about emailing companies and asking for coupons! I like to try and eat organically as well but it can really add up in cost! Thanks for the tip!

  3. Thanks for the comments! I definitely agree that eating organically can be very expensive - and it is a struggle because obviously the benefits of organics aren't something you see right away...the instant gratification factor is non existent. Good luck with emailing the companies and everything - I really have had some great success with it. I've actually only ever been turned down once! Thanks again for the input!

  4. I think everybody needs to do what is best for them and I think it is great that you came to a conclusion that works for you, but I disagree with the idea that you have to eat unhealthily if you use coupons.

    We do not have any processed lunch meats or hotdogs, ever. We might get a bag of chips once or twice a year and we never drink soda. Not that I am judging those that eat those items, I will even post the matchup, but I just don't buy them. My son ate 100% organic for the first two years and then we started introducing other foods. I made his cereal and other foods from scratch.

    I do use coupons on frozen vegetables. I get fresh vegetables (and fruit) every week, but I do like the ease of using a frozen one occasionally. I also use coupons on cheese, soup, and cereal - not super healthy, but not horrible (and we very seldom get the typical sugar cereals). I will occasionally purchase those free after coupon products like helpers and canned goods for the food pantry.

    Like you said, you can save a ton (100%) on toiletries. But, you don't have to be a super coupon "stockpiler" to save money :) My budget is $46/week and we eat in a way that I would consider fairly healthy (or at least not unhealthy due to the coupons). I am never tempted to buy something simply because it is free.

    You might be more tempted to buy "unhealthy" foods if you use coupons and see all the free deals, but you don't have to :) This week I have two coupons each good for a free organic gallon of milk - they are out there. The game for me is saving on things that I will use, not just figuring out what I can get for free.

  5. @ Little People Wealth - I don't think she is saying that if you use coupons, you eat unhealthy. I think she is just saying that most coupons are for less healthy, processed foods (I agree with this). So if you only buy things that you have coupons for, chances are you are consuming less healthy stuff.

  6. Thank you all for your comments! I certainly hope that nothing that I said in the post came off as in any way judgmental or condemning of coupon users. Like I said, I do use coupons. And I also hope that I made the point clear that different things work for different people. If you use coupons and it is working for you, then more power to you! The above post was just my own personal reflections on the topic, and the things that I found that worked and didn't for my family.

    My biggest point about the coupons was that when I first started out couponing and trying to do the whole "grocery game" idea, I was buying a lot more junk food than I normally would have. I still have 3 boxes of Apple Jacks in my pantry from "stockpiling" cereal when I got it for 30 cents a box. The problem with that is that we never ate Apple Jacks before, and it is not something that I really want in my house. So playing the grocery game and stockpiling in that regard did not work for me.
    However, I love that you mentioned the frozen vegetables. I definitely use coupons for those, and I stockpile them when I have space and good deals. I have tons of frozen green beans, corn, snap peas, broccoli, etc in my freezer. I use it to sub in when I don't have fresh veggies, and they are fast and easy when we're in a hurry.

    I am certainly not saying that you can't eat healthy while using coupons. I do think coupons can add some great savings to your grocery bill, and as I stated before, the grocery game has worked WONDERFULLY for me with toiletries and household items, which has freed up money for other things. I have just found, in my experience with coupons, that 1) I personally bought more junk. Maybe I was just too tempted with the savings, and 2) in my area we rarely have any coupons for fresh fruit, fresh meat, or fresh vegetables. So I eat better when I plan the meals around the things that I want to be eating, rather than around the best match-ups I can find (aside from the sales flier deals on things like meat).

    Once again, I hope that nothing I said came off as being judgmental. I do feel 100% that everyone has different goals, and certainly if you goal is to get your grocery budget down as low as you possibly can, then the grocery game is great. I guess through this whole process I just discovered that for me, it is not as important to save the money as it is to buy things items that I want to be eating. Thank you again for your comments!

  7. I do play the "grocery game" but only for stuff we actually use. If we don't use it, I don't get it, even if it is free. I especially agree with #1 and #3 in the post---I did that long before I started couponing.

  8. I like this article too! Exactly my thoughts! I mostly just coupon for toiletries as I found that most coupons are things that I never/rarely buy. I keep my eyes peeled for occasional coupons for items that we do use. I just found your blog. . . what area are you from?

  9. I'm actually from Colorado by way of North Carolina (we're military, so we won't be in Colorado for very much longer either). I'm glad you found my blog. I'm hope you're enjoying!

  10. I am currently transitioning from a "coupon junkie" to eating more whole foods and using more natural alternatives for cleaning as well. My goal is to find more ways to save living this way and this way is definitely more of a challenge and the time/effort it takes in preparing whole foods meals is significantly greater-but I feel soooo good about what my kids are eating.My only advice is to buy some of the things you eat on an everyday basis and compare them to farm fresh items-be sure to weigh all the factors such as health, cost, time to prepare, etc. This will help you decide what you must make yourself and what it's ok to buy with coupons and also what you are willing to compromise on (for instance, I don't make my own yogurt, and can't afford organic-but buy brands without HFCS or aspartame-such as Tillamook brand). I can't always afford raw milk or organic so I buy Darigold. I can't always buy farm eggs, so I buy omega enriched instead-such as egg-lands best.
    I am trying not to go overboard with this new lifestyle, but am instead taking baby steps that allow me to cut myself some slack and stay real. I am not militant bu any means and so if I find I can get my kids some bagel bites for free, I might just get them and choose to not feel bad about it. Life is short. Live in the moment and try not to let things take over your thoughts too much. I say do the best you can, when you can, in any given moment. The rest of life's stuff is clutter and sweating stuff isn't worth it. BTW, keep in mind it is usually cheaper and better for all of us if you make all your household cleaners from scratch-but that is just a thought to consider-not a projection. To each his-or her-own.
    Coupon when you want for what you want and let your heart lead you in what/how you feed yourself and your fam. God bless.

  11. Shari,
    Thank you for the comment and tips! I agree that everything should be taken in small steps, and also that there is no need to be militant about it at all. I must admit, there are times when I still by junk, just because we want it. I am not going to live a life of total depravation. I figure that if I do the healthy thing about 80% of the time, I'm doing pretty well. Obviously I would love at some point for those cravings for junk to go away, and for us to simply not want it anymore, but in the meantime we're not going to sit around my house wishing that we had some cookies but not allowing ourselves to eat any!!

    I also love the tip about making homemade cleaning products. I totally agree that it is very cheap to make them (often only pennies!) and I plan on doing this completely once my Seventh Generation starter kit products run out.

    Thanks again for commenting!