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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.