I know most of you reading my blog are regular coupon-users, but I wanted to share some simple tips on ways you can save at the grocery store besides couponing. This post may also be helpful for those of you who are new to couponing and want to find ways to save money now as you gradually learn the ropes of “extreme couponing.” For those of you seasoned savers and savvy shoppers: I’m sure you’ve heard these tips from other frugal folks before, and there is nothing below that is a shocking, new discovery in the land of grocery store savings, by any means. But hopefully this will help some of you put on your thinking caps on how you can save even more money at the grocery store in addition to regular coupon use.
Ten tips to save more money on your grocery shopping trips:
- Make a list and stick to it! To avoid impulse buys, create a meal plan and grocery list at home based on deals featured in the weekly circular or on frugal blogs/coupon forums. Take your list with you to the store and stick to it (an exception I make to this is purchasing “quickly reduced” items… see #9).
- Buy less prepared foods. For example, buying a small bagged salad will usually cost you much more than buying a head of lettuce, some tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, etc. You may not have quite the same convenience factor, but you will save money.
- Be willing to go generic, try new brands and put aside your brand loyalty/bias. Yes, I know it may be hard to “leave your loyalty at the door” initially, but think of it as a way to be adventurous and try new things with your main goal being: saving money. I will stock up on name brand items when there is a really good sale and/or coupon that brings that item price down to my “price point.” However, when my stock pile runs out and I want to purchase that item to use for a meal during the week, I’ll buy that item at ALDI (discount grocery store) or buy generic at another store. For example, a jar of Peanut Butter at my local ALDI is $1.29. This week Safeway has a deal on Skippy Peanut Butter for $2 each. If there were any Skippy coupons available (which I don’t believe there are…there was one from the 1/31/10 Red Plum but it expired on 2/28/10) I would buy these if the coupon made it less than my regular ALDI price.
- Learn the different store policies. Find out the return policies, reusable bag policies, coupon policies, rain check policies, price-matching policies, etc. for your favorite or most frequently visited stores. Many, but not all, grocery stores in the DC metro area double manufacturer coupons up to $0.99. Some stores accept a manufacturer coupon combined with a store coupon on the same item (this is called “stacking coupons” because normally you can only use one coupon per item you are purchasing). Some stores offer a small credit (like $0.05) toward your total grocery purchase if you bring your own re-usable tote. Most stores will accept returned items with an original receipt within a certain time frame (say 30-90 days).
- Sign up for your grocery store’s membership card and e-mail list. These are free to sign up for, and you need them to get the special sales price at many stores. For example, at Bloom this is the “Breeze Card”, at Bottom Dollar this is the “Membership Card”, at Giant this is the “Bonus Card”, at Harris Teeter this is the “VIC Card”, at Safeway this is the “Club Card” and at Wegmans this is the “Shoppers Club Card.” Also, sign up for email updates or special offers from the store.
- Get to know your store manager and the head of the meat department. If you’re a regular at the store, be friendly with the staff and get to know the management. You can build a rapport with them by simply chatting with them, writing nice reviews of them on customer feedback cards when they do a great job, being friendly and considerate, asking for help at the customer service desk, and just being an all-star customer. When you get to know them, be sure to ask about: upcoming specials and promotions, what days of the week/month that meat will go on clearance (due to a soon-to-expire sell-by-date), etc. Take advantage of these clearance and discount items to stock up your freezer.
- Ask for rain checks and price matching. Some stores like Walmart will price match if you bring in a local competitor’s weekly ad. If you already do most of your shopping at Walmart or another price-matching store, then plan on price matching some groceries while you’re there too (or perhaps you’ll find that their regular price is cheaper than the competitor’s sale). Ask your store’s customer service desk for more details. Also, most stores issue rain checks when they have sold out of an item. If you arrive a little late into a really hot sale, chances are the shelves might be bare or not re-stocked by the end of the week. Don’t be sad that everyone got there before you did; just go up to your customer service desk and ask for a rain check. In my experience you can request multiple quantities of a sale item on your rain check, depending on the store. That way you can stock up and still get the great price even after the sale has ended. See your store’s customer service desk for more details.
- Stop by your store in the late evening near closing to buy bakery items on the cheap (if your store has a bakery department). Often items are not their freshest in the late evening, but still “good enough”. If I see a loaf of French or Italian bread in the evening that I think the store will have a hard time selling, I will ask the manager if he or she can give me a discount on it. I figure it is better for them to make a discounted sale on that item, then have it go in the dumpster the next morning and not generate any revenue for the store. Recently I was given over a 75% discount on a loaf of bread late one evening and used it the next day for slow-cooker Italian Beef Sandwiches (Chicago-style, my hubby’s favorite!). Since the bread gets soggy from the beef anyway, the not-the-freshest-yet-good-enough-bread worked fine for me! I want to encourage you to not be afraid to ask for a discount! I admit, I used to be too timid (or perhaps proud?) to ask in the past, but now I have no problem (frugality has made me more bold at the grocery store I suppose!).
- Look to see if your store has a section for items that are “reduced for quick sale”. These might be re-packaged fruit or veggies that are on their last leg (ie. the sell-by-date is that day) placed in a basket, cart or shelves near the produce section. Or these could be items that have flaws, dents or imperfections in the packaging. I sometimes find these items in a shopping cart near the front of the store (at Harris Teeter) or near the back of the store on stack-able wire shelving near the freezer section (Shoppers Food, Giant, Safeway) or sometimes in the very back near the butcher/deli section or hallway to the employee only entrance way (Safeway). It will vary by store and location, and if you can’t find it at your store, ask your customer service desk for help in locating it. I usually look through the “reduced for quick sale” items while at the grocery store to see if the “price is right” on any items I might use, and I also check to see if I have any matching manufacturer coupons to score an item for dirt cheap or free. I’ve gotten some canned goods for free, packages of 1 lb. pasta for $0.50 or less, and other good deals, just by perusing the quick sale items on a grocery shopping trip.
- Shop around at multiple stores. If you look at the weekly circulars and find great deals on different items at different stores, you can plan different shopping lists for each store, taking advantage of loss leader deals, and only buying the best deals at each store. This may not be easy for those limited on time or transportation as well as those who do not live close to a variety of different grocery stores. But if your focus is to save more money, taking advantage of the super sale items at a variety of stores during the week should help you save even more on your weekly/monthly grocery totals.
Do you have any more useful tips for how to save money on your grocery shopping? Leave a comment and let me know!