Since returning to full-time teaching a few years ago, I am not the couponer that I used to be. I enjoy using coupons and saving money, but I don’t have much time to match up coupons and sales. I am still saving a lot of money though and I’m definitely getting my groceries for less money than I would if I shopped primarily at a discount store such as Wal-Mart.
Today’s shopping trip is a perfect example of such grocery savings. My grocery bill before deductions was $251.86. After the sales and savings my bill was $121.43. That’s way more than I normally spend, but I did stock up on some great deals including fish, six bags of Carribou coffee, four jars of peanut butter, and lunch meat. The coffee alone would have cost over $60.
We could all use some help in cutting our grocery bill so here are some ways to save without coupons:
1. Use the buy ahead principle. I am a firm believer in the stockpile shopping method. When things that I regularly use go to rock bottom prices, I buy extra and save it to use for later when the prices are not as low. Many food items are at their best prices during specific times of the year. For instance, I know that in November and December, I need to stock up on cream of mushroom soup, cream of chicken soup, and chicken broth. In January, I usually stock up on soup supplies and canned beans.
Each week, I scan over the sales flyer for Harris Teeter and I plan to only purchase the sales. Of course, I have to buy a few items each week that are not on sale, but those items are few and far between.
2. Get rainchecks for out of stock sale items. As I mentioned above, my grocery bill today before savings was $251.86. After sales and rainchecks, my total was only $121.43. Rainchecks were a big contributor of the savings. Most rainchecks don’t expire and they allow you to purchase sale items when you need them. This saves room in your cabinets. Rainchecks also give you some extra time to plan ahead and look for a coupon.
3. Compare prices. Sometimes the generic isn’t cheaper. Pay attention and take a few extra seconds to compare prices on name brands and generics.
4. Compare price per unit. The larger quantity may not be the best deal. It’s best to compare price per unit.
5. Make a plan. Look through the sales flyer and begin to make a plan of the things you need and the things you want to purchase while they are on sale. Making meal plans saves time and money. I’m guilty of not making meal plans. My pantry and freezer are usually pretty well stocked though, so meal planning does get easier as you build a stockpile.
6. Use what you have. Take a look in your cabinets, freezer, and refrigerator. Make a plan to use the things that are going out of date. If you have a lot of beans and tomatoes, consider putting chili on the menu. If you have hamburger and noodles, put spaghetti on the menu. Then you will just need to pick up a few extra things to complete the meal.
7. Use your leftovers. My hubby and I are known for getting creative with leftovers. One night I made a tenderloin and we had some meat leftover. We took the leftover tenderloin and added it to some scrambled eggs and cheese for breakfast burritos. We froze the breakfast burritos to make mornings easier with the kids. I also like to freeze lunch size portions of spaghetti, chili, and soups to use for my lunches at work.
8. Look for food mark downs. I always check for produce and meat mark downs. About a month ago, I scored a $15 fruit, veggie, and cheese tray for only $1! I was so excited! The tray was going out of date that day but trust me, it was good for several more days. Today we bought some lunch meat that was marked down half price and also got a few packs that had store coupons attached. Sandwiches and homemade lunchables are definitely on this week’s lunch menu.
9. Buy in bulk. This tip may not apply for everyone, but for families this tip is usually a great idea. My pantry and fridge are running low on lunch items so it is definitely time for a trip to Sam’s Club. When I see kids at school purchasing chips for 75 cents per bag, I want to say, “That costs 25 cents at Sam’s.” I’ve had more than one conversation with my children about why they aren’t buying snacks at school.
10. Cook in bulk. It’s almost as easy to prepare two lasagnas as it is one. Just make an extra, don’t bake it, and freeze it for later. I also do this with chicken pot pie. Another favorite is to cook some Mexican style pork or chicken in the crock pot, shred it, and freeze dinner portions to use later for burritos, tacos, and quesadillas. I wait to do this when I find meat at a stockpile price.
11. Avoid convenience foods. It might be nice to save some time, but those prepackaged and pre-cut foods can really add up. Take a few minutes to bag up a bunch of snacks for the week and you can save big.
12. Don’t be brand loyal. I have tried many different brands over the years and I can say that there are very few that I am loyal to. You can find savings in trying other brands that are on sale.
13. Eat before you shop. If you are super hungry when you shop then you might find yourself spending too much money. Thankfully, Harris Teeter has a few samples in the store so it keeps me from feeling so hungry when I’m shopping. 😉
14. Skip a week of shopping. If you have been using the stockpile shopping method, your cabinets are probably looking great. As difficult as it is to pass up a good sale, sometimes I skip a week of shopping to save money. We use what we have at home and avoid the grocery store.
15. Give foods more than one purpose. If you are going to have cole slaw with your barbeque sandwiches, plan to have cole slaw the same week with another meal. That way you aren’t wasting ingredients. It also saves prep time in the kitchen.
16. Keep a list of target prices. You can keep this on your phone or in a small notebook in your purse. Keep a list of items that you regularly purchase and the target price for stockpiling. In an old post about grocery shopping, I wrote about keeping mental notes of these things. Someone teased about it and said there was no way to remember target prices. I honestly don’t keep a notebook of prices. I know that $2 per lb is my target price for boneless chicken breasts. I know that 50 cents per can is my target price for canned beans. If you need to write it down then do so. Knowing your target prices will help you to know when to buy extra.
17. Check your receipt before you leave the store. We get overcharged so many times and most people don’t even notice. I was overcharged today. Thankfully I checked my receipt before leaving the store and I was refunded $2.
18. Avoid sodas, juices, and boxed drinks. We drink a lot of water at our house. We have a water softener and a water filter so we drink it straight from the tap. I have seen people spend half of my grocery budget on drinks. Those drinks add up very quickly. If you don’t want to cut out pricey drinks, budget how much you will spend on them and look for sales. I did buy one 12 pack of sodas today but they were on sale and the 12 pack will last me a few weeks.
19. Sign up for store sales and emails. Many stores have some sort of extra savings available for customers that hold a special card or for those that sign up for their store emails. I have signed up for Harris Teeter’s eVIC and each week they send me an email with sales that are loaded to my card. Many times (but not always) these are items that I regularly purchase that are offered at discounted prices. Sometimes it might be a sale on milk or bread. Other times it might be yogurt, ice cream, or cat food.
20. Look over your cart before checking out. Did you make too many impulse purchases? Do you have too many snack items? Sometimes it’s easy to put something in the cart but we don’t realize how many unnecessary items we have.
I know that there are many other tips for saving money on groceries such as gardening, canning foods, eating simpler, etc. Please leave your money saving tips in the comments.
Image by Karen Weideman. The image shown above is not from today’s shopping trip.
March 5, 2011
Every few months I go through all of my coupon inserts and pull out all of the expired coupons. It’s quite a stack. Rather than throwing them into the trash I do put them into the recycling bin which makes me feel a little bit better about the situation. I’ve heard for a while that I can donate my expired coupons and I just need to take the time to do this.
The Overseas Coupon Program serves military families by assisting you to forward manufacturer’s coupons to overseas military bases. The bundles of coupons are placed on tables, at the PX and Commissary, or handed out for use by military members and families on base. Military famlies can use them for up to six months after they expire.
To sign up to send coupons just visit the website, and click on Base Adoptions to browse the list of bases that you can mail your coupons to. After you choose a base, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to let them know you will be participating. You can find more details and information.
The coupon packages are sent to APO/AFO addresses so you don’t have to worry about the cost of overseas shipping.
Do you donate your expired coupons?
December 5, 2010
You see that a store is having a great deal on a particular food item. In your mind you think, ‘It’s stockpile time!’ But you get to the store and they’re out of the item. Rather than just counting it as a loss, get a raincheck.
A few tips:
*Consider a raincheck as an I.O.U. from the store which guarantees that item for the sale price. It is not necessary to use the raincheck during the current sale week. You can use it weeks and maybe months later.
*Check to see if the raincheck has an expiration date. Most of them do not have an expiration date which means that you can wait to use them when you need the particular item.
*Use rainchecks as a way build your stockpile. The general rule is to purchase as much as that item as you will need in the next few months. For example, if cream of mushroom soup is on sale for $.59/can I might purchase 10 cans. Cream of mushroom soup has a long shelf date and I know that I will use it when making casseroles.
*Store your rainchecks in a safe location. I store my rainchecks in my small coupon pouch. This way I know where they are when I’m doing my grocery shopping and I don’t have to dig through my purse for them.
*Check to see if there is a limit on the sale item. On really good deals, a store might set a limit on how many of that item you can purchase. Always have them write the maximum amount allowed on the raincheck even if you don’t plan on purchasing that many. This allows you to get them if you change your mind or you may have a friend that wants to purchase the deal with you.
*Look for coupons. Check your newspaper coupon inserts and look online for printable coupons to combine with the sale price for even better savings.
*Give your raincheck to the cashier first. Before your cashier rings up the items, she should know that you have a raincheck. This will save time and hassle. Group all of the raincheck items together so that they can be marked down at the same time. Also, check your receipt to make sure each item was properly discounted.
*Most rainchecks are not store specific. This means that if you get a raincheck from a Charlotte, NC store you should be able to use it at the Hickory, NC store. If you plan to shop in a different area, you may want to check on this first.
When you’re shopping the sales do you remember to get a raincheck?
image (c) Karen Weideman
October 17, 2010
One of many things I enjoy about using coupons and sales is that they enable me to help others. I may not have an abundance of money to donate, but I can make a big impact with very little out of pocket expense.
You may look at my website from time to time and think something like, ‘Why would she need 20 boxes of pasta? Who could eat all of that?’ Many times it’s not for me.
Pasta seems to be the thing this month that I can get for free or cheap, so I am “buying” lots of it. I haven’t kept much of it for my family. I’ve been donating it. I have taken it to the school for the food drive, given some to a fundraiser dinner for someone with high medical bills, and saved some for an elderly family member who has a very limited income. Just this week alone, I was able to purchase over 20 boxes of free pasta from Food Lion.
This method also applies to toys, school supplies, and other items. Many times I have taken advantage of 75% and 90% off toy sales. It makes it easier on the budget to donate for Christmas toy drives when you can get the toys inexpensively and you’re able to help more children because your money goes further.
When you’re walking through Harris Teeter on triple coupon day, try to get those free items even though you won’t use them. It’s those items that can really make a difference to someone in need.
August 26, 2010
One of the most effective ways I have found to cut our budget is through saving money on our grocery budget. One of the techniques I use is building a stockpile, also known as the buy ahead principle. What this means is that when groceries or other regularly used items are significantly cheaper than normal, I buy enough to last me a few months. In my home, I try to never ever pay retail for anything!
For example, a few weeks ago Harris Teeter had their Colgate Total toothpaste on sale for $2.50 per tube. It was also super double coupon week and I had $1 coupons. After coupons and the sale, I paid only $.50 per tube for Colgate toothpaste. Also last week and this week, CVS had their Crest Pro Health toothpaste on sale for $2.99 and you got back a $2 Extra Care Buck (ECB). I also had $.50 and $.75 coupons for the toothpaste. After the sale, ECBs, and coupons, I paid $.25-$.50 per tube. Did I need five tubes of toothpaste right now? Of course I didn’t. But I know that over the next year my family will need the toothpaste. I also know that soon I will be filling shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse and our church is always collecting food and toiletries for the needy. This allows me to get toothpaste for my family and others for less than the price of one tube at regular price.
As you can see in the picture above, I have over 10 bottles of laundry detergent. I don’t plan on doing 300 loads of laundry this week, but I couldn’t resist stocking up because of the deal I found. Some of the bottles were buy 1 get 1 free and I had coupons. Many of the bottles cost me less than $1 per bottle.
I have heard others say before that they can’t afford to stockpile; that they only have money for the things that they need that week. What they don’t truly realize is that when you stockpile, you can make your grocery budget go further and have more supplies on hand.
If you still say you can’t afford to stockpile, then I suggest that you start small. A stockpile isn’t built overnight anyway. Allow yourself an extra $5 or $10 to try to purchase things while they’re at rock bottom prices so that you won’t have to purchase them later. For me, an example of this would be when I purchase canned tomatoes. I know that I’m going to need canned tomatoes. I know that Target has the cheapest prices on them. So, when I visit Super Target, I purchase 6-12 cans. The amount I purchase depends on my stockpile at home. And if you’re getting items for free or almost free (with sales and coupons) that will only allow your grocery budget to go that much further so that you can cut your grocery budget or purchase other things your family needs.
Stay tuned for more tips on stockpiling. Do you stockpile groceries?
images (c) Karen Weideman
April 21, 2010
I received a question from one of our readers, Tanesha. I was going to answer her question in the comments, but realized that many others of you probably have the same questions.
At first, I too was overwhelmed and confused by the CVS Extra Care Buck sales. It does take some getting used to and some strategizing, so at first you may want to take it slowly.
How do the ECBs work at CVS?
CVS offers something called Extra Care Bucks, commonly known as ECBs. Basically, you purchase the ECB sale item and then at the end of your transaction you will receive your ECBs which you can use on another transaction. The Extra Care Bucks work like cash within the CVS store.
Example: Last week, Colgate was $2.99. The sale stated that you would receive $2 in ECBs. Technically, that makes your cost $.99 since you got back the $2 to use in the store, but to get the ECBs you have to pay for the item out of pocket.
Some items are free with your ECBs.
Example: Last week, CVS had Dove shampoo or conditioner for $4.50. When you purchased the Dove product, you received $4.50 in ECBs. You had to spend the initial $4.50 but you got it back at the end of your transaction to use on a future purchase.
Can you use coupons with ECBs purchases?
Ok, she didn’t really ask this question, but I thought I’d throw it in there because it’s important.
Yes, absolutely! You can combine coupons with ECB transactions.
Example: Dove shampoo is $4.50 and you’ll get back $4.50 in ECBs. On your transaction, you can hand the cashier your Dove hair care product coupon for $1 off. You’ll pay $3.50 (instead of $4.50) and you’ll still get back the $4.50 in ECBs. It’s like making money! Isn’t that exciting?!
Isn’t there a limit to bucks like so many per card?
Yes, there is a limit on ECB specials. Last week, the limit on the Dove shampoo was 1 per CVS card. Sometimes there is a limit of 2 or 4. The CVS ad will state the limits. And if you’re not sure how many you’ve purchased that week, you can check the bottom of your receipt and it will state if you have fulfilled the maximum on the offer.
Do you purchase all your ECB things first?
There are a few ways to handle the ECB transactions. I’ll tell you some options and then give you the one that I choose most often.
1. Ring up all of your merchandise in one transaction and save your ECBs for the following week to use on more sale items.
2. Ring up all of your merchandise in one transaction and use your ECBs on splurge items such as make-up, hair care products, cool office supplies.
3. Split up your merchandise into separate transactions to utilize your ECBs as quickly as possible. This avoids you losing your ECBs or them expiring for you use them. This is the method I choose but it does take some strategizing.
If you’ll notice my previous CVS posts, you’ll see that I sometimes have multiple transactions. That’s because I’m trying to leave the store with the littlest out of pocket expense (OOP) possible while utilizing my ECBs.
Example: Dove shampoo is $4.50 and you will get back a $4.50 ECB. Softsoap body wash is $5.50 and you will get back a $4.50 ECBs. Pampers Easy Ups are on sale for $7.99. I would do this:
Dove shampoo $4.50, plus receive $4.50 in ECBs
use $1 manufacturer coupon
OOP = $3.50 and received $4.50 in ECBs
Softsoap body wash $5.50, plus receive $4.50 in ECBs
use $.75 manufacturer coupon
use $4.50 ECB sale from transaction 1
OOP = $.25 and received $4.50 ECBs
Pamper Easy Ups $7.99 sale
use $2 manufacturer’s coupon
use $4.50 ECB from transaction 2
OOP = $1.49
As you can see, it does take some strategizing to use method #3 but the out of pocket expense is very limited.
How do I get the most ECBs?
1. You can get ECBs on specially marked items. You can find these items listed in the CVS flyer. Sometimes you might find some unadvertised ones in the store. If I have a few extra minutes, I’ll cruise the store looking for ECB sales and clearance items.
2. Scan your card at the coupon machine during each visit to CVS. You might receive special coupons or ECBs.
3. Get a CVS reusable bag and tag. For every 4th visit, you’ll receive $1 ECB.
If this doesn’t answer your questions, please let me know. Also, feel free to submit your questions in the comments or by using our contact button. Thanks for your questions, Tanesha!
March 27, 2010
When shopping, it’s important to compare price per unit. Many times it’s commonly thought that the larger the item, the better the price. That’s not necessarily true. Here are a few comparison shopping tips:
1. Pay attention to the shelf tags in the store. Some stores will break down the price per unit and put it beside the price of the item.
2. Try to take a calculator with you. Even though some stores will break down the price by units, sometimes they are not equal comparisons. What I mean is that sometimes you’ll find items compared by ounces and then a similar item compared by the piece. It can be really confusing, so taking a calculator is the best way to compare.
3. Keep a log of the best prices you find per unit. This doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. It can be a piece of paper that you keep folded up inside your coupon pouch. Simply write commonly used items on the list and a target price to look for. This way you’ll know when a good deal comes around.
4. Be sure to factor in the coupon amount when comparing price per unit. Just today I was at Wal-Mart shopping for catfood. Normally, it would be cheaper to purchase the 16 lb bag of cat food, but this time I had two $3 coupons. It ended up being cheaper to purchase two small 3.5 lb bags of cat food with the $3 coupons rather than to purchase the large 16 lb bag with a $3 coupon.
5. Determine the need for the product. Sometimes it is less expensive to purchase the larger item, but it’s not such a great deal if you’re not going to use the product before it goes out of date.
What tips do you have for comparing price per unit?