Monday, October 7, 2013

Want to Save Some $$$$$$$ at the Grocery Store?

How to cut your grocery bill in half {5 tips everyone should know!}

Food is expensive.  The average family spends just over 10% of their household income buying groceries–over $6,000 a year–and even while average wages have gone down, the price of food keeps going up.   When you are just trying to feed your family, that is a pretty scary prospect.
That said, as more and more people are beginning to realize, coupons can be a great way to save money on food.  If you’ve ever watched TLC’s Extreme Couponing, you probably already know that sometimes those savings can be quite dramatic.  The problem is that those dramatic savings often come from seasoned coupon users who have spent countless hours clipping & sorting coupons and searching for the very best deals.
Quite frankly, who has time for that?
A few weeks ago I was asked by the nice people at WINK News to share some tips for saving on groceries for an in-depth segment that would air November 1st & 2nd. (If you are reading this because of that segment, welcome to LWSL!)  They tagged along as I prepared for one of my own shopping trips, and then as I shopped with Kristen, a single mom of 4 who had never used coupons before and was looking for some practical ways to cut her food budget in half.
For Kristen and probably every other average mom (or dad) who is just trying to save some money on groceries, the idea of all that time and energy on a single shopping trip was not only overwhelming, it was unrealistic.  However, as I explained to Kristen, it IS possible to cut your grocery bill in half without spending all your time clipping coupons.  In fact, even if you never clip a single coupon, you can still save significant money on your grocery bill just by changing the way that you shop.
Like anything in life, you have to find the right balance.  That balance won’t be exactly the same for everyone, but there are 5 tips I shared with both Kristen and WINK that everyone should know:

1.  It’s not about the coupons

I’m going to let you in on a little secret that the producers of TLC’s Extreme Couponing (and every food company and grocery store chain out there) don’t really want you to know:  Extreme grocery savings do NOT, for the most part, come from the coupons.  The bulk of your savings will come from the store sales.  The better the promotion, the bigger the savings, so the FIRST step in saving money on your grocery bill is to SHOP THE SALES.
Always, always, always buy food when it is on sale.  And by this I mean really on sale, as in 30-50% off the regular price, not one of those “Surprising Low Price” items.  (The surprise is that it’s not really on sale!)  Compare the store sale ads in your area to find out which stores have the best sale prices.
Don’t assume you know which store has the best deals until you’ve actually checked–you may be surprised at what you find.  Here in Florida, for example, many people assume Publix is the “expensive” store, but when you compare sale ads you will find that Publix consistently has the best sales week after week.  Many people also automatically assume that Walmart has the best prices, but most sale prices at a traditional grocery store will beat Walmart’s “everyday low price.”
Thus, your goal from now on is to only EVER buy an item when it is on sale.  Period.

2.  Stockpile, stockpile, stockpile

In order to only ever buy an item at its lowest price, you must buy enough of it while it is on sale to last until it goes on sale again.  This is key.  Most items go on sale every 6-8 weeks, which means you need to buy enough to last your family that long. If you buy only a weeks worth, you will be forced to pay more the next time you need it because you didn’t buy enough.
Let me make it more clear with an example.  Say your family eats 2 boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios every week.  The regular price for Honey Nut Cheerios is $4.50 a box, but when you go to the store this week, you see it is on sale for only $1.99 a box–more than 50% off the regular price!   Instead of buying only 2 boxes like you normally would for your weekly shopping trip, you buy 12 boxes–enough to last your family for the next 6 weeks at less than half the price you would normally pay.
At first it may seem counterintuitive to be buying more than you normally would instead of less.  However, because you are shopping the sales each week, you will be buying a larger quantity of a smaller variety of items, which means your overall grocery bill will still go down.  The goal is to build up your own mini-grocery store in your pantry which you can then use to plan your family’s meals.
Remember that a well-varied stockpile does NOT have to take up a whole room of your house, and you do NOT need to accumulate a whole year’s worth of food.  Sale cycles generally run about 6-8 weeks, which means your stockpile should contain about 6-8 weeks worth of a nice variety of food.  It also means that it will take about 6-8 weeks before you’ve built up a nice varied stockpile and will start to see the most dramatic savings in your grocery bill.

3.  Eat less meat

Going vegetarian just a couple times a week could save you as much as $1,000 a year.  Meat costs usually account for a significant portion of people’s grocery bills, so cutting out even a little will make a big difference over time.  One of the ways my own family has kept our grocery bill to $200 a month is by eating very little meat.  Granted this is probably easier for  me because I have been a vegetarian for 17 years, but since the rest of my family is not, I do make an effort to cook meatless meals that even my meat-loving husband and kids can enjoy.
Here are some of our favorite family-friendly meatless recipes:
When you do buy meat, remember to stick to the principles above–buy only what is on sale, and stock up if it is a great deal!

4. Change the way you meal plan

If you normally wing it when it comes to meal planning, running to the store several times a week for last-minute dinner items, this step won’t be as painful as you might think.  Instead of running to the store for your dinner supplies you’ll be able to run to your stockpile–a ready-made grocery store right in your own home.  You may even find that maintaining a nice, varied stockpile by shopping the sales once a week saves you a whole lot of time, in addition to saving you from the expensive impulse and last-minute buys.
For those of you who normally plan your meals then make your shopping list based on that plan, this adjustment may be a little harder.  However, you can still make it work if you get into the habit of planning your meals around what’s on sale and around what items you already have on hand in your stockpile.  By minimizing the number of non-sale items you need to buy each week you will find that you can plan your meals in advance and still cut your grocery bill in half.
One great meal-planning resource that I have been really impressed with E-Meals.  For as little as $5 a month you can receive a customized weekly meal plan based on your own store’s weekly sale ad.  The simple recipes are delicious and family friendly, and although the service isn’t free, it does take a lot of the stress out of trying to plan meals around what’s on sale.

5. Learn to match coupons to store sales

It is not by accident that using coupons is the last item on this list and not the first.  Coupons can and do save you a ton of money on your grocery bill, but only if you follow these other steps first.  When and if you make these changes in the way you shop–getting into the habit of shopping for only what’s on sale, buying enough to last your family 6-8 weeks, eating less meat, and planning your meals around your stockpile and what’s on sale–you will see a dramatic drop in your grocery bill, even without clipping a single coupon.
When you begin to match coupons to the things that are already on sale you will see savings that are even more dramatic–50 to 60% off your grocery bill or more!  Doing this consistently, week after week, you can literally cut your grocery bill in half.
The Beginner's Guide to Coupons--this is seriously the BEST online guide to learning how to extreme coupon!  Breaks the whole process down into easy-to-follow baby steps that anyone can learn!
Learning to match coupons to store sales is not nearly as confusing or intimidating as it might sound.  Two years ago I wrote a very easy-to-follow 8 week series called The Beginner’s Guide to Coupons that has since taught thousands of people how to do it, from the very first step of just getting started to making your first shopping list to building a stockpile.   It breaks down the whole process into manageable “baby steps,” complete with assignments to get you going, and it is completely free.  What’s better than that?
The important thing to remember is that coupons come last, not first.  Don’t buy something just because you have a coupon–manufacturer’s count on that!  Wait for the sale, then use the coupon.  Changing old patterns and shopping habits is never easy, but with these simple changes you really can cut your grocery bill in half.
Just think of what you could do with an extra $75 a week!

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