Eat Well for Less: Clipping Grocery Coupons and Strategic Shopping

As I said on Money, clipping grocery coupons is one of my frugal tricks for saving money on groceries. I used to save a lot more with coupons, but Ralph’s has recently cut their coupon policy and I’ve found that even with coupons and sales, Trader Joe’s is usually cheaper. I used to save at least $10.00 a week between clipping coupons, shopping at Trader Joe’s, and buying the sale brands at Ralph’s. Once I added the farmer’s market, I save less with coupons, but I save more through strategic shopping.

My Shopping Method Saves $20 a Week
My new farmer’s market, Trader Joe’s, Ralph’s route has cut our food costs by about $20 a week and the food is better. If you have one near you, Trader Joe’s is the easiest way to save money. Unfortunately, they’re not in every state yet. If you’re a hardcore couponer, you won’t like them, because they don’t take coupons. Why don’t they take coupons?

1. They carry mostly their own label or other labels that aren’t major brands and are unlikely to discount.

2. If you can buy a product cheaper somewhere else, TJ doesn’t carry it.
3. If they can’t get a good, volume deal, or their tasters don’t like it, they won’t carry it.

You can save at least $1 on eggs, a few dollars on meats, a few dollars on breads, and anywhere from 20 cents to a few dollars on everything else they carry that you can find at your regular grocery store. My preferred brand of oatmeal is $2 more at Ralph’s than it is at Trader Joe’s. Guess where I buy it?

The Grocery Game – Yes or No?
Some people go a bit further in their strategic shopping. They play the Grocery Game buy grocery coupons online. I don’t do that for four reasons:

1. Clipping my own coupons really doesn’t take much time, maybe five minutes on a Sunday morning because there are so few coupons I can actually use. It seems like ordering coupons online would take longer and require more effort.

2. I don’t have much storage space. If the Grocery Game finds that there’s a huge sale on toilet paper and recommends buying a lot of it, where am I going to put it?

3. There are only two of us, so we just don’t go through food fast enough to make either of those tactics work.

4. I can’t or don’t buy most of the products that are available with coupons.

Using Coupons Without the Grocery Game
That said, I do still save money with coupons. Each week after I make my menu, I go through my coupon stack and choose the few that match up to my list. Then I look at the database at HotCouponWorld to check store circulars for fantastic sales and find additional coupons.

When I get to the store, I compare the sale and/or coupon price to the store brand (if the quality is equivalent.) I calculate whether my coupon item will be cheaper, the sale item will be cheaper, or a sale and a coupon can be combined. If an item I use is on store sale, I stock up, but only as much as I can reasonably store and use.

I’ve generally found that the coupons worth a quarter or less, even when doubled, aren’t a good deal. I can usually find a lower-priced product on store special or with a higher-value coupon. I mostly look for coupons worth more than 35 cents.

The Potential Downside of Coupons
Here’s where coupons get people into trouble: they buy something because they have a coupon for it. I saw a woman on TV who used coupons to get $400 worth of food for $40. The problem was that she bought tons of the same foods. So much that she had to give it to friends, family members, and keep it in deep freeze freezers and on shelves in her garage. She had more than she could ever use. So how was that saving money? She probably could have gotten $100 worth of healthy products she could actually use for $40 and not have to pay for extra electricity. She was also overweight, probably from eating all the pre-packaged meals she bought with her coupons, which will cost her a lot more in the long run.

Yes, I could spend more time being strategic, clipping coupons, organizing coupons, and searching for sales, but I’m satisfied with saving a few dollars a week on groceries with my quick and easy coupon methods. Given that I only buy 5-6 things at Ralph’s every week, that’s not a bad savings.

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