Know Your Cycle
Find the best time to buy. Like clothes at a department store, grocery items go up and down in price over time. A box of cereal that costs $2.99 one week could be as little as 99 cents a few weeks later. Some products go on sale more often than others do; you may get a great deal on boneless chicken breasts every two weeks, but your preferred brand of coffee may take up to three months to dip in price. Start paying attention to your favorite items and record how often they go on sale, and you'll shave money off your grocery bill within weeks.
Know when to use your coupons. Just because you find a coupon for an item doesn't mean you have to use it that week. In fact, that may be the worst time to use it. Jill Cataldo, author of the newspaper column and video series Super Couponing Tips, says, "The week a coupon for an item comes out in the paper is usually the week that that item costs the most in the store. The average expiration date on a coupon is between 30 and 90 days, so you should wait to use your coupon until that decreased price comes around." Find out when items at your local grocery store go on sale with grocery match-up sites like Savings Angel, Coupon Mom, and Grocery Game.
Stack it up. There are two varieties of coupons: store coupons, published by your local supermarket, and manufacturer's coupons, which can be redeemed at any store. You can "stack" a store coupon and a manufacturer's coupon together to maximize savings. Some stores will even let you combine two store coupons of different dollar values. Check your favorite supermarket's website to learn about its coupon policies.
Bring only the coupons you need. If you bring an entire newspaper insert full of coupons to the store, chances are you'll use coupons to buy things you don't really need. Make a grocery list each week, and bring coupons for the items on your list, or for must-have items you know will be on sale. Plus, you'll save hours clipping coupons you don't really need. A coupon organizer, like The Couponizer, allows you to keep all the coupons you need in order from week to week.
Dig your newspaper out of recycling. Printable coupons from sites like Coupons.com and SmartSource.com are on the rise, but 85 percent of store and manufacturer's coupons still come from newspaper inserts. High-value coupons -- those that save you a dollar or more per item -- are usually found in big-city newspapers with higher circulations. "Save the entire insert, so you can go back and cut what you need each week," Nelson suggests.
At the Store
Don't fall for convenience. There are some items, like produce and milk, that are must-haves each week. It's a lot harder to find coupons for these items, but you can save money by cutting back on prepared food. Stephanie Nelson, founder of CouponMom.com and author of The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bill in Half, says, "A head of romaine lettuce is much less expensive than a bag of the pre-cut stuff. In fact, if you buy prepared lettuce you're paying the equivalent of 57 dollars an hour for someone else to wash it for you."
Look for in-store deals. Clipping coupons doesn't have to stop when you leave the house. Many grocery stores offer Catalina coupons, which print along with your receipt at checkout. And keep an eye out for in-store coupons as you shop -- stores often hang in-store coupons on the shelf in front of an item.
Make the most of your store card. Grocery store rewards cards save you cash with almost no effort -- just swipe at the register and you'll get instant deals and savings. You can even load electronic coupons to your store card on your grocery store's website, or on sites like Cellfire.
Beyond the Supermarket
Start stocking up. If you know that toilet paper is going on sale and prices won't be as low for twelve weeks, buy enough to get your family through the sale cycle. "Shop ahead of your needs, and you'll never run out of anything," Cataldo says. Even perishable items like meat can be stored in the freezer for long periods of time. If your family eats chicken twice a week and chicken goes on sale every two weeks, why not buy four at a time?
Coupons aren't just for groceries. You can save on your family's essential drugstore items as you can on groceries. Drugstores publish store coupons both online and in the newspaper, sometimes offering bigger savings on items like cosmetics or hair-care products than your local supermarket does. Combine those store coupons with manufacturer's coupons and loyalty card rewards for the best deals on drugstore items. Erin Klones, mom of two and author of the blog Simply Frugal Mom, suggests using rewards programs at drugstores like Walgreens and Rite-Aid. "With their rewards cards you get a dollar back to use toward your next purchase, and you can use that for almost any drugstore item," she says.
Get smart about group-deal sites. Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial promise big savings on restaurants, vacations and events. But as with grocery items, don't "add to cart" unless it's a coupon you need. If the coupon is for something you or your family does regularly, like a visit to the bowling alley or enjoy a meal at your favorite local restaurant, go for it. But don't book an expensive spa day every time Groupon offers a great deal.
Think outside the rack. "At national chains like Aeropostale and Old Navy, if you don't see a clearance item on the rack in your size, you can ask a salesperson to ship it to you in your size (or your kid's size) from another store for the same price," says Ellie Kay, mother of five and author of Living Rich for Less.
Shop Smart with Kids
Leave them at home when you can. Whenever possible, don't take your kids to the grocery store. "If you can shop without children, that will save you a lot of money," Kay says. When you're trying to take care of little ones at the store, you won't have the same time and energy to compare prices."
Savings start in the parking lot. "When shopping for clothes, tell your kids beforehand exactly what you're shopping for that day and what they're allowed to buy," Kay says. If they know they're leaving the store with one pair of shoes or one kind of sugar cereal, they'll be less likely to push you to buy extra items -- and you'll be less likely to cave.
Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.