Are you tired of overspending each week in the grocery store? That was how I felt six years ago when I realized we were going over budget on groceries each month. As I looked at our constant failure to meet budget, grocery shopping became frustrating and depressing. We had even falling into buying groceries with credit cards- really bad idea! The funny thing is that we were shopping at Walmart, buying lots of “Great Value” brand products and still, each month we were spending way too much.
A good friend taught me how to coupon and it has saved our household! We spend half as much as we used to and now have more groceries in our home than ever before! As a side effect of the couponing, I also rarely go to Walmart anymore and most of what we use are name brands. I also use cash or debit card each week and I would never consider charging our household needs.
With the popularity of shows like Extreme Couponing on TLC and Netflix, I get many questions on how to get started couponing. While I do teach couponing classes, I wanted make available a free online guide to help you can become successful at cutting your grocery bill in half. This beginner’s guide to saving in the store will get you on the right track and have you saving tons of money in no time!
How Do I Coupon?
I think a better question is, “How do I get started saving money on my groceries?” The reason I like that question better is that saving money on your groceries actually starts with knowing how sales cycles work and taking advantage of the amazing sales, deals and promos that your local grocery chains offer. Coupons come second. Think of it this way- the sales are the cake and coupons are the icing on the cake. Coupons make it better but if you really want to save money first you need the cake (the sales) and then the icing (the coupons).
Part 1- Buying on Sale
Grocery stores run weekly sales. This is news to people who are regular Walmart shoppers, where everything is the same price most of the time. In my area (Southeastern NC), new grocery sales start on Wednesday morning and end on Tuesday night. You typically have a week to get the deals. If you are in a different part of the country, check with customer service in your area to find out when the sales start and end. This way you will know how long you have to get each week’s deals.
Grocery stores want to lure you in with their amazing sales! They are hoping that once you get into the store you will also buy other items that are not on sale. Be strong and stick to only buying what’s on sale each week. If something you want or need is not on sale this week, ask yourself, “how badly do I need this?” Maybe you can wait until the next sale on that product. Maybe you can try a different brand. Most stores have anywhere from 8,000-12,000 items on sale each week, so buying on sale should not hinder you from getting your basic needs. If something you need is not on sale, buy the store brand, which tends to be around the same price at all stores, including Walmart.
Grocery store sales are often equal to or better than Walmart’s prices. I use Walmart as an example because most people are familiar with Walmart prices and use it as a base. I have found that buying on sale at the grocery store saves me 40-50%, often less than what I would pay for the same items at Walmart. Here are a few real-life examples from my area:
Walmart Milk is $4.28/gallon
Walgreens Puts Milk on Sale for $2.99/gallon almost every other week. This is $1.29 less than Walmart.
My Walmart’s Eggs are $1.98 per dozen (17 cents per egg)
Walgreens and my local Harris Teeter often put eggs on sale for $.99 per dozen (8.3 cents/ per egg)
Even warehouse club prices rarely beat grocery store sales.
Sam’s Club had Pepsi 30 pack cans for $8.68 (29 cents per can)
My Harris Teeter grocery store ran a Stock up Sale with 12 pack Pepsis for $2.00 (17 cents per can). So thirty cans would cost you $5.10 at Harris Teeter versus $8.68 at Sam’s Club. Not to mention the additional cost of Sam’s Club membership fees!
These are just a few of the many examples I have where grocery sales beat out warehouse club or big box store prices. I do constant comparison trips and it happens this way almost every time! I make this point so you understand that by simply changing your shopping habits from big box stores like Walmart to your local grocery store sales, you will begin to see a drop in your grocery bill.
To find out what’s on sale, pick up the grocery store flyer before you shop. It is usually found near the front entrance and will highlight their advertised specials. This is not ALL of the deals, just the ones they wish to heavily promote. Often the front page will show loss leaders- these are deals that are so good that the store may actually lose money offering it to you. Again, these are to lure you into the store in the hopes that you will buy other things.
Other ways to find out what’s on sale at your store:
- Visit the store’s website and look for the flyer or weekly sales there
- Sign up for your grocery store’s email newsletter; many will email you the sales each week
- Download your store’s app. Many have apps now that will show you their weekly deals
- Walk around the store and look for the sale tag items
- Visit dellysdeals.com each week for lists of grocery store sales! We currently cover Harris Teeter, Lowes Foods, Food Lion, CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens and provide not only the sales but any matching coupons as well. You can even make a printable list to take to the store with you!
Buy 1 Get 1 Free Is Your Best Friend! Also known as BOGO or B1G1, you should make a point to always purchase the buy one get one free items that your family uses because they are literally half price. Most stores run many weekly B1G1 free deals. Check with the stores in your area, but where I am (Southeastern NC) at the grocery store you do not have to buy both items with B1G1 free. If you just want one item, it rings up half price. For example, if Cheerios are usually $4.00 per box but this week they’re B1G1 free, now I get them for $2.00 per box. That is 50% savings immediately, no coupon needed! Also check for clearance, mark downs (especially on meat and produce) and other fun deals like weekly meal deals, stock up promotions, “buy this get that free” deals and more.
Part 2- Where to Find Coupons
Once you have mastered buying on sale (which will not take long), you may want to increase your savings by applying coupons. I have found that buying on sale usually saves about 40-50% but buying on sale alone will top your savings out at about 50%. If you want to really see major savings such as 50%- 90%, you will need to start using coupons.
The great news is that coupons are everywhere! Once you begin hunting for them you will see them in many places.
1. Printable Coupons
I love printing coupons. I recommend it to beginners because A. it’s free, other than the cost of paper and ink which most of us have anyways and B. it’s convenient. No getting up early and running to the convenience store to fight everyone else for a newspaper with coupons. If you are just starting out, I think printing coupons is a good way to begin saving money with little upfront cost. Another advantage is that printing cuts down on paperwork because instead of buying newspapers and shuffling through them, throwing away the entire paper except for the coupons, you can just print what you need, which is exactly what I recommend. Print your favorite coupons only; do not get carried away and start printing everything you see.
Also, printable coupons can sell out, so it is best to print what you like as soon as you see them before they are no longer available.
Here are my favorite sources for printing coupons:
Coupons.com- They have the BEST online printable coupons, hands down. The selection is amazing and new coupons are added almost everyday with a huge release of new coupons on the first day of each month. I embed their coupons right here on the site for you to print 24/7. They are a publicly traded, billion dollar company and they spend millions on security, so no need to be concerned about getting a virus as long as you access their site directly or from our site. The first time you print you will need to download their printer application which is safe and simple.
RedPlum.com- They have decent coupons and theirs tend to match the Sunday newspaper Red Plum coupons. They usually update and add new coupons on Sundays. Unfortunately, I find their hardware difficult to use and it often requires Java updates which can make printing a headache, so I personally do not print from Red Plum very often. I just get the coupons from the Sunday paper.
Hopster- Small selection of printable coupons that you can “boost” for higher values. Boost by sharing the coupon with others.
Coupon Database- Looking for a coupon to match a sale or just need a coupon in general? Use our FREE coupon database! Type what you are looking for and if there is an available coupon it will find it and tell you the date the coupon came out in the newspaper or link directly to where you can print the coupon.
Manufacturer’s Sites- Many manufacturers offer free coupons on their websites. Visit their site or Facebook page or google the name of the product and the word “coupon.” This works very well with organic or specialty products as well as diapers and big companies like Kellogg’s, Pillsbury, or Campbell’s.
2. Newspaper Coupons
Sunday is the big day if you want to get coupons from the newspaper! The only exception to this rule are smaller towns that only get the newspaper one day a week, such as a Thursday. But 90% of cities get coupons on Sundays.
When you open up the Sunday paper, look through all the ads and pull out the coupon booklets. There are three main booklets that come in the Sunday paper:
Smart Source- Tends to have food and non-foods
Red Plum- Tends to have food and non-foods
Procter and Gamble- Tends to have non-foods, household items and only comes out once a month, first weekend or the weekend before the first weekend. Great booklet- don’t miss it.
Each book is typically abbreviated with the letters SS, RP or P&G. Some weeks you get all three booklets; other weeks you only get one booklet. First of the month tends to have the most coupons with coupons decreasing as the month goes on. We post a Sunday Coupon Preview each week on our site so you will know how many and which booklets to expect in the coming Sunday paper. Always check your coupons before you leave the store because sometimes they are stolen or omitted from the paper.
One little known fact is that bigger cities get better coupons, so try to get the biggest city paper you can. For example, I live in Wilmington, NC so I get up early on Sundays and go to a gas station to pick up a Raleigh, NC newspaper. Although it has the same number of booklets as my local paper, the Raleigh paper booklets are thicker and filled with more coupons, sometimes higher values. If you cannot find a bigger city paper in your area, talk with a friend or relative in a bigger city and perhaps you can work something out where they send you the coupon booklets each week.
Some people buy newspaper coupons in twos such as two copies, four copies or six copies. This way they can use two coupons with a B1G1 free sale.
3. Coupons in/on products
Always look before you grab in the store! Many products have coupons attached or inside. Just remember that coupon etiquette is that you do not pull coupons off products that you are not buying. This is rude and bordering on theft.
4. Doctors and Dentists Offices
This is an often overlooked source for free coupons. Most medical offices have plenty of high-value coupons that no one asks for!
5. Ordering Coupons
This is a great option for those who live in small cities or towns that do not receive good newspaper coupons. Be sure to order from a legitimate site, such as www.wholecouponinserts.com. This is also a great way to get past coupon booklets that you missed or additional copies of specific coupons so you can stock up on a great deal.
6. Coupon Trading
Set up a box at your workplace, child’s daycare, church or any other place that you and other people frequent. People often have different needs; for example, I do not have a dog but I always get dog food coupons and have no use for them.
7. All You Magazine
I LOVE All You! It is a wonderful magazine that is all about saving money and living life better on less money. It also comes with quite a few manufacturer’s coupons! You can buy it at your local grocery or drug store for $2.99 but if you subscribe you always get a better deal. See their current special here.
8. Emailing the manufacturer
If you have special needs such as gluten free, organic or like specific products, consdier writing to the manufacturer to ask if they can send you any coupons. Often they will mail or email them to you.