One of the tools I rely heavily on to keep my grocery budget under control is really good sales. Loss leaders, as most of you already know, are items priced really low to get shoppers in the store. The stores are banking on the customer coming in to purchase the sales item, or items, and then additional regularly priced items in the same visit. For the majority of shoppers this is the case and the store accomplishes their goal.
I use loss leaders to stock up my pantry and freezer. I will go through the ads and make a list of items I know I will need now and in the not too distant future. Then I will go the store and purchase just those items. I will also scout out the markdown bins and make those purchases if I feel they are a true bargain as well. I get most of our meat that way.
The markdown bin in the meat department is an excellent resource for meat on a budget. As meat approaches its sell by date the butcher will usually mark it down to a fraction of its original price in order to move it out before it spoils. I take it home and freeze it right away. It is always delicious and if you do happen to get a package that is spoiled you can return it for a refund. Just save your receipt. In all the years I have been purchasing meat from the markdown bin I have had to return items no more often than non markdown items.
Sales are cyclical, usually repeating every six weeks and coupons are usually set to expire in six to ten weeks, some longer and some have no expiration. Every Sunday I sit down with my newspaper and clip my coupons first, sort them and file them in my envelope (no big binder for me). I pull out the expired coupons and the ones I’ve decided I won’t be using before they expire. Then I read the ads. In our area all the stores new ads come out on Sunday with the exception of one store who does theirs on Wednesday. For that store I read their ad online.
Every year one of our stores picks an item that is a consistent loss leader. Last year it was canned corn and green beans 3/$1, the year before that I think it was half gallons of milk 10/$10. This year it is tuna 3/$1. Right now I think I have 24 cans of tuna in the pantry.
I love it when I can pair a sales item with a coupon and I do that a lot. In fact, I will only use a coupon if the item is on sale. Because coupons have a shelf life and sales are cyclical it is really easy to wait for an item to go on sale before the coupon expires. For instance butter went on sale 2/$4 an excellent buy right there but I happened to have 75¢ coupons and was able to get butter this week for $1.25/lb.
I schedule time to match the ads and my coupons to my grocery list. I strategizedand decide on what to stock up on. Usually the coupons I clipped in prior weeks will start to match up to the ads. Recently I have noticed a trend, however, with stores running particular sales on items that have coupons coming out in the same week circular. Can’t imagine that has anything to do with a particular TV show. I also will check online for coupons at my three favorite sites – red plum, coupons.com and couponnetwork.com.
My shopping night is usually Friday on the way home from work. I try to make my stops along the way so I am not wasting my grocery savings on gas. Fortunately for me all but one store I shop at is located along my work to home route. The other store is one I shop at for my big monthly haul so I don’t mind the extra trek to get their because they usually have the better prices.
Know your prices. Some people carry a price book which is a great idea. Others have great memories. I use my memory and also keep my receipts to help me remember what I’ve paid.
Track your expenses. I keep a spreadsheet to enter my purchases on so I can keep track of what I spend and how much I have left. Some may prefer to keep a tally on a sheet of paper or in a notebook. Whichever you decide is fine as long as you keep track. I find it is the only way to truly know what I have spent.
I keep the time I spend on this process to a minimum. I have other things I need to do. Over the course of an ordinary week I try to spend no more than two hours on meal planning, planning my grocery list, planning my shopping trip, checking online for ads and coupons, and tracking my budget. I manage to do most of this while watching TV and doing laundry at the same time.
When it comes to the actual shopping I try to do it on the way to daycare before I pick up my girls so I can move through the store faster and because I know my time is limited I get in and get out quick.
For my big monthly shopping trip I do schedule an hour and a half for that so I don’t have to feel rushed, I can take my time to comparison shop and make sure I get everything I need so I don’t have to make additional unnecessary trips for forgotten items.