From extreme couponing, to buying local, grocery shopping has turned into quite the hot topic. I have noticed an increasing number of Facebook friends boasting about the great deals they got at the grocery store. As someone who has used coupons for years (frankly I can’t remember a time when I didn’t use coupons), I find it funny that being frugal has come in vogue, but am glad for it.
Now before you start picturing my house stockpiled with a lifetime supply of hot sauce, I am not one of those couponers. Mainly because people who do that sort of couponing have little regard to product. I am more picky than that. My husband and I strive to live a green lifestyle, and that means eating a lot of fresh, local foods – something there is rarely a coupon for. That doesn’t mean however we don’t save money on these items.
So when it comes to saving money on groceries there are a few ground rules to follow.
1. Don’t be brand loyal. I usually break this rule – I get what I like and I get what works. That said I will often buy store brand items including Nature’s Promise (Giant’s natural often organic brand), Wegmans brand items which are consistently good, and occasionally Fit & Active brand (a line from Aldi). Of course these store brands rarely, if ever have a coupon, so watch for sales or loyalty card deals.
2. Use coupons. This is a bit of a no brainer, but I still know many people who don’t have the luxury of extra cash around and they still don’t use coupons claiming they don’t have the time. Having coupons is like having money. You don’t have 15 minutes to earn $20? Really? Coupons can be found just about anywhere these days, not just your weekly Sunday newspaper. Most stores accept online coupons which are available at Coupons.com, Smart Source, Red Plum and Mambo Sprouts. They are also often available on your favorite brands’ websites, and many brands are in the social media game offering special deals to their fans so be sure to “like” and “follow” the brands you love.
Some chains will double coupons (Giant and Weis do in my neck of the woods). This is a core component to the extreme couponer strategy (ie getting free items). Another is to combine a loyalty card deal with a coupon. The last golden rule is to not buy what you need, when you need it, but buy whenever it is cheapest to save for later.
And forewarning, wherever you want to use the coupons know the coupon policy – the cashier rarely does and you may have to fight them on it. Some places only allow use of one type of coupon, or one free item coupon per visit. Discount chains like Aldi, Price Rite, Sharp Shopper and others consider themselves cheap enough already and don’t accept coupons at all.
3. Buy local. Many readers may balk at this one – but seriously you can save money this way. Instead of going to the farmers market where you are paying for the convenience of doing all of your shopping in one place, take a ride through the country and visit the farm stands at the farms – you will save big time. Many stands here in Pennsylvania even are run on an honor system, or pay what you wish. Don’t be dishonest, give a fair amount, but shopping at the farm will save you some cash. Savings can be had at farmers markets too, late in the day when folks just don’t want to repack (or worse throw out) what they didn’t sell. My husband recently received produce absolutely free this way. If there are only a few of what you want left, buy the majority and see if the stand owner throws the last one or two in for free. Shopping the “seconds” pile can also help you save big time. Seconds are usually bruised or slightly blemished produce – perfect for canning, making jam or sauces.
4. Grow your own. This takes a bit more effort but can be accomplished by anyone with a pot and a windowsill. The easiest things to grow are tomatoes and beans. Basil (for making pesto) or any other herb for that matter is also very easy – they will grow like weeds!
5. Attend a food auction. This is the single biggest way our family saves money. About once a month we trek out to Lancaster County to Root’s Market and sit amongst the Amish buying everything from canned goods to cantaloupe. We usually fill up our entire trunk for roughly $20. Much of it is produce. Be prepared to buy in large quantities – like a case of bananas. Unless you have a large family this is usually way too much, so make a friend at the auction and barter and/or trade your winnings or resell right there. You can also bring a friend along and accomplish the same thing. Regardless, even with wasted food, or a case that may be only half good, it is still totally worthwhile. We’ve gotten many local goods this way, and organics.
For more great grocery saving tips visit Lehigh Valley Momma blog. What do you do to save money on groceries?