So, I have had a few too many requests for info on how I have been saving all this money doing grocery shopping and what-not so I decided that I would do a post about it- it's the easiest way to explain it to everyone. Nothing would make me happier than to see all of my friends doing this too. I feel almost a responsibility to share it with people.
First, I would like to explain what got me into this lifestyle in the first place. My brother-in-law gave Jacob and me a book as a wedding gift and he said "I know it looks boring but just read it, it will change your life." The book was Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. Indeed it did look boring, but I started skimming through it one day and I liked what I saw. I became totally obsessed with Dave's philosophy! I had never been super responsible with money, and this book absolutely opened my eyes to what kind of trouble I could get myself into but more importantly how to avoid it. First things first to all of you who have not read it- please do! I am sure your library has it, or in my family we have a few copies now so if you need to you may borrow one. His advice is simple and it directly parallels with that same advice that our LDS church leaders have been giving for years. Here is a great article, if that's what you're into. Also, I probably don't have to tell you but for those who are married, money problems and debt literally destroy good marriages sometimes- so that's not very rad.
After we decided that our lifestyle was going to change and we were going to start saving more and spending less, we had to figure out how we were going to do that. We cut down our budget in almost every category- food, entertainment, and everything else that we have control over. I couldn't seem to stop spending so much at the grocery store. We always went to the store, spent $30-$50 a week and still felt like we didn't have anything to make good meals. I started trying out meal planning. There is a great blog that I used and I like a lot of her recipes but it still wasn't really a good fit for us. We only actually cook maybe two nights out of the week because with the two of us, there are always a lot of left-overs and I don't get home from work til seven, Jacob is at school late and it kind of seems like there's no point when you're trying to cook dinner at 10 pm.
This is where the coupons came in! I found all of these blogs and started trying to find out how these women were cutting their grocery bills in half and still feeding their families of five. It was so impressive but honestly the first few months of using coupons for me were frustrating. I felt like half the time I would not be getting a good deal. Even though I was using a $1.00 coupon, the generic brand would be a dollar cheaper than that. So here is what I have learned and this is purely my mixture of things here and there that are working great for me. I do not claim to be an expert on this subject- but if it's working for me it can probably work for you too.
-You want to find coupons that are paired with sale priced items. That is when you are really going to get a great deal. If it is regularly priced, the coupon is most likely not going to give you a better price than a generic brand item.
-Always plan your grocery list before you go shopping, and stick to your list. We keep a pad on the fridge and when we run out of something we write it down so it can be replaced. I log onto a few of the coupon blogs/websites, find what's on sale and try to either plan a couple of meals from that, or if there is something specific i am already planning on making I try to find the best deals on the ingredients I need.
-I try to only go to one store per week. There are times every once in a while where I will do a few if it is convenient, for example in my town Ridley's, Target & Smiths are all right next to each other so on occasion I will run to each of them if there are deals I can't pass up. As far as deciding on what the best store to shop at is, there are a few really great ones. Wal-Mart has an excellent coupon/price-matching policy but I know sometimes it is different from store to store so if you live near one ask them about it and you might be able to get most of your deals just at Wal-Mart if you bring your other store ads. Here is a link to a post about Winco, and here is a link to a Utah grocery store comparison list. Basically it comes down to Winco being the best, then Smith's, then Wal-Mart.
-Always keep the ingredients for a few tried and true meals on hand! If you like to eat pasta, make sure you always have pasta. Our staples are mostly these: we keep tortillas, chicken, avocados, canned black beans and lettuce around all the time. In doing that we have two different options for our favorite meals that we can make out of just those. BBQ chicken salad (the recipe we got from Court!) or tacos, quesadillas, anything like that. I might add that all of those things are super affordable.
-Find out where the sales are. My two FAVORITE coupon blogs are these: Utah Deal Diva and Money Saving Mom I check them almost every day and there are links to other blogs like theirs that they refer to sometimes so you really can explore if you want. They almost all have Couponing 101 tutorials too, among other rad things. They post about big sales going on at grocery stores, weekly drug store deals, new coupons, and other kinds of deals.
-Go to the website Grocerysmarts.com. This website takes the local ads each week, posts what's in them and they rate things on a scale of how great the deal is (whether it's worth it to stock-up or not) and also if there is a coupon that goes along with the sale price they will post where to find it on the right hand side.
-If there is an item that you eat a lot or that you love that is a ridiculously good deal- stock up on it! You will save a lot of money this way. When canned items go on case lot sales you can save tons of money and it is a great way to get a little food storage going. You can still use them for meals whenever and you don't have to go to the store every time you need a can of something. This goes for non-canned items as well though as long as they don't perish too fast. Pasta, cereal, etc.
-At first I tried to avoid getting the newspaper to get coupons, but I couldn't hold out for long. If you have a family member or neighbor that gets it but doesn't use coupons - ask them for the ads each week. Free coupons = free money. Unfortunately I couldn't find anyone that got it so I went ahead and bought a subscription. Since August it has paid for itself probably at least ten times. If you don't want to commit to that though, there really are a lot of coupons you can print from your home computer.
There are 3 main coupon inserts to watch for. Red Plum, Smart Source, and Proctor & Gamble. The second two will be in newspapers only, but the first one will be in the "junk"mail as well as the newspaper most weeks.
-The most important advice I can give you! Do not clip the coupons until you are going to use them! This was such a rookie mistake that I made. I was spending so much time printing coupons off and gathering them and then clipping them out and sorting them. It was taking up so much time and then I didn't even use most of them, and when I did it took an hour to find them in the piles and piles of cut out coupons that I had. When you get an insert, grab a sharpie and write the date of it on the front, big and bold. Sometimes they come on a different date than they are supposed to so look at the left edge and in the tiny fine print there will be a date. You need this because these blogs and grocery smarts use them which I will explain soon. Then put it into the folder and leave it there until you need it. Recycle after 5 months. If they are printable: if it is for something you absolutely know you'll use print it immediately, if not just wait til there is a good deal on it and if the coupon is still printable then print it off. You will save paper, ink and time.
-The code: When you are on grocery smarts and coupon blogs the peeps are going to say something like this.
Cheap cereal at Smiths!
Use $1.50/3 coupon from 11/14 RP
If you need a little push just look at this again. Or this. Or I will show you what I did this week.
3 bags of AB pasta FREE
2 boxes Ronzoni Garden Delight Pasta FREE
1 Yakisoba FREE
1 Pioneer Gravy Mix .29 cents
1 Blistex .39 Cents
3 Martha white muffin mixes FREE
3 boxes Green Giant veggies 1.50
4 bags Idahoan potatoes FREE
Total $6.50 but I was buying the cookie mixes for someone else so technically take those out and I paid $2.50.