I remember the first time I got over $100 worth of groceries for less than $5. it was an incredible rush and quickly became addictive. No, it wasn’t that huge of a discount every time, but even seeing your bill go down by 30 or 40% with coupons is an exciting thing.
But then life happens.
For me, it was getting pregnant with my 4th kid. Have I mentioned before that I’m a pretty miserable pregnant lady?
I can’t even walk through a grocery store during my first trimester without getting sick, much less consider doing any serious couponing.
I have several friends who tell me that they want to save money at the grocery store but that they hate (H.A.T.E.) coupons. So they think that they can’t really save.
Whether you are going through a season where couponing doesn’t work for you, or you just absolutely abhor the idea of using coupons, your options for saving money are still plentiful!
In fact, couponing is just the icing on the cake for grocery savings. It’s not the foundation at all.
The foundation is menu planning
Even hard-core couponers can waste tons of money if they don’t have a plan for how they are going to feed their families. A pantry and freezer full of food does you no good if you don’t have a plan for how to use those items.
I say this in my couponing classes all the time… menu planning alone can save you 40% or more each month if you don’t currently have weekly meal plans.
What do you buy at the store if you aren’t shopping with specific meals in mind? Whatever looks good? The things that they have in nice, pretty displays?
Here are two posts on how to menu plan that should really help if this is something new for you. I think you’ll be surprised at how much you can save!
Shop the sales cycles
A “Sales Cycle” in grocery shopping refers to when a particular product goes on sale at its “rock bottom price” (which just means that it’s at it’s lowest price that it will go).
Most everyday products have a sales cycle of about 3 months (some shorter, some longer). That means that if cereal is on sale this week at the lowest it will go, then it likely will be at that price again in another 3 months or so.
Three months isn’t ALWAYS the case, but it’s a good rule-of-thumb.
So when you’re deciding how many boxes of cereal to buy during a great sale, remember that they will go on sale again in another 3 months. So get enough to last you for about 3 months until the next sale.
We talk a lot about this concept in my couponing classes but you can shop the sales cycles whether you are couponing or not!
When your favorite cereal is on sale for $1.99, allocate enough in your grocery budget that week to get enough boxes to last you for a few months. You’ll be thankful that you did when it’s at $3.49 for that same box the next month.
Yes, this part does take some research. You’ll probably want to have a small notebook that you bring to the store with you to keep track of prices. It doesn’t have to be big, just a small notebook to keep track of the price fluctuations on the items that you like to buy regularly.
I have a whole post about sales cycles if you want to read more about how they work!
Also consider buying from the bulk foods section if your store has one. My local Sprouts store runs some great specials on the bulk foods (you just scoop the rice or dried beans, or oatmeal, or whatever product into a plastic bag) – and many times it ends up being MUCH less than the prepackaged foods.
Shop with cash
While I love the Dave Ramsey system, I’m not a cash-only person. I don’t like the idea of having lots of cash with me everywhere I go.
But, for grocery shopping, the only way that I have found to really stick to a set-in-stone budget when grocery shopping is to use cash only… and leave any debit/credit cards at home.
If you have a grocery budget for the week of $100 and your bill comes out to $110, what are you going to do if you have a debit/credit card? More than likely (although I can’t speak for everyone) you would just put all $110 on the card. But if you have $100 cash and that’s it, what do you do? You figure out which items need to be put back (and more than likely, you walk around the store with a calculator so that you don’t go over at the register!)
That extra $10 a week adds up to $520 a year!
Don’t be afraid of stockpiling
Stockpiling does *not* have to be extreme. Just set aside a certain portion of your grocery budget towards building up your stockpile and watch it slowly grow.
I recommend a 20/50/30 model in my couponing classes.
Let 20% of your weekly grocery budget be for the staple products that you buy every week no matter what. These are the items that are harder to stock up on (like milk, eggs, yogurt, bread) since they have a very limited shelf-life. This amount will always be in your weekly budget.
Let 50% of your grocery budget go towards food that you are going to buy to eat that next week. These are the things that you have planned out on your menu plan and are on sale. Don’t use this 50% for anything other than what you are going to eat this next week (all meals + snacks).
Then, save that final 30% of your weekly budget for building up your stockpile. This amount is going to be used to buy extra of the items that are at their lowest prices. You will want to keep these products in a separate section of your pantry/garage/freezer/fridge so that you aren’t tempted to use them that week. I had one person at a couponing class tell me that she had to hide her stockpile items from her husband and teenage son or they would eat them all as soon as she got home!
So let’s take a $100 weekly grocery budget. $20 of that would go towards your weekly staples, $50 of that would go towards what you would eat that week, and the other $30 would go towards building up your stockpile.
Within a few weeks, you’ll find that you don’t need that full $50 for what you are going to be eating that next week since you can start using what’s in your stockpile to menu plan that second week of doing this system.
Maybe now you only need $40 for what you’ll be eating that week and you can use $40 for stockpile items!
Then in another few weeks? Maybe you can use $50 or $60 for your stockpile.
Eventually, you can use that full $80 on your stockpile… or you can go ahead and lower your weekly grocery budget since we likely don’t have unlimited room in our garage and freezer.
Once you’re only buying your staple items and your stockpile items each week, then put that extra money directly into a savings account.
For example, if you had a $100 weekly grocery budget but went down to $70 after you had built up your stockpile, then you would put that extra $30 per week in some type of savings account.
After just 1 year you would have an extra $1,560!!
Coupons *can* be involved in this whole process, but they don’t have to be. I know plenty of non-couponers who are great at stockpiling.
Make more from scratch
Yes, making things from scratch takes longer, but it is typically *much* less expensive.
Plus, you get the added benefit of knowing every ingredient that’s in there.
I shared my experience of knowing nothing about cooking to cooking full home-cooked meals – and I promise that if I can do it, anyone can!
Shop at Aldi
If you have an Aldi near you and haven’t visited it yet, you are missing out!
When I have people tell me that they never want to touch a coupon in their life, but they still want to save money, I tell them to shop at Aldi.
Their every day prices are excellent and I’ve consistently been impressed with the quality of the products that I buy there.
Aldi does not accept coupons (most of their items are private labeled with their own brand names), but the prices of almost identical items is much less than their counterparts at other grocery stores (even lower than when those name-brand products go on sale).
Take baby steps when you try again
If you know that you want to get back into couponing, or you want to give it a try in the future, be sure to take baby steps. Don’t try to jump in to couponing at multiple stores with a massive coupon binder right off the bat.
Pick one store to start couponing at. Then add another, then another.
Start off organizing your coupons with the filing method (even if you’ve done the big binder before!) and then move on to the more complicated methods if you want to.
Getting “couponing burnout” is easy to do, and many get it after a couple of years of hard-care couponing. Just take it slow, and don’t feel guilty about taking breaks when you need to.
And don’t feel guilty about not wanting to use coupons at all. They are a tool in your belt of grocery savings, but you have many other great tools as well.
If you’re interested in hosting a couponing class for your church or organization in the Houston, TX area, feel free to send me an email!
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