It doesn't have to take hours each week: Here's a strategy to help you cash in on the best sales and deals in your area. From The Money Saving Mom's Budget: Slash Your Spending, Pay Down Your Debt, Streamline Your Life, and Save Thousands a Year by Crystal Paine
Consider your options. Shopping for groceries doesn't only have to happen at stores that are specifically designed as "grocery stores." Consider all the options in your area that sell food and household items:
• Dollar stores
• Scratch-and-dent stores
• Overstock stores (Big Lots, etc.)
• Big box stores (KMart, Walmart, Target)
• Warehouse stores (Costco, Sam's Club, B.J.'s)
• Drugstores (CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid)
• Asian markets
• Bulk food stores
• Community-supported agriculture groups (check to see if there's one in your area at LocalHarvest.org)
• Farmers' markets
• Health food stores
Search online or pull out the phone book to see what non-grocery store options you have in your area. Ask your friends and neighbors if they know of any great places to shop that you might not know about. If you live in a small town, this should be simple. In fact, you might have only one or two stores to choose from. If you live in a larger town or big metropolis, this is going to be a bigger undertaking. If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the options, limit the stores to those that are within a five-mile radius or are close to areas you regularly frequent.
Make a price book. A price book is basically just a notebook where you write down and track all the prices for items you regularly buy. If you're trying to decide which stores in your area typically have the best prices, I recommend going to at least a few of them and writing down the price of twenty-five items you routinely buy. Comparing the prices of twenty-five items at two to four different stores can help you determine which stores have lower everyday prices.
Tip: There's a price book form at the back of the book for you to copy and use. Or you can download free price book forms at MoneySavingMom.com.
Find out what your local store's coupon and markdown policies are. Your local store's coupon and markdown policies can make a big difference in the kind of deals you're able to get with coupons. Here are some things you'll want to know:
• Does this store double coupons? If so, up to what amount? Are there limitations on the doubling (some stores will double only one or three of the same kind of coupon per transaction).
• Does the store accept expired coupons?
• Does the store accept competitors' coupons?
• Does the store mark down produce, dairy, and meat on a regular basis? If so, what days and times does this usually occur?
Determine which store(s) in your area regularly have the lowest prices and best sales. After filling out the price book forms and finding out your local stores' coupon policies and markdown policies, you will have a pretty clear picture of which stores are best to shop at on a regular basis. However, most stores run their sales cycles every twelve weeks or so, with a few incredible seasonal sales and special offers thrown in on occasion. To get a more accurate picture, I'd recommend tracking the sales at a few stores for three months. This does not mean that you need to go to five different stores and fill out a price book form every week. But I would recommend scanning the sales fliers at each store and actually visiting each store at least once a month.
Tip: Check http://MoneySavingMom.com/store_deals/ to find the best weekly deals at more than one hundred grocery stores around the country. You can also do an internet search for your store's name + "coupon matchups" or "weekly deals" to find a blogger who is covering the deals at your local grocery store(s). This will save you a lot of time, effort, and legwork!
Shop at different stores each week. Ideally, you'll save the most if you shop at two to three stores on a weekly basis and purchase only those items that are on exceptional sales plus produce and milk. This might seem time-consuming and overwhelming, especially if you're used to only shopping at one store each week. It really doesn't have to take that much extra time, though, and you don't need to shop at five or eight stores every week in order to see incredible savings. In fact, I rarely shop at more than three stores in a week. I usually stop at either Aldi and/or Dillon's (a Kroger affiliate) and then shop at either the health food store (to look for markdowns), Walmart, Target, or Dollar Tree.
I don't think I've ever gone to all six stores in one week, and I rarely spend more than two hours total grocery shopping in any given week. When planning my menu and grocery list, I just briefly glance through the ads and coupon match-ups online for all six stores and also take into consideration my schedule for the week and what other errands I need to run (I often will combine a quick shopping trip with another errand in order to save fuel and time) and then decide which store(s) I'll shop at that week. So a typical month of shopping may look something like this:
• Week 1: Aldi, health food store, Target
• Week 2: Dillon's, Walmart
• Week 3: Aldi, health food store
• Week 4: Dillon's, Dollar Tree
By rotating what stores I shop at each week, I'm able to take advantage of deals that are available only at that particular store and stock up on enough to last us until I head back to that store again. For instance, our Dollar Tree carries Nature's Own bread, hamburger buns, hot dog buns, and Cinnamon Swirl Bread for just $1 per loaf. This is the best price available on high-quality sandwich bread and buns in our area, so I stop at least once each month and buy enough to last us for the next four weeks. I stick the bread in the freezer, and we use it as needed.
If the thought of shopping at more than one store each week is overwhelming to you, never fear! Just start by picking two stores that consistently have the best deals and then rotate shopping at one of them per week based upon which has the best weekly deals.
Plan a Weekly Menu to Save on Groceries
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