Too busy to clip coupons? Wouldn't it be nice if you could just find those extra couple of hours? Say one hour to clip and an extra two hours in the store trying to match up the coupons with what's on sale. But many of us simply don't have any time to spare. Does that mean we are doomed to high prices? Nope. You can buy cheap groceries without using manufacturers coupons.
I've got a system that should drastically cut down on the amount of time and effort you would need to spend collecting coupons. It won't require you to shop at ten different grocery stores and will help you score good deals on nearly everything you buy. Will you save as much as the intrepid coupon hunters who know how to get the face value of the manufacturer's coupon tripled by searching for retail outlets that have that item on sale? Nope. But trust me, you'll be getting some crazy deals.
First, you need to understand which stores have the cheapest prices on which items. Lets take three very different stores in my area: Target, Vons, and Trader Joes. Everyone knows Target. Vons is owned by the same company that owns Safeway. In the Midwest, if you're shopping at Dominicks - it's just another Safeway in drag. Same thing goes at Genuardi's in the Northeast. They're just marketing brands - but they're all owned and operated by the same conglomerate. The important thing to understand is that these stores all use the same supply chain and offer up pretty much the same value for your grocery dollar.
Trader Joe's is a specialty store that has its own brand for virtually everything. Which one's the cheapest? They all are depending on what you're buying. If you are buying frozen waffles, Target has will invariably have the lowest price. Good bagels and cream cheese, Trader Joe's is your best bet. What about organic eggs, Trader Joe's blows them away. Meat or fruit or fresh orange juice, that would be Von's weekly sale. So if you're willing to invest a little time doing a little research and don't mind making a few trips to these stores to understand which ones have the price advantage on certain items, you'll be getting bargains all the time. Once you figure it out, you get used to it and it will become second nature. From there, it all becomes a question of sticking to your newly acquired grocery shopping habits.
The second thing you need to do is to sort through your junk mail for your weekly grocery store advertisement, in my case, from Vons. You need to scan the items and pick out the one's that you really need and are on sale. The best sales at a place like Vons can't be touched by the other two stores which generally speaking don't discount things much because their prices are already low.
Once you have a handle on this and you have the easy store coupons that they give you as a layup, you make Vons your first stop. It's important to know the layout of the store so you don't get frustrated chasing a single item down ten isles. Know your turf. You should have your waltz across the store choreographed in your mind before you enter the door. Your mission is to load up on as many of the "loss leader items" as possible. On average you should be saving 50% plus off the normal prices. We are talking the fruit of the week for 75 cents a pound or less, the best Ribeye or T-bone steaks for under $4 a pound and some snacks for the kids at under a $1.
You need to know prices, because when there is a great deal on something that has a long shelf life, you need to stock up, big time. These days, Safeway stores as well as others have gotten very aggressive with their loss leaders, almost to the point where they have zero or even negative margins. Take advantage of the recession because in a few years when their "low prices" aren't so low anymore, you will be kicking yourself. I recently snagged 24 boxes of cereal for $1.50 each without a single coupon. You can consistently shave as much as 70% of the retail price for Soda by loading up the truck when they have super specials.
The second trip is to your specialty store - to shop for certain selected items. In my case, I hit Trader Joe's for milk, eggs, cream cheese, bread, chocolate, and a host of stuff that I can't get other places. Pasta is also incredibly cheap at Trader Joe's, always $0.99 a pound. I like living a little too and they have capers, olives, and lox at cheap prices. The specialty store is a 15 minute shopping experience for me and I actually like going there because it has a certain ambiance and is on the way home from work.
Target and Walmart
The last store on the food chain is my Target. In your case - maybe a Walmart. These places you visit once a month or every other week. Remember, you're not just there for your grocery shopping, you do it in conjunction with buying other household items like cleaning supplies. Whatever you haven't picked up at the other two stores, you just buy at these places. I know prices really well, but when I get to either of these stores, I just grab the stuff that I need because the prices are already rock bottom. I am sure that somewhere that week there is some store that has some of the items cheaper but I don't have the time to hunt around. Typically, I find the frozen and boxed items to be the cheapest at the big boxes.
You might think that I have to spend a ton of time doing my routine. I don't. My specialty store , Trader Joe's, never takes minutes because its small and I don't have to think about the prices. I also don't waste time at the regular grocery store trying to compare prices on everything because if its not on super sale, I am picking it up at Target. I might spend 40 minutes in my Vons, 15 minutes in Trader Joe's, and 20 minutes extra in Target every other week. A little over an hour each week and I am not overloaded with 15 bags of groceries all at once. I often have my kids with me and no kid is going to sit in Costco for 3 hours waiting for me to add another 10lb jar of pickles to my cart.
Its a little unorthodox, but I've done this for years and my grocery bill is much lower than it used to be and I get exactly what I want. One more hint: make sure you have lots of food at home in your pantry, it lets you be pickier on your deals and if one week the supermarket isn't as generous with a particular item, you'll still have stock at home. It's yet another reason why you shouldn't live paycheck to paycheck - so you can have the cash to horde when there is a great sale going on. One last tip, pay attention to the expiration dates on non-perishable items like canned vegetables and jams. Some of them last for years.
Use this method and you'll be surprised how much money you save on buying cheap groceries.
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