How I Cut My Food Bill in Half

Putting_money_into_a_piggybank

And no, I didn’t get there with extreme couponing. I changed my shopping habits in the last week of November. Now, about eight weeks later, there’s very little I need to buy at full price. And paying full price makes me cry a little.

The concept in a nutshell:

1.  Sales go in cycles. In the Southeast, it’s 6-8 weeks. 8-12 for the rest of the country.

2.  When your item goes on sale for at least 50% off, buy enough to last until the next sales cycle.

Of course there’s a bit more to it, but that’s your concept, right there.

You don’t need a huge pantry. You are not buying for the apocalypse. For the Spousal Unit and me, we have three shelves: two with food, and one in the garage with paper products. They aren’t even full, and we’re well stocked.

You do need to know how much of an item you use, so you know how much to buy. If you really need something that isn’t on sale, just buy enough for a week. Over the course of a sales cycle, you will be stocked up on most of your non-perishables.

You will also need to know how much things cost, so you know you’re getting a deal. It pays to look online. I once had coupons amounting to $9 off antihistamine. Great deal, right? In my local store, those coupons got the price down to $5 more than Amazon. Yeesh.

I get the 50% number because my local grocery store, Publix, runs a ton of Buy One Get One (BOGO) deals, and they don’t jack up their prices beforehand (like, say, Winn-Dixie). The Publix sales flyer runs Thur-Wed. I drop in on Wednesday and ask at customer service for the next day’s flyer, so I can plan my shopping trip. I bet you have a local store that does this, too.

As for coupons, I do that, but I don’t go nuts. My coupon savings usually cover whatever items I had to get full price that week. I go through my Sunday papers for coupons that I can stack with sales. Unless I really want something, I won’t use the coupon without a sale. The question I ask myself when deciding to clip: “Will I feel like an idiot if this item goes BOGO before the coupon expires?”  Believe me, I’ve felt like an idiot a couple of times.

Now, if you’ve watched Extreme Couponing, you will have a mighty skewed view of this whole process. Remember, time is money. If you’re spending 40 hours a week couponing, you’d better be getting all your groceries for free. I’m happy to spend an hour or two on it and get 50%.

If you want to coupon (and you don’t have to):

  • Check for local stores that double them. There are no double coupons in my area. Sad trombone.
  • Check the coupon policy of your favorite store. Just google [store name] coupon policy and it should come right up.
  • Coupons are usually stackable! That means you can use a store coupon AND a manufacturer’s coupon on the same item. And then you can stack that on a sale. These kinds of scores are rare, but it feels so good.

 

I get my coupons a couple of places. The first is the Sunday paper. We have two local ones that I can get, and it’s my favorite Sunday morning activity to go through the flyers. The big coupon producers are Redplum and Smartsource, so if you get junk mail from these folks, don’t ignore it!

My next source is online. Southern Savers has a searchable database that covers not only Coupons.com (great site, but not searchable. Your eyes will bleed going through all that.), but deals from manufacturer websites. Once I’ve determined what sales items I want, I search the database for coupons. NOTE: I do miss coupons this way, because I’m not scouring every day for them. I’m okay with that.

Finally, for items I love and buy a lot, I sign up at the manufacturer website for their emails. I recommend not using your main email account. Do this for restaurants, too!

As for organization, some people go crazy with complex systems. I don’t have time for that. This is my coupon file:

coupons

Yup, just a mag board and strong magnets.

My routine:

–On Sunday, I get the two local papers and clip and organize the coupons I want.

–When coupons come in the mail, I clip them and put them on the board. When coupons come in my email, I print them right away so they’re not forgotten, and put them on the board.

–On Wednesday, I get the Thursday flyer from customer service.

–If I want an item, I circle it in the flyer, and write it on a list.

–I take the flyer to my computer, and search for coupons on the circled items.

–I check my pantry, and decide how much of each item I want to buy.

–Now, because I’m a Big Ol’ Nerd, I put my list on a spreadsheet with retail prices, what the sale is, and what coupons I have, all organized by aisle. The only thing you really need is a list organized by aisle, with the amount you want to buy. I took pictures of all the aisle signs, and made a directory myself. Customer service should also have a printed store directory.

–I made myself a pretty envelope with a velcro closure. Coupons get clipped together and put inside, and the list gets clipped to the outside with a pen.

–Thursday: raid that store like a pirate.

envelope

An unexpected consequence of all this: we are eating better. I was in a routine of buying the same things over and over again. Building a sale-based pantry instead has made me consider new items. As a result, we have a more varied diet.

One of the best resources I’ve found is the aforementioned Southern Savers. Jenny has made a fantastic video that can get anyone started. It’s about general, realistic saving as well as coupons. Don’t panic at the run time–the second half of the video is store-specific. The first half applies to everyone.

 

With a little thought and planning, anyone can do this. Next time you do a shopping run, ask yourself how you’d feel if your receipt was half of what it is. It’s a good feeling.

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1 Responses to How I Cut My Food Bill in Half

  1. Amy says:

    Thank you for your tips. I coupon off and on, every once in a while get lucky with stackables and a sale. Thank you for taking the time to detail your system. I love your white board, what a great, visual way to stay on top of everything.

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