Because I haven’t worked full time since August, I’ve resorted to other ways of contributing to the income of the house. I’ve started doing coupons, rebates, and savings apps to save on our grocery bill, and this week I did a whole bunch of cooking, to stock our freezer full of ready-made lunches that Dale can take to work instead of having to pay for the overpriced food available in Uptown. ($7-10 a meal? For LUNCH? Heeeeeelll naw.)
I’ve had a few people make comments to me that they’d love to learn how to save the kind of money I do, or that they “wish they could do that.” So I’ve got a few tips I’ve picked up on how to get a full pantry without dropping a full paycheck.
Know what you use and what the regular prices are. This is the part that gets most beginning couponers in trouble, and it definitely was a trouble spot for me when I got started. It doesn’t help you to have 42 kinds of coffee if there’s only one you’re going to use, and if you don’t care what brand of milk you buy, then your 40 cent coupon, even doubled, won’t make up a dollar difference in regular price. Harris Teeter is notorious for this one–the 12 packs of sodas we get are often on sale “buy two, get three free,” but their regular price is $6.99 as opposed to $5.49 at Publix, so that’s actually 5 cents higher than when Publix runs the same sodas BOGO ($2.79 each rather than $2.74). At that point, it looks exciting, but it doesn’t actually save you money.
Know what you have on hand. There have been half a dozen times that I’ve gotten home from the grocery store and been dismayed to find that I’ve bought something that I already had at home. That’s a waste of money. Right now I’m trying to find an app that I can scan my groceries into as I bring them home and when I empty them, so that it tracks what I have on hand. Meanwhile, I just wing it by keeping an up-to-date grocery list.
Shop the ads. No one grocery store is going to be the least expensive on everything. You have to shop around. In my area, the grocery stores change their specials every Wednesday, and the specials are up on their websites starting then. In addition, if you give them your email and link your loyalty card to it, some of them will offer subscriber-only deals, such as the E-VIC program at Harris Teeter, which has a gallon of milk for $2.57 this week instead of 3 and change. (Still not the best price in my area at the moment, but before BJ’s opened, it would have been.)
Read the coupon policies. Harris Teeter doubles manufacturer coupons up to 99 cents face value, but will only take 20 coupons per day. Food Lion doesn’t double, or accept competitors’ coupons, but does not specify a limit on total number of coupons per day. Target will allow you to stack manufacturer coupons, store-issued coupons, and discounts in their Cartwheel app (more on that in a bit). BI-LO caps their doubling amount at 60 cents face value, but their regular prices are often cheaper than HT. Most grocery stores will have you simply lose any money they owe you back at the end of the transaction, but Publix will put it on a store gift card for you.
Look at value per use, not total price, but only if it will last long enough for you to use. For example, Dale hates the idea of freezing bread. So while the brand of bread he likes is significantly cheaper in the two-loaf pack at BJ’s, we won’t use it before it starts to mold. I bought it that way once and ended up throwing away 3/4 of a loaf because it had turned fuzzy and blue. I don’t need homegrown penicillin, thank you very much. On the other hand, we use a lot of chicken broth, so when I buy, I get a case, and it lasts for months, instead of having to buy more often and pay more.
Get the Sunday paper. That’s when the paper coupons come out, and I usually get at least 2 copies, so that I can get more than one of any deal I will use. A couple of weeks ago, there was a $3 off Nature’s Bounty Fish Oil coupon, and this week Nature’s Bounty is BOGO at CVS. We give Dale’s dog fish oil and glucosamine supplements every day for his arthritis, so that’s something we’ll be using for the foreseeable future, so I definitely hung on to that one.
Get online. One of my favorite printable coupon sites is Mypoints. For every grocery coupon you print and redeem in store, you get 10 points, which add up to gift cards (I usually get gas cards with mine). If you’d rather not subscribe, you can also get the same coupons at Coupons.com, though you won’t get points for using them. Newspaper coupon providers Smartsource and RedPlum also have printable coupons on their websites.
Use your smartphone or tablet. I use a number of apps on my phone to access rebates, in-store savings, and purchase rewards. I use Android, but as far as I know, these are all available on iOS, as well. I use:
Ibotta: scan items, upload the receipt showing you bought them, get the rebate. Cashes out to PayPal or Venmo after you reach $10. Rebates are only available at participating retailers. (Note: where available, I have linked my referral code, so if you sign up through that link, we both get a bonus.) In the four months since I signed up, I’ve gotten back over $40 from Ibotta alone.
Shopkick: points for walk-ins, scans, and purchases that can be converted to gift cards to Walmart, Target, and other retailers.
Snap by Groupon: Similar to Ibotta, but they don’t care where you buy the items, as long as they’re the correct ones. You can request a check once your balance hits $20.
Checkout51: another rebate app. Request a check at $20. Also not retailer-specific unless noted on the individual item.
MobiSave: Not as much good stuff on it as Ibotta, but pays out immediately to PayPal rather than waiting for a specific amount.
Cartwheel: Target’s savings app. I love this thing! You can stack up alllllll the discounts with this. If you’re lucky enough to hit it at the right time, you can combine advertised specials, Cartwheel savings, a store coupon, a manufacturer coupon, the 5% discount for using the Target RED Card (doesn’t have to be credit–you can sign up for a debit option), and your rebates, all on the same item.
ReceiptHog: I don’t like this one as well, so I only really use it when I think of it. It doesn’t matter what you buy on this one, as long as you’re spending money at the right category of retailer, but the points add up really slowly. I’ve had it for nearly a month and don’t have but about $1 in points so far, and that includes the money we spent on our holiday shopping. It’s OK to use when I think of it, but I don’t really think it’s worth the trouble to seek out.
Use your loyalty cards. Realistically, most grocery stores and pharmacies are going to want you to have loyalty cards to take advantage of their specials. That much is obvious. However, pay attention to what other perks those cards may offer, and what terms and conditions apply. BI-LO, for example, has their Fuelperks program, which offers discounts on gas, but only if you spend $50 in a single shopping trip. Ibotta actually will link with the MVP card at Food Lion, so that rather than having to upload a receipt to Ibotta for the rebate items you’ve purchased, they will load automatically from your MVP card.
Be as flexible as you can on brand. Brand loyalty is great, if you have a product that you like, but it’s not going to be the most economical. There are a few things we won’t budge on (shampoo, toilet paper, etc), but the more flexibility you have, the more deals will be available to you.
Plan your meals ahead. Right now I have over two weeks of lunches in the freezer for Dale to take to work with him, plus a week and a half of meat for dinners. If you have a game plan, you don’t end up buying what you’re not going to use.
You don’t have to do all the things I do to save money. I’m one of those weird ones going through the grocery store aisles with my huge binder of coupons. That said, if you do even part of it, your savings will stack up pretty quickly. I know ours have!