(This is a copy of an email sent to my homeschool group. A dear friend requested that I share my tips, so here they are!)
***Edited on 12/29/10 to update content.***
Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a coupon junkie. Let me spill my secrets...
I suggested The Grocery Game a while back, but just last week I found another site that does the same thing (matching coupons with sales). FOR FREE! It is CouponMom.com. Now, the way this service is provided for free is that the website has lots of advertisements. When you register on the site, you have to say "no, thanks" to page after page of e-newsletters. But that's a one-time thing. It wasn't too bad for me and I have dial-up. After that initial registration, you will see banner ads here and there. The site is a bit messy for my taste, with lots of links to click. STAY FOCUSED! LOL!
The two main things to check out on this site are Grocery Deals By State, and Grocery Coupon Database.
Grocery Deals By State
Forget about scouring the sale flyers! This site does it all for you. Pick your favorite store and you will get a list of all sale items for that week. If any unexpired Sunday paper coupon (RedPlum, SmartSource, and Proctor and Gamble, and occasionally others) exists for any of the sale items, it is listed with the date and initials of which flyer it is in. On the far right is the percentage that you will save, based on a history of prices for that specific item. [Update: Initially I was very excited to see a list for Wal-Mart. Since then I have realized that Wal-Mart does not have sales. It has "everyday low prices." So all Coupon Mom does for you is match the coupons with the "everyday low price." In my opinion, I can save much more by shopping at Kroger. And the Atoka Kroger has much fresher meat and produce - but again, that's my opinion.]
You do not have to cut any coupons until you actually need them. This is HUGE, people! Keep your Sunday paper coupons intact; write the date on the front of each coupon flyer. Check your list of Grocery Deals for each store you want to shop at. Check the items you want to buy and view only your needed items list. Finally, cut only the coupons that match your list for that week.
Personally, if something I use a lot has a deal of 50% off or greater, I stockpile it. I buy as much as I can if it is non-perishable. If the deal is less than 50%, I only buy it if we really need it. As the weeks go on, my stockpile grows and there is less and less on my "have to buy at any price" list.
Grocery Coupon Database
Use this to find coupons for "have to buy at any price" items. It is a list of ALL non-expired coupons from the Sunday paper, searchable by keyword. Of course, it's better to save the coupon for sale items, but if you have to buy it, you have to buy it.
Why I Love Kroger
I have found that I can consistently save the most by shopping at Kroger. Wal-Mart has too many distractions. I end up spending way too much time and money in there. And here is a really awesome new-fangled thing to try.....
If you go to Kroger.com and register your Kroger Plus Card, you can LOAD COUPONS DIRECTLY ONTO YOUR PLUS CARD. Yes, read that again. You load coupons onto your Kroger Plus Card and when you buy the item and scan your card, the coupon value is automatically deducted from the item price. This idea is just now catching on and growing, so paper coupons may soon go the way of eight-tracks. You can load coupons at:
Proctor and Gamble
There may be more, but these are the three I know about and use. Even if you don't want to cut paper coupons, it only takes a few minutes to fill up your Plus Card with a bunch of coupons. I've ACCIDENTALLY saved money this way! Also, for some items, Kroger lets you redeem a (doubled) paper coupon AND a loadable coupon, making for some cheap groceries.
Kroger also has some kind of extra deal every time I am in the store. This time it is for Nestle products (spend $20 and save $5 off your total order). It's almost always the same deal, just different products. One time I was about to check out when I realized that if I went back for a box of Tide, I'd get it for free. There are usually tally marks on the side of my shopping list so I can make sure I bought enough of the bargain items.
And of course, Kroger mails you monthly coupons in a little booklet, PLUS mails you custom coupons every few months or so. The custom coupons are awesome, like "save $20 off a total of $200 or more."
And don't forget the gas discount. Gas is 10 cents a gallon less than whatever they have marked if you regularly shop there and scan your Plus Card before pumping.
The $2 Rule
It's good to have an idea in your head about how much you will pay for a certain item. I've noticed that for many items, $2 is a good price to stay under.
Meat is usually your highest priced food item. Plan your menu around what's on sale. I try to never pay more than $2 per pound for meat. STOCK UP. I have a TON of meat in my freezer; for example, Kroger had Honeysuckle White Ground Turkey in the 1 lb. "sausage tubes" on sale for $1 each. I bought ten. That's way better for you and much cheaper than lean ground beef.
We liked bagged dark-leaf salads, but I never pay more than $2 a bag or box for them. Kroger's produce mark-down day used to be on Friday, and I would go that day to get some great fresh items.
I also try to stay under $2 for: a box of cereal, good-quality bread, cookies, snack crackers, big bag of chips, etc.
My Kroger account shows that I have saved almost $700 since January at Kroger alone (info from 2008). We budget $300 every two weeks for everything grocery related (paper goods, diapers, cleaners, pharmacy, etc.). I usually spend $200. For maximum fun, wait until the end of checkout to scan your Kroger Plus Card and coupons. It's like winning the lottery, only better! Yes, this all does take SOME time, but not much more than I'd usually spend getting a list and menu together. Kevin said he considers it to be like a part-time job for me and he is very grateful - to the point that I *never* have to remember to get the Sunday paper. He is on a mission to get it for me every week! Oh! Don't forget to peek into the paper and make sure no one has stolen your coupons. Sigh. [Update: I've never saved less than 25%. I've never saved more than 51%. I'm usually in the 30-40% range at Kroger.]