01 August 2016

Grocery Savings, Part 3: Extras!

On Friday night, I went grocery shopping and I ended July with nearly $1700 in savings at my local grocery store. That averages to just under $250 per month saved thus far this year for a family of five. I do it by using coupons and mPerks.
Read Part I about couponing here!
Read Part II about mPerks here!

Three Tips

Tip #1: Make a List
So you clip coupons and you use mPerks - you are going to notice some huge savings! But if you really want to get the most savings possible, you're going to need to utilize the foundation tip of frugality: make a grocery list.

Sorry it's backwards, I took this picture with my computer's built-in camera.
Every two weeks before I go grocery shopping, I make a meal plan. Depending on my mood, it can be very specific (we are going to have mac and cheese in the slow cooker on Wednesday) or flexible (I just make a list of 15 dinners I am going to make before the next payday). I base my meal plan largely off of what is in my pantry and what is on sale (so it's very seasonal in that respect).

Then I go through those recipes and add the ingredients I need to my grocery list. I add the match ups to my list. I add things that we need that can't wait til match up or I don't get match ups for. I add a small notation if something is on sale (s) or I have a coupon (c) or is on match up (s+c).

I sort my coupons in the order that I'll need them in the store and clip them together with a binder clip. This way I can easily reference them.

When I shop, I keeping a running total in the margins so I don't go over budget.

Tip #2: Get familiar with your store's clearance sections
I know my Meijer's clearance sections like the back of my hand and my regular shopping route passes by all of them. I recently found my favorite brand of bubble bath in the health and beauty clearance section! It's very expensive normally, but I had a coupon for it too (you can use coupons on clearance items!) so I ended up getting it for something like 66% off. I get a lot of good deals by hitting up the clearance sections, especially for items that don't go on sale or only go on stinky sales.

Tip #3: Take a Class
I learned to coupon when I found a class through my local community education program. It was a one session class with the Michigan Coupon Club (MCC) with the owner Carla. Carla was a really good teacher, but it appears that she has since sold the business to someone else who let it die. But if you check your community ed programs, you might find one near you. They give you lots of tips specific to the grocery stores in your area and start you out with a bunch of coupons. Coupon clubs usually charge a small fee (MCC charged $5 per month) and offer a database that tells you what the match ups are for the week. This saves you from having to scour ads yourself.

Three Costs

Cost #1: Time
There is no getting around the fact that clipping and sorting coupons and making grocery lists will take time. It takes me about 3 hours to clip, sort, make a meal plan, and make a grocery list. It took me longer when I first started, but I've streamlined things now. Sometimes I'll take care of the coupons after the kids go down for the night while watching a movie to make time go by a little faster. It's worth $250 a month for me to take that extra time.

Cost #2: Certain Conveniences
It's really hard to focus on ounces of lotion and flavors of Cheerios when you have fussy kids in the cart. I rarely shop with the kids and I hate spending my weekends at the grocery store, so I often shop after the kids go to bed for the night. It means I'm out after dark and I'm putting groceries away at 10:30pm. Sometimes I'll go out after dinner and Matt will have to pull bedtime duty, it just depends on Theodore. I took him with me when he was young enough to sleep through it, but he's older now and gets cantankerous when I'm ringing and bagging groceries, so I plan the shopping around his grouchies and nursing schedule.

Sometimes I'm all set to grocery shop on Tuesday evening, but then I find out that Meijer is having its 5% & 10% off sale on Friday and Saturday, so I reschedule and spend my Friday night at Meijer. It kind of stinks, but again, I'll take $250 per month to deal with losing a Friday here and there.

Cost #3: Public Perception
Couponers, just like moms of multiple children, garner looks, sighs, and comments. Usually I shop on Thursday nights and Meijer is practically empty, so I don't hear much of it. But sometimes I do. I prefer the self checkout and every single time I shop, I have at least one coupon that refuses to scan and I have to wait for a clerk to come assist me. If there is an impatient person behind me, I get a lot of sighs. One time Meijer was oddly crowded for a Friday night and the lady behind me told the clerk smuggly, "You won't have to deal with me, I forgot my coupons at home." She continued with pride, "In fact, I don't even think anything I bought has a coupon!" And because I buy two papers, sometimes the gas station clerk will ask rudely, "Are you one of those crazy couponers?" But I've never had a Meijer grocery store clerk say something rude or act impatient with my rogue coupons. In fact, they usually thank me for being patient!

Before I buy the paper, I always check to make sure it has coupons in it. They aren't offered every week and back when couponing was in it's hey day, sometimes people would steal the inserts out of newspapers to get more coupons. It was hard for me to stand there digging through the paper - I felt everyone judging me for being one of those crazy couponers.

Anyway, refusing to coupon because I'm scared of the way people I don't even know will think about me is foolish, so I push through the awkwardness and it honestly doesn't bother me anymore. I'm very proud of how much money I save my family every week! Now I think people who are proud of the fact that they don't coupon are crazy!

Three Rewards

Reward #1: Money
Without a doubt, the number one thing I hear from people when I tell them I coupon is: "I could never do that because we don't eat processed foods." And while it's true that you're not going to see coupons for organic apples and brown eggs, I regularly get coupons for all-natural juices and juice boxes, frozen veggies (I usually get mine, even the steam-in-the-microwavable-bag kind, for $.60-$1 a bag), tomatoes, avocados, hummus, canned fruit, and name brand dairy products. Also, all lunch meat, bacon, and sausage coupons are good on any nitrite/nitrate free options that brand has available. And even if none of those food options appeal to you, unless you make all your own shampoo, hair spray, deodorant, and laundry detergent, and never wear make up, you will save money. The brands I get on match up have fragrance and dye free options.

Plus with mPerks, you can still buy all the organic or regular produce you want and get rewards. Right now I'm working on a reward to "Spend $30 in produce and get $3 off your next purchase." Sometimes they offer me rewards for meat and dairy too. If you get $3 off all three and you pay attention to your rewards, that's $9 off.

Reward #2: We eat better
I spend my savings back at Meijer, so that we can eat better quality food and keep feeding our growing family without having to add more money to the budget. I save so much freakin' money on household items that I've constantly got enough cash left by the time I get to the food section of the store to get a few splurges. My #1 splurge is always the meat: grass fed beef and free range chicken. Since I meal plan, I know exactly how much meat I need.

Secondly, we eat better because we can afford stuff I never used to buy. Like the Nature Valley granola bars. I can get four to six boxes when they are on a good match up and ration them out until they go on sale again. I get nuts, granola, and Greek yogurt - as many as I have coupons for - because I can actually afford it when it's on match up.

Lastly, I always have enough cash to stock up. When canned beans are $.60 a can (40% off!) I can afford to fill up my pantry without having to break the budget that month. This is especially important with cereal, which can be super sketchy with its good sales.

Reward #3: We can donate more
When you get free pens, $.90 shampoo, and $1 disposable razors, or have 9 bottles of bbq sauce and 12 cans of beans, it's so much easier to contribute to food drives or back to school drives at church. We used to buy all of our contributions with our tithe money, but now our budget doesn't even know when we make donations.

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