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How to Save on Groceries, With & Without Coupons

This is a guest post by Julia Scott.

Let’s get past the boring tips on grocery savings – acquire a store loyalty card, bring your own bags, and buy on sale – to the meaty strategies so we can save on the most basic necessity of all – grub.

Without Coupons

Become a freezer diva. Grab your thick plastic freezer bags and fire up your best packing skills. Bread, meat, liquids, fruit, stews, soups, and many other food products freeze extremely well. The trick is to wrap everything tightly to avoid freezer burn. Keep a list handy of everything in your fridge so you don’t lose track and start to feel like a freezer landlord [3].

Buy a whole bird. Aim to pay well under a dollar per pound (I stock up big time at $.69/lb). Ask the butcher to cut your chicken into 8 pieces for you. The per pound cost is a lot lower and you’ll get smaller pieces. Butchers are often happy to do this, though it’s best to ask when the meat counter is slow.

Embrace flexitarianism. That’s when you become a vegetarian for one night or until meat prices come back down. Did you know consuming protein from non-meat sources [4] will save you $1.05 per person per meal?

Go ethnic. If you have never set a foot in an ethnic grocery store, a market that caters to immigrants, you are missing out. Staple items like oil, flour, and rice can be found for a fraction of the price you’ll see at a major chain. Produce prices are often significantly cheaper, too.

Earn gas rewards. Many chain grocery stores (at least 17 across the country) offer fuel perks programs that can net you dollars off each gallon of gas you buy. I saved $.80 per gallon from my regular grocery shopping.

Go to an auction. AuctionZip.com and Craigslist have listings for auctions that tell you the contents to be sold, including groceries. Make sure to check the local auction rules so you know what rules to play by. When you’re there, review “sell by,” “use by” and “best by” dates on each item so you know how quickly you need to eat or freeze an item. Auctions can go quite late so bring a cooler to stash perishables that you win!

Buy generic. If you abhor coupon clipping, the next best thing is buying store brands, which cost as much as 60% less. If you’re an ice cream fan, head to Target for Archer Farms chocolate ice cream. It beat out every other chocolate ice cream in ShopSmart tests, even Haagen Dazs.

Eat in season produce. I check the seasonal fruits and veggies list at FruitsandVeggiesMoreMatters.org so I know what to look for. In season almost always means cheap because the supply is greater.

Want organic? Join a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) keeps your wallet heavy, your community green, and your family stuffed with organic greens. I pay about $27 a week for all the eggs I can eat (half doz.), a tub of fresh goat cheese, 1.5 pounds of meat, and veggies. All organic. Can you top that? Didn’t think so.

Another organic option is to use the online organic food catalog and delivery service AzureStandard. The company delivers to much of the Western United States and ships orders to other parts of the country, including Alaska and Hawaii. Order $50 or more and the $5 handling charge is waived. Great if you live in the boonies.

Seek out stale bread. The about-to-expire bread rack is usually randomly placed no where near the bakery or bread aisle. If you find it, you’ll be rewarded. I’ve seen artisan loafs on the day old bread rack for $.99. And once I bought a 6-pack of day-old poppy seed deli bagels for $2. Cut them in half that night and stashed them in the freezer. Just make sure to eat the bread within 24 hours or freeze to avoid a mold takeover.

Use GroceryServer.com, which matches items on your grocery list with sales and coupons. The site broke down my list into categories of items, then showed me which supermarket had the best prices for each item. It even had a date when the sale price was going to end!

Get sales alerts from Flyerside.com, which emails you when an item on your grocery list goes on sale. The number of grocery sales listed per week are about 1 million. The site layout makes searching easy and the rating system is intuitive. The more stars an item has, the better deal it is. Five stars means stock up, 2.5 stars means the price is average, and zero stars means buy later.

Chat up the farmers. Befriending the people selling you food at a farmer’s market is a good way to get information about how the food is grown, if there are any bulk discounts, and what will be on sale in coming weeks. Becoming a loyal customer may earn you a discount.

Look high or low. Manufacturers pay to get their products placed at eye level, which can boost prices. Items on the top and bottom shelf are often just as good for a bit less. Your knees will ache, but it’ll pay off at the register.

With Coupons

Start a coupon train [5] by mailing envelopes to fellow clippers in your region. Each person in the train (aim for 5-10 people for best results) mails an envelope stuffed with coupons to the next person on the list. Take out what you can use, put in new coupons that you can’t. Each envelope moves from one “station” to the next.

Buy coupons. Technically you’re paying a processing fee because buying coupons is illegal, but there are many reputable sites that sell coupons for a fraction of their face value. I’ve had good experiences with TheCouponMaster.com. Also check out TheCouponClippers.com.

Trade coupons. A similar option to buying coupons is trading them online. Do this at ECoupons.com/grocery (mail in 25 coupons and you’ll get 25 of your choosing in return), or trade directly with other frugal fellows at RefundSweepers.com, SwapSavers.com, or CouponForum.com.

Read blogs that publish coupon matches [6] for wherever you buy groceries. A coupon match is when you redeem a coupon for a sale item, bringing the price down to a fraction of retail or even for free. It’s true! Coupon matching requires you to save each week’s coupon inserts and file them by name and date, such as Red Plum 2/20/11.

This is a guest post by Julia Scott, who shares strategies, coupons, and inspiration to save on everyday expenses on her money saving blog [7], BargainBabe.com.