Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Being Frugal Part I: Groceries & Restaurants

As a mostly stay-at-home mom, I don't get a pay check every two weeks. But I have found new satisfaction in the fact that although I can't bring in a lot of money at this stage in our kids' lives, I can keep a lot from going out. When I am able to get something we need at way below list price I feel like I did make money, because we can spend what we saved on something else. I'm far from an extreme couponer, but I've found that once you've decided not to pay full price for things, it changes the way you shop, eat, live; and it's hard to go back--to ever pay full price again. Saving money doesn't have to consume all your time, it's just a mind set of paying attention, knowing what's a good deal and what isn't. So this week I'm sharing seven ways to save. It's really seven categories with lots of tips and tricks and links in each. I'm not an expert and these are kind of lengthy posts, but if you stick with it I will tell you what we've tried, what we've changed, and the secrets we've discovered to help us save money. 

Being Frugal: Part I

At the Grocery Store

Several years ago I went to a little session on how to save big at the grocery store. The instructor was a huge fan of The Grocery Game. She had brought a full table of things that she'd gotten for free at the grocery store by using the website to help her shop. (Humor me if you know all about this) I'd never heard of it and it sounded amazing to get things for free, and save up to 50% on your shopping trip. If you aren't familiar with it, The Grocery Game is a website that tracks sale trends and printed coupons and tells you when you can combine coupons with the product's lowest price. For a few dollars a month you can use their system to make your lists and be able to find and print coupons.

We signed up and for a while I did it religiously, and we did save a crazy amount. Once we had kids however, I found I didn't have the time (or the energy) to cut out as many coupons, or stick entirely to the list. We quit doing it, but I felt guilty every time I went to the store because I knew I was paying too much. Our bills were much higher than when we had used the game. A few months later we found Coupon Mom. It's basically the same as the Grocery Game, except it's free! The weekly list shows you what your chosen store has on sale and how much it's on sale compared to the regular price (20% off, 40% off, etc.). It also lists the coupons so if you want to save more you can clip those. It tells you which coupon circular they are in (these are the ones that come in the Sunday newspapers: Smart Source, Red Plum, P&G, sometimes a General Mills) and the date that it went out. 

Like I said I don't have a lot of time to clip coupons, so what we do now is save all the coupons in a file folder by date and just write the date on the cover of each. Then as I look at the list, if there a product that's free with the coupon (ex: Colgate toothpaste is on sale for $1 and there's a $.50 coupon, which King Soopers doubles up to $1, so it's free) or coupons for something I really want, I just pull out and clip those. I never spend more than 5 minutes pulling out coupons for a trip, I only cut the ones I'm using right then, and I usually save $10 or so just in coupons, which for 5 minutes or less of my time seems like a pretty good wage. 
If you are willing to cut coupons, keep in mind that free is free, so even if you don't own a cat, if you are willing to clip it and buy it you can donate that cat food to the humane society, or extra toothpaste can go to the food bank or homeless shelter, at no real cost to you. Coupon Mom also has a coupon finder, which lets you search for coupons for items that you want to buy, so even if it's not on sale, if you need and and plan to buy it anyway you can find and use a coupon whenever you want. Even if you plan to never clip a grocery coupon I still highly recommend Coupon Mom, because in a few seconds you can still pull up the list of what's on sale, know if it's a good deal or not, and stock up on the things that are a good deal (knowing that they probably won't be on sale again for a couple of months), no coupons necessary.

{A few things about grocery coupons}
Don't get tricked into thinking you are getting a good deal just because you are using a coupon. That's why companies print them! If Kraft cheese is $4/bag and you have $1 off coupon, but Kroger cheese is $2.50/bag you are still paying more to use the coupon on Kraft. Always price compare with a comparable product, and try to learn what is a good price for your favorite items.
Make sure you are comparing apples to apples; check to be sure it's the same number of ounces or count per package. Lots of stores give you the price/oz. right on the price tag so you can compare if it's cheaper per oz. to buy 64 oz. instead of 12 oz., etc.. Do you know that sometimes it's cheaper to buy half-gallons of milk than full gallons? Simple math can save you a lot of money.
Many store brand products are made in the same factories as the the name brand (recalls have revealed this to us). With a few exceptions I have no problems buying store brand everything, but you have to pay attention, sometimes with a coupon name-brand will be cheaper than store brand.


I think that a lot of people get wrapped up in just couponing at the grocery store, but I would say that we save the most yearly by using coupons for eating out, you just have to know where to look. McDonalds and Burger King send coupons or whole books of coupons in the Sunday papers about monthly. Lots of them are for totally free stuff, no purchase necessary. We're not eating a lot of Big Macs, but I'll take a free smoothie or a french fry snack while the kids play at the play place, thank you. These 7-eleven coupons were given to us at a festival where companies set up booths and give out samples and coupons. I've found that coupons given at a company booth are usually good for up to a year, so it's worth going back for a few more if it's a product you like.  : )

Facebook is also a great way to get deals. "Like" your favorite places and get BOGO deals or free stuff, or just be in the know for when they are having sales or specials (Starbucks Frappy hour anyone?).  Not on Facebook? You can sign up for email fan clubs to get more and different deals. We get a BOGO Bilzzard from DQ every month (if we want it), and we never go to Qdoba with out a BOGO coupon in hand, which we just print from our email, or show on a smart phone (if you have one, which I don't). Be sure to also get frequent buyer cards so you get rewarded every so many purchases. For coupons and frequent buyer cards I suggest designating a place to keep them a folder or drawer just for restaurant/entertainment coupons. Then when you are trying to decide what to do or where to go, you can pull out all your discounts and see what sounds good or what's expiring soon. 

Some of our better restaurants run BOGO coupons or free appetizer deals as ads in our local newspaper, so it's always worth a glance through the paper as well. We have also used Living Social or Groupon for restaurant or entertainment deals, with varying results. If you know you'll go there and spend that amount it can be a good deal, but if you don't usually spend that much or go to that place we have found, it's not worth it to just get "more for your money." Once you add tax and tip on the full amount it tends to be more that we would have normally spent, which ends up not feeling like a very good deal after all. 

Thanks for reading this far. I hope something in this post is helpful to you. See you soon for more money-saving tips!  

                         Part III: Entertainment, Gifts & Gardening


  1. I definitely need to get better at this. Thanks for all the tips!

  2. Great article! I especially like your introduction. I do have a paying job, but I feel that saving money is very worthwhile as it makes my salary stretch farther.

    A lot of the products in coupon supplements are things I won't buy because they're unhealthy, overpackaged, or made by Nestle. About 1 coupon in 10 is one I might ever use, so it makes sense to me to flip through the circulars soon after they arrive, clip any useful coupons, and file them by category (cereal, fruits, etc.). When I'm getting ready to go to the store, I take the list of what we need, look at the sale flyer and add bargain items to my list, then check whether I have coupons for any items on the list; while I'm at it, I pull any coupons that are close to expiring and take them along in case they make the purchase affordable. For things like eggs that we buy frequently, we're able to use a coupon for almost every purchase.

    But your point about comparing brands and package sizes is a very good one! When I have a coupon that isn't going to give me a good enough deal and will expire before I need to buy that product again, I leave the coupon on the shelf next to the product in case another shopper wants to use it.

    coupons.target.com has a big selection of coupons that can be redeemed only at Target stores. They're often really good deals! They're not just for groceries but clothes, toys, etc.

    Another way I save on groceries is to shop multiple stores.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and for adding your tips Becca!


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