I hate coupons.
There. I said it. I. Hate. Coupons.
Okay, so that’s not quite right. In general, coupons are a good thing. They’re a way to save money. I love saving money. And if I look through my monthly expenses, one of the biggest and most flexible categories is my grocery bill. House payment, car payment, cell phone bill, these sorts of things stay pretty standard. But food is a category that can make or break my budget.
And seemingly, one of the easiest ways to save money on groceries is by using coupons. We’ve all seen the extreme couponing shows where people buy carts full of supplies and spend less than five dollars. There are also some great coupon sites online that tell you how to file away your coupon inserts and then which coupons you should use at which stores for the best bang for your buck.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
I don’t know about you, but I frequent one grocery store. Why? Because it’s clean and convenient. If I happen to go to a different store one week, that’s going to be where I do my shopping that week. I don’t have time to go to multiple stores to make sure that I’m getting the best deals. And I certainly am not going to be saving all of the newspaper inserts for weeks upon weeks. I tried it once. I don’t think I managed to save a dime.
(Side note – how many people even get a newspaper anymore? I do, but only because it’s the cheapest way for me to have unlimited online access to the newspaper’s website. Quite frequently, the paper goes straight from the porch to the recycle bin. Though the bag it comes in is great for kitty litter disposal.)
Every so often, I decide I’m going to clip coupons. I pull out my handy coupon folder and I make a point to only clip the coupons of things that I use. I don’t end up with very many coupons, and most end up being for cleaning supplies that I don’t need at the moment.
So clearly, couponing? Not my thing.
Okay, so how do I save money on my groceries if I’m not going to do the coupon thing?
It’s actually pretty easy, but it does require a bit of planning.
Make a List
This seems like it should be obvious, but you would be surprised how many people don’t make a grocery list. I keep a notepad stuck to my fridge and as I start running low on something, I write it down. That way, I know what I need and I also know what I don’t need. Before I go shopping, I pull down the list and do a quick mental check of what I’m going to eat this week. Since I’m just cooking for me, I don’t do hardcore meal planning, but I do think “Okay, I need X number of meals this week, what do I want to cook?” If you’re cooking for two or for a family, a bigger meal plan might work better for you.
Do you tend to forget your list on the way to the store? Put it on your phone. You don’t need a fancy app. Put it in a notepad app.
Check the Sales
Yes, I know this is part of couponing, but you’re not checking the sales to match your coupons. You’re just looking to see what’s on sale. Check the store’s weekly flyer. If you don’t get a newspaper, check it online. Is something you use regularly on sale? Double check if you need it (if you already have five boxes of pasta, it’s probably not worth it to buy more, even on sale). Is something you really like on sale? Add it to your list.
Watch the Unit Price
Pricing is tricky. Frequently, you go to the store and you can buy the same item in varying sizes. Say you need dishwasher cleaning tabs. They come in a pack of 20 or a pack of 50. Buying in bulk is always cheaper, so you should go for the bigger pack, right? Maybe not. Check to see how much you’re paying per tab. Frequently, the price tag on the shelf will give you the unit price. If not, pull out your phone and use your calculator. It just might be that the smaller size is a better deal, especially if the smaller size happens to be on sale and the larger size isn’t.
Be Careful About Stocking Up
About the only thing that I ever stock up on is toilet paper. Why? It doesn’t expire, and it’s not like I’m going to stop needing it any time soon.
When something is on sale, it’s always tempting to stock up, to buy well more than you need and store it away. This isn’t a terrible plan, but I think you should stock up in moderation for a few reasons.
For example, I kept stocking up on a particular brand of pasta I liked. It was on sale frequently, and I found myself with ten boxes on a shelf. The problem? I recently decided to go on a low glycemic diet to try to improve my health, and pasta as a main dish is no longer part of my routine. I still eat pasta from time to time, but now I really don’t need ten boxes. Thankfully, my neighborhood had a big food drive this past weekend, so someone will be able to use that pasta.
Other times, I’ve stocked up and then forgotten I had something, and it ended up expiring before I used it. That’s just throwing money away.
About once a month, I make myself go through my pantry and my cupboards and take mental note of what I have. I make sure nothing’s been shoved back in a corner and is at risk of being forgotten. I also pull everything out of the freezer and replace it in a much more orderly fashion. If you have a chest freezer, this is very crucial, as it’s so easy to lose things in the back of a chest freezer.
Consider an Online Service
Do you live in an area with grocery delivery or online grocery ordering for pickup? Check it out. I use a service provided by one of my grocery stores and for a small fee, my groceries come right to my door. Yes, it does cost more, but I have found that I actually save money. How? It prevents me from impulse buying for one. I can also do easy cost comparisons, since all of the information is right there online. My store also offers a service where I can order online and then go pick up the groceries for no extra fee. I probably should give that a shot, but I’ve gotten pretty spoiled by my deliveries!
So there you have it. Five super easy ways to save money without ever laying a finger on a coupon. They seem simple, but I know that I occasionally fall out of the habit and just show up at the store thinking “Okay, what should I eat this week?” It never turns out well for my wallet or my nutrition.