No one wants to pay more for groceries than they need to. Saving money at the grocery store is a skill, however, and not one that comes naturally to most people. Teri Gault is a natural-born saver. Her website, The Grocery Game, is the Internet's leading website on how to pay less when shopping for food. Ms. Gault sat down with LoveToKnow to share some of her secrets.
Good Deals and Bad Deals
LoveToKnow (LTK): What are some things that look like better deals than they actually are?
Teri Gault (TG): People think the giant packages are cheaper. Not always. Where there are three sizes, the medium size is often the better deal on cost per unit. But, add a coupon, and the math often favors the smallest package. Use a calculator to make a winning move! Store brands are another deceptively expensive way to shop. At regular price store brands are usually about the same as a name brand on sale. But name brand on sale with coupon usually beats store brand!
Price tags with appealing numbers should be avoided. Straight forward prices like $2, $5, etc. are rarely used, because some numbers are just more appealing. For example, 3/$5 is appealing. Even I saw avocados the other day at 3/$5, and my instant response was that I was feeling good about buying several. But that's $1.67 each!
Sales on end caps are most often good sales. However, the end of the aisle (end cap) is premium marketing space. Sometimes, the sale is not as good as another brand on sale within the aisle.
LTK: What's the biggest mistake that people make when buying groceries?
TG: There are a LOT of them!
- Making a shopping list and buying only what you need each week. When you make a shopping list of what you need, odds are that about 80% of what is on that list will not be on sale. So, if you shop week to week, buying only what you need, you will pay full price for most of your groceries for all eternity. Most everything you need or like should go on sale once every 12 weeks. And, since you can stock up on everything except milk and produce, think about buying things before you need them so you don't have to pay full price later.
- Making a meal plan is another big mistake. Have you ever taken a recipe into the store and found everything on sale? Never! That's why making a meal plan doesn't work. If you do what I've told you thus far, you will begin to have your own store at home. I have about 10 dinner options every night in my store. Look in your fridge, freezer, and pantry, and ask yourself each day, "What can I make with what I have been buying?" The possibilities are endless, you save money, and you don't have to plan!
- A lot of people cut a few coupons and go to the store, only to find out that its cheaper to buy a different item without the coupon. It's all about timing and deal stacking. Sale + manufacturer coupon + store coupon + register rewards = great savings! That's called stacking the deals, and most stores allow some sort of stacking, especially with a sale. We hold on to manufacturer coupons from the Sunday newspaper and redeem when the item goes on sale. Since most coupons are good for 9-12 weeks, eventually during the life of the coupon, the item will probably go on sale for even more savings. Check the circular for a store coupon which can be stacked along with a manufacturer coupon in most supermarkets. The fourth deal is the register reward. Many manufacturers are offering incentives to buy their products and rewarding at the register. For example, one manufacturer may offer $5 back at the register if you buy any combination of 10 of their items, which are usually also on sale. They don't all have to be the same items. In fact, some of those 10 items may be in the pasta aisle, cereal aisle, and dairy case.
- Keeping a coupon file, getting tired of it, and quitting. Instead of cutting and filing 150 coupons a week, just cut 20-30 of the ones you will use. The Grocery Game tells you what week the coupon came out in the newspaper. Keep the inserts intact, just cut the ones you need according to the date.
Saving Money and Time
LTK: What is the easiest way to save money at the grocery store for someone without a lot of time?
TG: Don't cut and file coupons. Keep your Sunday paper inserts intact, and mark the date with a big marker on the front of each insert. Use websites like The Grocery Game free coupon tracker and enter a search word like "yogurt". The tracker will give you a list of yogurt coupons with the date they came in your Sunday paper. It will also tell you where you can find any coupons for "yogurt" or anything else to print online. Now, instead of cutting and filing about 150 coupons a week, you can cut 20-30, just the ones you will use.
The best times to shop are weekdays and late nights. Weekdays during work hours, but not during lunch hour rush. But, the best time is late at night, when the kids are in bed, and almost no-one is in the store. You'll find people stocking shelves, ready to help you find things, and hardly any other shoppers.
Make your grocery list in order of the store. Most supermarkets have a store guide that gives you an aisle by aisle map of their inventory. Visit the customer service counter and ask for a print out of the store's layout or map. If they don't have one, a little time invested to familiarize yourself with the store will reap huge time saving benefits in years to come. Write down each aisle number and the categories posted over the aisles. Then on your home computer, create a document of your store's aisles numbers and all the categories in each of those aisles. Make your grocery list on that file template, placing your needs within the appropriate aisles. Now, print and take to the store, and walk up and down each aisle in order of your list!
Match coupons to sales to save the most. At home with a cup of coffee, pull up your supermarket's sale ad online, and find coupons to go with those same sales. Now put your coupons that you are going to use in your store's order. Now you walk through the store with coupons in hand in store order. Easy! Or better yet, with membership to The Grocery Game, you can pull up a list of advertised and unadvertised sales already in your store's order, and already matched up with coupons, and stacked with all the best deals available.
Organize at check out to save time at home. At checkout, I place everything on the belt by category as to how I will put things away at home. Everything in these categories for example: garage, freezer, refrigerator, pantry, utility room, kids bathroom, master bathroom, etc. I ask the courtesy clerk to try to bag everything according to my categories as much as possible. Once you're at home, putting away your groceries will be twice as fast. You'll grab the bag that goes to the utility room, and put away your laundry soap and window cleaner, a bag to the outside freezer, etc.
Spend Less When You Shop
You don't need to break the bank to eat well. By following Teri Gault's advice, you can start saving money while still eating the foods that you love. Start with a couple tips that seem easy to you, then integrate other advice as it seems appropriate.