Teri Gault, founder of the Grocery Game has a life-long interest in saving money at the grocery store. On her early shop-and-save experiences, Ms. Gault says, "At twelve, I was often given the duty of grocery shopping with just $10 or $20. I don't remember feeling pressured, but rather challenged to make it work!" This early obsession with not overpaying has made her one of the rock stars of the extreme couponing movement.
How It Started
As with most innovative ideas, The Grocery Game started out of necessity. Gault had a drastically reduced food budget and had to feed her family in $35 worth of rolled coins every week. She summarizes her story by saying, "In the late 90s, I was a mother of two, working part time as a professional singer and recording artist. The entertainment business was slowing down for me, and eventually my husband lost his job in the film business. Neither one of us could get a job to make up for that lost income. Eventually, we resorted to selling everything that wasn't nailed down to pay our rent and put food on the table."
This economic necessity led her to try to find ways to save money. She soon learned new tricks, like tracking sale cycles. She had a knack for discovering great grocery deals and started sharing shopping tips with her friends.
Gault soon realized that others would appreciate this type of information. In 2000, she started the website The Grocery Game, initially available to subscribers in southern California. Today, the company has 28 employees and is a successful, national business. Gault's husband also works full time -- for The Grocery Game.
How The Grocery Game Works
The Grocery Game takes the guesswork out of sales cycles and helps shoppers use coupons to maximize savings. The company does all the research, compiles it into a massive database, and publishes the findings onto a list known as "Teri's List."
Here's a sample list.
- The company combines careful analysis of grocery stores' individual sales cycles with regional and national coupon releases from both stores and manufacturers.
- A subscriber signs up for a list to his or her local grocery that details both advertised and, more importantly, non-advertised sales, and the corresponding coupons for sales items.
- Subscribers then shop based on the list's suggestions.
The Grocery Game calls members "players" and the action of using the right coupon "playing the coupon". Color-coded indicators on the list advise subscribers when best to play the coupon.Membership to the site costs $10 every eight weeks for one store's list per week. Multiple lists cost an additional $5 each. So at minimum, you're paying $65 a year for the service.
In 2010 the site's comparison shopping feature launched -- the first of its kind in the world. No longer do you have to spend time digging through papers to find the best deal and wonder what unadvertised savings you are missing. The Grocery Game now offers a comprehensive matrix of sales within a certain radius of your zip code.
Gault said, "With food costs reaching record levels, people are cherry-picking and don't even realize it. Eager seekers of deep discounts on everything from toothpaste to tofu hit several supermarkets and even drugstores every week. Since success requires careful planning, strategy, and loads of time, even I never advocated cherry-picking. But with rising grocery prices, I decided to create software to make cherry-picking fast and profitable."
Advantages and Disadvantages
Extreme couponing has its drawbacks. However, once you are aware of the disadvantages associated with the effort, you can do better at mitigating them. This will allow you to save even more.
- A lower grocery bill. With dedication to the process, most subscribers to The Grocery Game claim to save one-third to one-half of their previous monthly grocery bill. This varies, of course, by budget, purchases, and frequency of shopping. But with careful planning, most report reducing a monthly grocery cost for a family of four by $100 or more.
- A like-minded community. Members share tips and saving strategies through a message board on the website. They also exchange online printable coupons and tips on where to find the best coupon codes.
- Additional savings ideas. The site offers many savings strategies for grocery and other shopping, including holiday shopping.
- An incentive for referrals. Subscribers earn up to 12 additional list weeks if they refer three paid members.
- There are not lists for all grocery stores. For example, out of five major grocery chains in this author's location, only one grocery list was available, along with one primary drugstore chain. Sometimes there is only one store per state. Depending on where you live, this could have an impact on the success of the program to meet your needs.
- Coupons aren't available for everything. Manufacturers rarely offer coupons on important food items, such as fruits and vegetables. Most newspaper coupons are for items "inside the perimeter" of the store: the processed food aisles. So take heed in using coupons for items that aren't necessary or healthy.
- You only save on what you actually use. Redeeming coupons or stockpiling items you and your family won't use isn't saving money. You'll need to plan your shopping carefully for the best return.
- Some products are cheaper elsewhere. The markup on non-grocery items such as shampoo, pet food, school supplies, and other incidentals can be substantial in a grocery store. Do a little research first to determine whether shopping with coupons for those products is worth it at a grocery rather than another retail outlet.
- Time is money. Most savvy shoppers already know that it takes time to review the list, plan meals, find coupons, outline sales, and put it all into action. If you decide to pay the membership fee to The Grocery Game, remember that you're spending both time and money to make this work.
The Grocery Game offers a four-week trial for just one dollar. During the trial, you can sample as many lists from available stores as you like in order to see what works best for your needs.
Is it worth $1 to give it a try? Absolutely. If anything, playing The Grocery Game will give you a better education regarding store sales cycles and how you can most benefit from them.