I’m on a budget, and I don’t clip coupons . . .

I actually enjoy grocery shopping.  When I get really good food without spending a lot of money, I feel really clever, like I’m beating the system.  It’s a great feeling.


I have spent hours reading the blogs of supermoms who share their secrets for saving money on groceries. I’ve browsed websites where you can print all kinds of coupons.  And after all that, I hardly ever clip or use coupons.  And I’m okay with that.


There are a few reasons why I don’t clip coupons.  First of all, couponing in the Northwest is pretty much a wash.  We don’t have double or triple coupon days – well, maybe Albertsons still does that, but we don’t have Albertsons in our town.  And when I can only use three manufacturer’s coupons per purchase, it kind of takes the fun out of the whole idea of coupons.


Secondly, coupons don’t always give you the best deal.  Maybe our grocery stores (Safeway and Leprekon Harvest Foods) are just really expensive, but most of the time when I see a coupon I want to use, the discount is not as good as just shopping at Grocery Outlet.  And once in a while neither the coupons nor Grocery Outlet are as good as Walgreens’ sales.  This week Safeway has milk on sale for 14 cents cheaper than the cheapest milk in town and eggs for 30 cents cheaper.  But tomorrow Walgreens will have milk on sale for 20 cents cheaper than the cheapest milk in town and eggs for 70 cents cheaper.


Thirdly and most importantly, most coupons are for stuff I don’t buy.  I make most of our meals from scratch (or nearly scratch), I don’t have a pet or a baby, and I make my own cleaning and laundry products.


Now, I do use some coupons.  Safeway’s “Just for U” program lets you “clip” coupons online to your Safeway card, plus they offer personalized deals.  When I first joined Just for U, I did the majority of my shopping at Safeway and was saving 30-50% off Safeway’s retail prices, which was awesome.  But after the first couple months, I stopped getting so many good deals, and since part of the personalized offers are supposed to be based on stuff I already was buying, I can only assume that Safeway realized they were losing money by giving me 30% off produce on top of the sales on apples, grapes, and tomatoes, so they just cut back on things like that.  So now I hardly ever shop at Safeway, but once in a while they’ll do some really good sales so I have to keep checking every week.


Anyway, so in addition to Safeway, this is how my husband and I save money on groceries:


1) As I said before, I make a lot of stuff from scratch.  Generally, the more stuff you can make on your own, the more money you will save.  I’m sure there are exceptions.  Personally, I don’t make my own cheese or buy sprouted wheat.  I figure I’ll be doing well if I can whip up a batch of mayonnaise later this week.  But the things I choose to make rather than buy, do cost less than the store version.


2)  I plan meals.  This takes a little bit of time (not as much as you might think), but it saves even more time (not to mention money) at the grocery store.  I plan meals based on our schedule (because one of us has to have time to make the meals), current sales, and what we already have in our pantry.


3)  We make a list, and we stick to it.  This is probably the most important thing.  If you wing it at the grocery store, you will definitely buy stuff you don’t need or will never eat (especially if you shop when you’re hungry).  Or you may forget things that you do need.  But making a list is pretty pointless if you don’t stick to it.  I have a bad habit of getting additional stuff that’s not on the list, but it’s usually just to meet the quota I need to get a punch in my punch card, or because there happens to be a great sale on something we already buy.  My husband is a great list shopper.


4)  We comparison shop – to an extent.  This is a no-brainer, but we go where prices are the best.  However, if getting the best price on a product means driving out of town (we don’t have Costco in town), then forget it.  For our family of two, spending $30 on gas per trip plus an annual $50 membership is not worth the potential savings, especially considering that we don’t have the space to store all the items we would have to buy in bulk in order to save money.  Now, I know some people who do make regular trips out of town, shop at Costco, and it seems to work for them.  You have to figure out what works for you.

5) We use cash.  “Cash” to us doesn’t mean a debit card – it means actual physical bills.  We take a certain amount to the store, and what’s left over is our allowance.  For me, personally, using cash is a really good incentive to be frugal because I can actually see how much I have left and how much I’m spending.  For both of us, the knowledge that splurging (buying extra stuff we don’t need) means less allowance money, is great incentive to stick to the list.


Anyway, there are lots of ways to save money, whether it’s on groceries, clothes, toiletries, utilities, or anything else.  Most of the money we spend is discretionary – that is, we have some say in how much we spend.  From time to time we evaluate our current spending plan and see if it’s working.


What do you do to save money on groceries?


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