Money Moment: Stretching Your Grocery Dollar

By Dr. Jennifer Hunter

Welcome to episode 20 of the Money Moment podcast, with Dr. Jennifer Hunter.

Dr. Jennifer Hunter

Regardless of the reason—whether it’s to save a few extra dollars, or the thrill of scoring a good deal—couponing has become very popular. Have you seen TLC’s popular television show Extreme Couponing, how families save hundreds of dollars at the register by using coupons? Do you ever wonder how someone can save that much at the grocery store? Although most of us will not be able to reduce our grocery bill to a few dollars, there are a few simple couponing strategies that we can use to stretch our grocery dollars.

Develop a plan

The first step before even setting foot in the store is to get organized. Planning for meal time can help you save both time and money, whether you use store ads or coupons. At the beginning of every week, spend a few minutes planning the meals you will eat for the week. It is often helpful to look at a calendar, keeping in mind which nights you or members of your family have activities. This will help prevent the last-minute panic of trying to figure out what to serve for dinner or turning to fast food or the drive-through option.

Make a list

As you prepare your grocery list do not just think about the evening meal, but all meals that you will be serving for the week, including breakfast and lunch for both school and work. Also consider meal options that include items you already have at home, especially perishables such as meat and dairy products.

Once you have a meal plan for the week, search your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Make a list of the items you need to pick up at the store to complete your menu. You will also want to add any kitchen staples that you may need.

Search for sales and coupons

Scott Griessel-Creatista/Photospin

After your list is complete, search your local store’s weekly sale ads and coupons to find the best price. Sale ads as well as coupons can normally be found online, at the store or in the Sunday edition of your local newspaper. As a military family, you may also find coupons that have been sent to the base. You may request coupons directly from manufacturers, although there is no guarantee that they will respond.

Be flexible with your meal plan but stick to your list

If you see a great bargain on an item, such as beef or chicken, consider rearranging your list to incorporate it into the menu. However, while you are at the store, stick to your list. A last-minute change at the store could leave you without a key ingredient to complete your meal plan.

After you review weekly sale ads and coupons, keep in mind that if you can purchase the item for 50% or more off its original price, it is a very good deal. For example, let’s assume macaroni and cheese normally costs $1.20 a box, but it is on sale this week for $1 and you have a $0.50 off coupon. If the store allows doubles coupons, your mac and cheese would be free. But if not, it would only cost you $0.50, a savings of nearly 60%. This is an item that you would want to grab, but only if your family likes mac and cheese. Do not buy a bargain just because it is a bargain. If no one at home likes a food item but it is a good deal, either pass on it at the store or purchase it and donate it to a local food bank or charity.

Become an informed consumer

You will need to become an informed consumer to know whether a sale really is a good deal. Maintaining a spending diary is a good financial practice to monitor monthly expenses. A detailed grocery spending diary will help you quickly recognize a bargain price. Track the prices you typically pay for common household goods. You can reference your grocery diary to see whether an advertised sale price is really a good deal, and if you should stock up on it or wait for a better price.

Make use of the internet, but be discerning

Searching for and scanning weekly grocery ads and coupon circulars can seem like a time-consuming task for a busy person. Consider using internet search engines, social media and both store and coupon website to help make this process faster. There are several websites that can help you locate the best deals and coupons quickly. Be cautious of fee-based websites. There are several reputable free sites available.

Talk with friends and other couponers to find the best online resources. If you are considering a fee-based site, be certain you understand the fees and the services provided. Be cautious about coupons on the internet. Coupons can be counterfeited the same as money and it is illegal to use fake coupons. Make certain that you are printing coupons from a legitimate source. You might recognize names such as Red Plum or Smart Source from coupon circulars that are normally in the Sunday paper. These may be websites that you also might want to check out. These are examples only and there are many other sources of internet coupons.

Learning to coupon takes time and patience. Try not to become overwhelmed. Remember, small savings are still savings and they provide you with additional cash that can be a bonus for your budget.

Join us for the next episode, about date night on a budget!

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