GCE Update: Basic Coupon Resources

This is my February update to the Grocery Coupon Experiment. Follow along to learn more about couponing and how you can shave off some money from your grocery bill.

My coupon experiment is off to a slower start than I initially intended. Nevertheless, I did spend the last few months trying to find coupon-rich “centers” that could save us some money, and made good progress.

One important parameter has changed since the experiment kicked off in January. While our intent was always to avoid pre-packaged and processed foods, we have recently increased our focus on eating healthy, organic, and local foods, more than ever before. That’s going to present an added challenge to reducing our grocery costs by 50% but we’re up to that challenge.

About Today’s Post

Today’s post covers some of the basic places I found coupons, and roughly what you can expect from each. For many of you, this post might be a boring review. But my idea is to approach this from scratch, so I’m taking you though every step of my journey.

This is basically how I started—spending the first few weeks in search mode, finding and organizing coupons that I thought I might be able to use.

So let’s go through some of the places I found coupons, shall we?

Local Mailings

The most obvious place to find coupons is right in your own mailbox! They come in many forms, the most common being:

  • Coupon collections like Valpack that might feature 40-50 local restaurants, car repair shops and stores, and get mailed out every 30-60 days.
  • Weekly coupon catalogs (like Redplum) that might have local grocery store flyers, BOGO deals, pizza ads, cable deals, and more.

There’s so little work involved, it’s almost laughable. You just need to keep an eye out for these coupons in the mail and search through them before you toss the papers in the trash.

Sunday Paper

After searching through coupons that come to you, the next most obvious place to look is the local Sunday paper. The reason you only need Sunday’s is because the majority of the coupons you want are added to the paper only on this day of the week.

This method costs a little bit of money, since the Sunday edition is usually a little pricier than a weekday print, but you can usually save enough on the coupons alone to make it worth your while.

Online Coupon Aggregators

To see and clip many grocery and personal care coupons all at once, coupon aggregator sites seem to be the best place to start online. Most of these make searching, browsing, saving, and printing your coupons simple, and they update their stock of coupons regularly.

Some of the more notable sites I have found have been:

Manufacturer’s Websites

Another place I’ve had some success are manufacturer’s websites. It makes sense—manufacturers want you to try their product so you get hooked on a brand and continue buying their stuff.

In almost all cases, there was some kind of sign-up process in exchange for getting the coupon, so you might have to live with occasional emails about the product and in many cases also be limited to your initial coupon (unless you sign up with multiple emails, you trickster you).

Supermarkets

One surprising source of coupons has been the actual store where we do our grocery shopping. Actually, I have found this to be the case at two different grocery chains.

At the front of the store, there’s a rack (typically with the week’s sales circular) that has a bunch of coupons in a handout-format sheet or all separated and ready to be scanned.

There are also coupon machines (the pull-out kind) throughout the store, and typically located by their respective products. You just have to keep your eyes open.

Where have you had the best luck?

So that’s it—those are the main places where we’ve been able to find a good amount of coupons for things we would actually consider buying.

If you’re just a beginner learning along with me, or an experienced “couponer” who’s been at this for a while, where have you had the best luck finding coupons?

6-Step Analysis of a Grocery Store Receipt

Today, I’m going to share the actual receipt from my most recent trip to the grocery store. It’s a short receipt, because I only needed a few things for the week, but it’s perfect for a demonstration of a short analysis I go through after almost every trip to get food.

The point of this isn’t to micro-manage your shopping experience or to eat barley for the rest of your life. But doing this often enough sends small adjustments into your head that eventually lead to larger, money-saving changes.

Let’s get right to it—here’s the scan of my receipt from this weekend:

1. The total

Have you ever done this?

You shop at the same grocery store for years because it’s closest to your home. For whatever reason, you decide to check out a different store that just opened in your neighborhood. You buy essentially the same groceries, and check out, where the total shocks you!

(Hint: Higher than expected—go back; lower than expected—stay!) Smile

Regular shoppers usually have a good gut feeling about what their total will come out to. With a lot of local competition for grocery stores, I like to cross-check the receipt total with my gut feelings to see how well I did. If I’m higher than expected, there’s usually a reason (unusual ingredients, different store, etc.) that I can find and fix.

Our total today was $43.86, which was lower than expected for everything I put in the cart. The reason is actually the store itself—we’ve found that this particular grocery store offers everything at very competitive prices in comparison to where we usually shop. That’s valuable info!

2. Most expensive item

Scanning down the list of items, I look for the one or two most expensive things I bought that day. While the bulk of the total is actually the sum of all the little things you buy, spotting an unusually expensive item can give you a good reality check.

This is how I caught on to the “deal” I was getting with cherries a few years back. While they were technically on sale for $1.99/lb, the small bag usually weighed enough to make it $7-$10! You can imagine my surprise, since I didn’t bother to weigh it before check-out.

Today’s most expensive items were the sliced turkey breast ($7.06), and the top round steak ($5.49). Both were inexpensive and on sale, so there’s no need for me to worry there.

3. Best deal I got

When I shop at the grocery store, I typically look for the sale and deep discount items (like BOGOs). Most of the receipt is filled with these discounted items, unless there’s a particular staple that I need to buy that day.

I like to identify the one item I got the best deal on that day. Today, that’s probably the sliced ham ($2.54). I got a fairly thick bag of fresh deli ham for a killer price.

4. Worst deal I got

These days, it’s a rarity that I get a really bad deal on something. I’m careful with my selections and know what to avoid for big surprises at the check-out lane. But there’s always something I could do better on, so I like to find these groceries on the receipt in the hope of keeping my eyes open.

The Activia Yogurt, for example is an 8-pack for $4.49. I could get the same yogurt at my local Costco in a 24-pack for about $10, basically getting a third 8-pack for free. I need to become more diligent about getting some groceries at the wholesaler to shave money off the total monthly bill.

5. Something I could do without

Even though we’ve progressed to a point where we rarely buy extravagant things, I still like to identify at least one or two items on every receipt that we could do without. It’s usually some kind of treat or “upgrade” to a standard food, and reminds us to be thankful about the things we can still afford to get.

On today’s receipt, we have several of these treats:

  • Bread, $3.99: For me, a sandwich is 80% bread, and 20% everything else. If I don’t get the best bread available, I won’t like my sandwiches, and therefore kill my habit of eating lunch at work (which, in turn, saves me about $40 a week). Call me a bread princess, but I’ll take that trade-off! Smile
  • Yogurt, $4.49: This is a great weight-management snack, though we prefer Activia because it’s gentler on the stomach. That means a bit extra is spent over the store brand.
  • Premium Eggs, $3.59: I regularly buy eggs that are hormone-free and vegetarian-fed. They’ve come down in price, but are still a premium over the standard egg carton.

6. Something I should get more of

There are times where we miss an obvious deal staring us in the face because something is priced “per pound” or otherwise distorted, or we’re simply in a rush. The truth becomes obvious at checkout, and there are often some good surprises. “Wow, I had no idea that green pepper would only cost 43 cents!”

I like to search the receipt for these gems. Sometimes this is the “best deal,” but more often than not, I don’t really need any more of that particular item. Today, for example, I think I would have done OK getting more cucumbers. They were on sale for .50 cents each, and they are both large and filling additions to any good salad.

A Word on Money Mantras

I think of mantras as things you repeat in your head often enough that they eventually get through and make an impact on your actions. For me, this simple store receipt analysis is like a money mantra—over the long term, I notice trends and patterns that I would have otherwise missed.

This translates into better shopping habits, helpful changes, and fun surprises.

Am I just overly analytical? Have you ever done this to your receipt? Share your comments on the site today!

Photo by basykes