Mrs. Frugalwoods shares how to save money on groceries without having to clip coupons.
Fun fact—I hate coupons. Sure, I’ve tried clipping coupons in the past, but I don’t anymore. In fact, when I think about how to save money on groceries, couponing has fallen to the bottom of my list. Why?
For one, most coupons are for products that my family and I don’t buy. If we didn’t need it before I found a coupon for it, then we don’t need it at all.
Secondly, my time is worth more than the savings coupons yield. I have no desire to spend hours poring over coupons with the slim chance that I might save a few bucks on my toilet paper. I find it’s far more profitable (for my time and my money) to shop smart in the first place.
While extreme couponing is touted as a stellar way to save money, I’ve never found that to be the case. And despite my abhorrence of these little slips of paper, my husband and I still only spend between $300 to $350 each month on food for our family. Since we don’t eat out, this total accounts for everything we consume.
Our savings begin before we set foot in the grocery store. The first step to a successful frugal grocery trip is meal planning. To accomplish this, my husband and I take a few minutes each week to map out what we’re going to eat. Since he cooks all of our meals but I do all of our grocery shopping (along with our daughter), I need to know what he wants to make in advance!
Following this discussion, I create a detailed list that guides my grocery journey. An essential element of list-making is to do it inside our kitchen. That way, I can quickly count how many eggs we have and note just how empty the peanut butter jar is. Any time I fail to do this, I always misjudge and overbuy—this is how we once ended up with four dozen eggs. For some reason, I always think we have less in our pantry than we do. It’s best for me to stick to list-making next to my actual refrigerator and not the perennially empty fridge of my imagination.
Buying in bulk is another crucial recommendation when we’re considering how to save money on groceries. Our $55 annual membership to Costco pays for itself many times over through their discounted large quantities of everything from olive oil to dog food to almonds. Shelf-stable products are particularly wise to buy in bulk, as they’re unlikely to expire before we’re able to eat them.
What Are Coupons For?
Since I’m on the topic of groceries, let’s examine what grocery store coupons typically comprise. More often than not, they’re for packaged or pre-made foods, which—newsflash—are more expensive in the first place. The very best way to save money at the supermarket (in addition to making a list) is by avoiding these ready-made products and instead opting for raw, fresh ingredients that’ll yield a lower bill from the get-go.
Although grocery stores sell all kinds of stuff, I’ve found that—as a general rule—I save the most when I don’t purchase anything that falls under the following categories:
1) Packaged food
Almost without fail, the component ingredients of a dish are cheaper than the pre-made analog. Take cookies, a personal favorite of mine. A package can run upwards of $5, but the ingredients—flour, sugar, butter, and the like—net out to pennies per batch.
2) Pre-cooked items
In the same vein as packaged stuff, pre-cooked products are usually a frugal fail. Although these foods are often cheaper than getting take-out or going to a restaurant, they’re certainly more expensive than cooking. However, if we’re strapped for time and the option is take-out or supermarket pre-cooked food? We go with the grocery store every time!
Although I’ve discovered rare exceptions, grocery stores don’t typically offer the best prices on household items. For things like toilet paper, dish soap, vitamins, diapers, and such, I find better deals at warehouse stores (like Costco, BJ’s, Sam’s, or Wal-Mart) or on Amazon.
Do Coupons Save Time? (No.)
The other main reason I don’t participate in the coupon game is the value of my time. As a work-at-home mom, I already have more than enough demands on the hours in my day. Coupon clipping simply isn’t worth it for me.
In addition to the time it would take to wrestle through stacks of coupons in search of something my family actually needs, I’d then likely need to run around to several different stores in order to realize these savings. That’s time-intensive and a fuel drain to boot!
Instead, to facilitate the $300 to $350 per month we spend on food, I shop at my local discount supermarket. Since I know these prices are the lowest to begin with, I don’t feel the need to price-check everything or mess around with coupons.
I did, however, put in some effort at the beginning of my frugal grocery shopping endeavors. I went to all of my area grocery stores and made mental notes of their prices. After doing this survey, I’m confident that the store I shop at truly does offer the best deals.
Thus, when I consider the total cost of couponing, I’m all the more resolute in my stance against them.
Do You Even Want that Coupon Item?
I have to slap my proverbial wrist when I catch myself thinking “buy one get one free on cat food—what a deal!” Wait a minute—I don’t even have a cat! It’s easy to get swept up in the allure of saving money, but it’s a lousy deal if I find myself tempted to buy things just because they’re on sale.
The power of suggestion is strong, so I must remind myself that if I didn’t need it until I saw the coupon, I probably don’t need it at all. And that is a profound delineation to make! Evaluating whether coupons are in fact saving money or just prompting excessive purchasing is an exercise every frugal person can employ.
Mrs. Frugalwoods writes at frugalwoods.com
about her journey to financial independence by age 33
and a homestead in the woods with her husband, daughter,
and greyhound Frugal Hound.
While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.