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6 Ways to Save on Groceries Without Clipping Coupons

Do you have that one Facebook friend who’s always posting about how much stuff she got at the grocery store for just a $1.99, thanks to some crazy combination of coupons she collected?

Part of me is full of admiration, but the other part can’t help wondering if these are actually good deals. It looks like the stuff in the picture is always something like soda or bottles of salad dressing — or worse. These things are great, but aren’t they, as my children say, a “sometimes” food?

I’m just not sure what I would do with three large bottles of ranch dressing and six liters of Coke — and I definitely don’t want that stuff lying around the house for my kids to sneak bites or sips of on a regular basis.

My point is that coupons are cool, but they can encourage you to buy stuff that you wouldn’t normally just for the rush of getting a good deal. Worse than that, most coupons are for unhealthy, processed foods — and that’s a raw deal for your diet and overall health.

So what can you do to cut down on your grocery bill? First, keep clipping coupons if it makes you happy — just be sure that you only hang on to ones for nutritious things you actually like to eat.

Next, branch out into other ways to save when you go grocery shopping. Try these six tips for trimming your food budget down to size so you can bank your money instead of — literally! — eating up your savings.

  1. Find the Cheapest Store in Your Area — and Stick With It

If you have more than one convenient grocery store in your area, spend an afternoon doing the legwork to figure out which one has the best prices. Consumer Reports has the skinny on the very cheapest stores in the country as well as which ones to avoid (looking at you, Whole Foods). If you’re not seeing your local shops on their list, grab a notebook and jot down the prices for five common items at each one: a gallon of milk, a loaf of your favorite bread, a box of Cheerios, a pound of ground beef and a head of lettuce. Then compare the prices to choose the store with the overall best deals. Once you’ve chosen, sign up for the rewards program at the winner to take advantage of their very best prices every day.

  1. Commit to Cooking

Lots of grocery stores have started selling prepared foods — think deli sandwiches, precut fruit platters, and those delicious rotisserie chickens. While delicious, these items are often just as full of salt, sugar and fat as anything you’d get at the drive-thru, and there’s no guarantee of freshness. You’re also paying extra for convenience. Sure, it’s not quite as much as eating out, but you’ll definitely save more money by cooking from scratch with regular ingredients — and you’ll have healthier meals to boot.

  1. Plan Your Menu Around the Circular

If you don’t get a daily newspaper any more, you may have forgotten all about the good old-fashioned circular. This is still a thing! You can pick one up at the customer service desk at your favorite grocery store any time, then check the dates to see when they come out so you can buy that day’s paper or go online to see the deals regularly. Once you do, use the sales to plan your menu. Two-for-one chicken breasts this week? Plan on chicken salad and Buffalo sliders. Good deal on avocados? Time for Mexican! If you’re willing to be flexible with your menu planning, you can take advantage of weekly deals to save on your groceries.

  1. Shop With a Calculator

Unless you’ve got a beautiful mind of your own, you should never go shopping without a calculator — your phone has one, right? It’s super-useful for figuring out per-pound pricing when you’re trying to comparison shop with different sized packages of food. It can also hold you accountable when it comes to sticking to your budget. All you have to do is keep a running total of the cost of each item in your cart. When you find yourself going over your weekly budget, it’s time to put back the Cheetos and fancy jam. Keeping track of the prices is powerful — you’ll never be surprised at the checkout again.

  1. The Grocery Store Is for Food ONLY

If your local grocery store has branched out into seasonal items like TIKI torches and snow shovels, stay away. Convenience items — that is, stuff you need but can’t necessarily eat — will be marked up much more at the grocery store than they are at other locations. Buy your soap and personal care items at the drug store, and steer clear of office supplies and kitchen utensils, too. Even beer and wine can cost a lot more at the grocery store, so resist the urge to stock up just because it’s there.

  1. Get Your Produce in Season

Think that you can’t afford healthy, fresh produce for your family? Think again! You can save money on fresh fruits and veggies if you know when to shop. When foods are in season locally, the abundance drives the cost down — even in your grocery store. For example, a tomato in January is much harder to come by, and you’ll likely need to purchase an import from Mexico. Winter tomatoes aren’t as tasty and they cost more, thanks to the additional cost of shipping them over long distances. Ditto for winter fruit from South America. Study up on when to expect fruits and vegetables to flood your local market, and stock up when they’re cheap and plentiful. Eat as much as you can right away, then freeze what you can’t use for later.

With a little strategic planning and your trusty calculator, you can save money on your grocery bill every time you go shopping — and you can eat more healthfully while you’re at it. Best of all? No scissors required or carpal tunnel suffered from excess coupon clipping.

About the author

Beth Trach

Elizabeth Trach is a writer and editor living in Newburyport, MA. She also sings in a band, grows almost all her own food, and occasionally even cooks it. You can catch up on all her adventures in frugal living and extreme gardening at Port Potager.

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