Last week I wrote about 7 Simple Ways to Save on Groceries. However, maybe you're already doing a lot of those things and are looking to move to the next step and save a little more. Today I have 7 more "advanced" strategies to help you stretch your grocery dollar.
1) Plan meals around sales - Planning meals should save you money whatever you plan to serve, but you can save even more if you don't just plan menus out of thin air (or your new magazine). Check your grocery store's weekly sale flier (you probably get this in the mail or with your newspaper), and check what's on sale this week. Then plan your meals around the sales. I normally use focus on meat and produce sales when planning my meals. For instance, if ground beef is $1.99/lb, I might plan meatloaf or chili for the week. And for our fresh fruit I normally buy whatever is the best deal, which is usually what is seasonal and freshest anyway!
2) Match sales and coupons - This is really the "secret" at the root of most amazing couponing deals. It's great to get $.50 or $1.00 off with a coupon or a sale, but combine them and you might get $2.00 or even more off one product. If you've been reading my blog, you can see that it is even possible to get items for free or close to it! In order to combine sale and coupon deals, you simply have to watch for sales and keep track of your coupons. If you keep your coupons organized (try an envelope, a box, or the Couponizer - ad on my sidebar), you'll know what you have when you see a sale. This strategy works best with items that you are a little bit flexible on. For instance, you can be pretty much guaranteed to be able to get breakfast cereal on a sale and coupon deal if you are willing to try different varieties and/or wait for sales.
3) Shop around - Another "secret" to getting great deals is shopping at more than one store. Some people discount this strategy because they think it means constantly running all over over town in search of bargains. However, it definitely doesn't have to be that complicated. A good start is to get your groceries at the supermarket and your paper products, toiletries, and cleaning supplies at a big box store (such as Walmart or Target). Grocery store tend to have higher prices on non-food items (except with occasional sales). If you want to take advantage of more bargains, try looking through your local store fliers each week and picking one additional store to visit to pick up some great deals. I usually end up visiting a good number of different stores by the end of each month, but I plan carefully so that I go only when there are several good deals to get or when I'm passing by anyway.
4) Take advantage of special promotions - You might have seen my posts on some of the bargains I have gotten recently at Harris Teeter's and Shoppers' triple coupon days. (For the uninitiated, triple coupons simply means that they triple the value of your manufacturer's coupons, so a $.50 coupon would be worth $1.50.) I normally use promotions like this to stock up on whatever is nearly free, and then work those items into my menus in susequent weeks. If a promotion like that is coming to your store, try looking online for blogs that will help you figure out the best deals. For my area, I always recommend Frugal in Virginia and Redemption Unlimited.
5) Make more from scratch - This is not a shopping strategies, but it is one of the best ways to save money on groceries. Depending on how much you cook or bake, try just making one or two new things from scratch that you would normally buy. Instead of buying a frozen lasanga for busy nights, make two lasangas one day and freeze one. Instead of buying cookies one week, whip up some simple chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin with the kids. For more ideas, you can check out my Bake It - Don't Buy It series from a few weeks ago.
6) Use what you have - Most of us actually have lots of food in our houses even when we "need" to go grocery shopping. Put this food to work! Crystal at Money Saving Mom entirely skips grocery shopping every so often and challenges herself to create meals from what she has in her pantry or fridge. Another important part of using what you have is not wasting extras and leftovers. My rule is that if I don't think I'll use it within days, I freeze it. Then I have frozen leftovers to pull out for a quick lunch or an extra block of cheese when I think I've run out.
7) Make cheaper meals - I don't want to perpetuate the stereotype that eating frugally means beans and rice, but it is true that beans and rice is a nutritious and cost-effective meal! But there are lots of ways to look for cheaper alternatives to what you've been eating. What about having one meatless meal each week? Or try buying cheaper cuts of meat and cooking in the crockpot. Look for meals that don't require too many ingredients, because that tends to add to the cost. As always, you can take this strategy only as far as you are comfortable with, but it definitely might be worth making some small changes to your usual habits to save money.
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