grocery shopping and couponing 101

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Happy Sunday! Sunday means a lot of things to a lot of different people. Church, football, a day of rest. But to me, Sunday means grocery shopping. I’ve been talking a lot recently about couponing and finding great deals, so I thought, on this Sunday, I’d give you a crash course on my strategy for getting the best deal at the market.

Pick a Strategy

Before you put a single item in a cart or even put a single item on your list, you need a strategy. Most importantly, you need to think about what stores you are going to and what day of the week. There are half a dozen Kroger stores in my town, two of which are much closer than the one I go to. But I like my Kroger because it is just big enough to have almost everything I want, without being so big it is intimidating, and it has an excellent Natural Foods section. It also has an attached gas station, which is important for reasons revealed later.

kroger

Some people choose to shop at multiple stores, buying what is the best deal at each store, but I just can’t handle fitting that into my schedule. It isn’t worth the stress to me. So I stick to one store.

The reason I shop on Sunday is three-fold.

  1. Smaller crowds. Shopping on the weekend is the name of the game for me and my 9-to-5 career, and Sunday is the preferable day of the two. Sunday mornings are especially nice because a lot of people spend Sunday mornings at church.
  2. No alcohol. As you know, I seriously love good beer and wine. In Indiana, it is illegal to sell alcohol on Sundays, so I am not tempted to slide any unnecessary alcoholic purchases into my grocery shopping trip (alcohol comes out of our entertainment budget, not groceries).
  3. Newest coupons. The Sunday paper means the freshest batch of coupons.

Find the sales and the coupons

On Sunday mornings, one of the first things I do is walk down to the bus stop at our apartment complex and buy the Sunday newspaper.

newspaper

Now, the chances of me using the coupons in this specific paper are pretty slim, but adding these coupons to my library can help in future weeks. Building a coupon library allows you a lot of flexibility about what coupons to pair with what sales.

Before I start on my list, I gather all the supplies.

coupons

My computer, the Sunday paper, last week’s list, my coupon binder and some tea. Oh, and some Christmas music.

pandora

My coupon binder is just a binder. Nothing fancy. Open it up and I keep this week’s Kroger circular in the pocket.

coupons

And then a pencil pouch with pens, post-its, and scissors.

coupons

After that is my coupon library. I have a pocket folder that has the labeled coupon inserts from the newspaper.

coupons

And then index card pockets to hold individual coupons.

coupons

First things first, I clear out expired coupons. Nothing is more frustrating than thinking you have an awesome deal and then realize your coupon is expired.

coupons

Next up, I pull out the inserts (there was only one this week) from the newspaper, label it and put it into my coupon library. SS= SmartSource, the name of the circular and then the date.

coupons

After that, I pull out the Kroger circular and circle anything I’d like to include in this week’s menu.

coupons

Kroger also tends to have additional sale items listed on their website. And that is where most of their organic sales are listed.

coupons

Next, I take a peak at a few couponing websites to see if there are any really great deals that I can’t miss.

coupons

CouponMom is a free site that lists deals for stores in each state.

coupons

I love seeing the red “FREE!” That means that when combining a coupon with the sale, I get this item for free!

coupons

The item is Suave Deodorant 1.4 oz. And the coupon is from 11-14 R2 (the second Red Plum insert from November 14th).

I actually picked up the deodorant yesterday, so I could show you my receipt.

receipt

The deodorant was on sale for $0.88. The coupon was for $0.50. Kroger doubles all coupons $0.50 and under.

deodorant

So I actually got paid $0.12 to “buy” this deodorant. Sweet! This happens very frequently with paper goods and toiletry items. It also happens with grocery items, but more rarely. You are more likely to just get really, really cheap groceries. For example, last week, I got whole wheat pasta for $0.48 a box. When that happens, I stock up!

Make your menu and list

Keeping in mind what is on sale, my next step is to craft my menu. Mine is organized in three sections: dinners, special (for times like this week when I need to bring food for Thanksgiving) and weekday food.

menu

I also refer to my pantry. As you might imagine, because I stock up when sales are good, my pantry and freezer are well stocked. No need to buy all “new” food when your pantry is stocked. For example, the night we are having spaghetti, I don’t need to buy any food because I stocked up on pasta last week and pasta sauce a few months ago.

At some point in here, your dog will probably wake up, stick her head between your legs and demand breakfast.

puppyface

Feed her. And then move onto making your list.

list

I put mine in order of the store. First up is produce, then the deli and bakery, etc. Add your items that are on super sale or free (such as the deodorant) and then start going through your menu. At this point I pull out cookbooks and recipes and take note of everything I need.

recipe

While making my list, I make a separate list of items to do a coupon search for.

coupons

From that list, I do coupon gathering. I’ll pull from my coupon library, search from the manufacturer’s websites and print online coupons. Sometimes I have no desire to search for coupons, so I just use what I have in my library. Other times I’m feeling particularly motivated and will spend hours finding coupons online.

coupons

Now I won’t use all these coupons, but I’d much rather have them with me. Take that coupon on top there. Chances are, the store brand pie crusts will still be cheaper than using the coupon on Pillsbury. But you never know!

bags

Pack it all up and get ready to head to the store. One last step before you leave.

cereal

EAT. Seriously. Don’t go to the store hungry. I ate oatmeal squares with banana, pom seeds and almond milk.

At the store

Phew! After all that work, you’ve finally made it to the store. This is the easy part! Once I grab my cart, I pull off to the side and get everything organized. I flip over my bags to use as a table, lay out my list, coupons, pen and pull up my calculator on my phone.

cart

Why the calculator? Because I keep a running total of my purchases. My weekly budget is $100. If I am significantly over that, I have no problems with adjusting my menu mid-store. If I am significantly under, I’ll buy some fun treats (chocolate milk, egg nog, chocolate bars). Knowing my total helps keep me in check.

produce

Keeping a running total means I weigh all my produce.

produce

Produce is normally pretty easy, I buy what is on sale and organic. Rarely are there coupons to deal with here.

calculator

I try to average around $25 in the produce area. Right on target!

store

Once you do get into the more coupon and sale dense areas of the store, make sure you pay special attention. It is a lot of math on the fly, but the stores do not make figuring out the best deal easy. Take for example these crackers. 2/$4 seems awesome! And much cheaper than these crackers we normally get at $2.79 box.

tags

But pay close attention to the per ounce box in the bottom lefthand corner. While the crackers above are only $2 for the box, they are $0.47 per ounce.

crackers

The other crackers are $0.79 more for the box, but are a better deal at $0.34 per ounce.

Pairing sales with coupons, find your way through the rest of the store and your list. Before I go through the checkout, I’ll pull off to the side and subtract my coupons from my running total.

shopping

I was right on target! Went through the check out and ended up with a total of $99.84.

groceries

And between the sales and coupons, it was a 22% savings. Which is actually very low, normally my percentages are between 30-40. Some weeks are better than others.

receipt

Other deals

Just because my groceries are bagged up and ready to head home, it doesn’t mean I’m done getting deals!

groceries

Many stores offer bonus deals for being a good customer. Kroger specifically offers discounted fuel. For every $100 you spend at Kroger in a month, you get $0.10 off per gallon of gas.

receipt

I spend around $400 a month and have $0.40 off reward. Remember when I said I like this store because it has an attached gas station?

gas

Yes, please!

gas

In my 10 gallon tank, that is a $4 savings!

The goods

Alright, let me show you exactly what I got for that $99.84.

* = on sale
= coupon

produce

  • Green Beans (2 lbs.)
  • Oranges (3 lbs.) *
  • Onions (3 lbs.)
  • Apples (4)(Organic) *
  • Romaine (2 heads) (Organic)
  • Bananas (4 lbs.)(Organic)
  • Celery (2 bunches) (Organic)
  • Carrots (2 lbs.)(Organic)
  • Cranberries (8 oz.)(Organic)

groceries

  • Plain Yogurt (34 oz.)(Organic) †
  • Half and Half (Pint)(Organic) *
  • Whipping Cream (Pint)(Organic) *
  • Chocolate Milk (Half Gallon)(Organic)
  • Skim Milk (Gallon)(Organic)
  • Butter (1 lb.)(Organic) *
  • Yogurts (3-6 oz. tubs)(Organic) * †
  • Soy Yogurts (Pack of 6)(Organic) †
  • Shredded Cheddar (8 oz.) * †
  • Cheddar Block (8 oz.) *
  • Mozzarella Block (8 oz.) *
  • Feta (6 oz.)
  • Eggs (1 doz.)(Cage-free) * †

groceries

  • Toilet Paper (4 rolls)
  • Salmon Filets (12 oz.)(Wild-caught) *
  • Chocolate Bars (2)(Organic) *
  • Peanut Butter (18 oz.)(Organic) *
  • Granola (1 lb.)(Organic) *
  • Spinach (3-10 oz. packages) * †
  • Pie Crusts (2) *
  • Wheat Crackers (8 oz)(Organic) *
  • Dried Cranberries (5 oz.)(Organic)
  • Mixed Nuts (2-11.5 oz. cans) *
  • Ground Beef (1 lb.)(Organic) *
  • Soup (Quart)(Organic) *

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

Leave a Reply

9 Responses
  1. I found your site through Spark People. I enjoyed this post. I used to be that organized and methodically in my grocery shopping but have gotten away from it. I need to get back to it.

  2. Josie

    I love how you’re so detailed and organized. I’m a big coupon-er, but not nearly as dedicated as you. Your blogs always inform and inspire me in new ways every day. Yay. Oh, and I notice (and “heart”) the Green and Black’s Toffee bar. Yum. 🙂

    – Josie (lady_josielot on SP)

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