05/3 2010

Tips for the Time-Strapped: How to Save Money on Your Food Bill

Take the coupon challenge and save money on your grocery bill

My super on-the-ball friend Julie has inspired me. When she visited Boise a few weeks ago, she told me that she was taking the coupon challenge (despite her husband’s skepticism) as a means of saving money on her monthly grocery bills. Her inspiration was Stephanie Nelson, otherwise known as the Coupon Mom. Julie had read Nelson’s book, The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half. If you don’t have time to read the book, however, you can read more about Nelson on Oprah’s web site.

Are you up for the coupon challenge?

What’s so appealing bout Nelson’s approach is that she offers cost-saving tips for a variety of shopper lifestyles, even for folks like me who don’t have hours to cut coupons and find the latest deals. At a minimum, she promises to save shoppers 15% on their monthly grocery tabs. And if you’re more organized and/or have more time on your hands, you can save as much as 50%.

Even if you never clip coupons or plan your shopping trips, perhaps some of the following statements describe you.

  • I spend too much money at the grocery store each month.
  • I make frequent impulse purchases which send my grocery tab skyrocketing.
  • I do not have the discipline or interest to cut coupons.
  • Even if I do cut them out, they sit in a drawer until they expire.
  • I’d like to buy more organic foods, but I can’t afford it.
  • I would like to save money on groceries.

Pretty much every statement describes me, but if two or more of them sound like you, then you may be ripe for a challenge, too.

Easy ways to save money

When I did marketing research last summer, I interviewed several moms who regularly cut coupons and filed them neatly in a small organizer (by food type), ready for the next grocery visit. Impressed and inspired, I immediately bought the same organizer so I would follow in their footsteps. And it’s still sitting (empty) in the same place I put it last year after I bought it.

accordion folder

Being a forgetful and disorganized mom makes coupon cutting seem like a monumental task. But it really can save you money!

Conveying more of what Julie told me, here are a few quick tips.

Plan, plan and plan some more. Planning meals in advance is one sure way to avoid expensive, impulse purchases. If you plan meals around store specials, you can save even more. Check out Diana’s tips for great organizational ideas that are healthy, too. Angela, writing at the Coupon Project, also has reiterates the importance of planning in her post of coupon myths and misconceptions.

Cut/print coupons. You can scope out the Sunday paper for the FSI (Free Standing Insert), print coupons from www.couponmom.com or other couponing web sites, like savings.com. Or go directly to the websites of your favorite manufacturers and grocers. If you choose one resource, it may curtail the time and effort involved. The Thrifty Mama suggests baby steps for couponing your way to a healthier lifestyle.

Cutting_Coupon_701460

Know which grocery stores offer double and triple coupons. It may require a longer drive, but the savings may make the extra miles and minutes doubly (or triply) worth the effort. Here’s a great reference for various store coupon policies.

Load savings onto your grocery store card. I can’t remember coupons, but I always have my grocery store card with me (or better yet, I can remember my phone number and can enter that). Via www.shortcuts.com, shoppers can load coupons onto their card online. This saves the hassle of cutting and carrying coupons to the store. When you check out? Voila! The savings are automatically deducted from your final bill.

Grab the store circular. Some of you may actually receive these via mail, but it’s a great fallback for folks that leave the coupons at home. Pick up one of the weekly flyers on your way into the store and check out what’s on special. This requires no advance planning and could save you money right off the bat.

Store circular

Check out restaurants.com. My friend Jodi has been trying to get me to visit this site for ages and I finally did it! Wow. You can save so much money at some of your favorite eating establishments. All you do is type in your zip code, check out the restaurants participating, pay and print. We cut the bill of our favorite local pub by 1/3 all in a matter of a few minutes.

Take the coupon challenge for a week

Are you ready to take the challenge? If so, try it for a week and let me know how much you saved! Whoever reports the greatest savings over the next two weeks gets a free copy of Stephanie Nelson’s book!

Coupon Mom Guide to Cutting Grocery Bills in Half

There are a number of ways to track your progress. SparkSavings has a spending tracker. There are a number of iPhone apps to help you track your budget. Or if you use a debit or credit card to purchase food, you can easily categorize your purchases at then end of the month directly via your bank.

Good luck and keep me posted! I’ll report the winner in two weeks.

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