How to Shop for Free at the Grocery Store
Let’s face it, we all want to get something for nothing. Who wouldn’t?! But can the average American get a cart full of groceries for free? The answer is yes, and it is easier than you think. Here’s how you can start shoppingfor free, one simple step at a time.
Step 1: Know the Rules Before You Go
Start by logging onto your favorite grocery store’s Web page and learningits coupon redemption policy. You’ll want to note the following information:
• Does the store double coupons? If so, what’s the maximum coupon value it doubles? Is it 99 cents, $1, or more? How many of the same coupon can you double per transaction?
• Do you need a rewards card in order to receive the savings? The card is easy to sign up for, but you’ll want to be aware in advance so you can have one.
• Can you use a buy one, get one free coupon with a buy one, get one freesale? This one is important: If so, you get both items totally free! Thestore will be giving you one item,and you will be paying for the seconditem in the form of a manufacturer coupon. Stores get reimbursed by the manufacturerfor redeemed coupons, plus a handling fee of 3 cents to 8 cents.I view coupons as a form ofcurrency,andstores, because they are getting reimbursed, should treat them as such.
• Can you stack store coupons with manufacturer coupons? Most stores will allow you to use a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon. This is referred to as stacking. Stacking a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon can double your savings and result in a free item. You usually can find store coupons on the grocery store’s website, Facebook page, or in store at the customer service desk. I recommend printing out a copy of the policy at each store where you plan
to shop. Highlight the sections that you believe sound too good to be true, like the buy one, get one free policy. If you get to the register and the cashier questions it, you can kindly present him or her with the store policy to clear up any discrepancies. Knowing a store’s coupon redemption policy is only half the battle; the other half is getting the coupons. Going out and buying multiple copies of the Sunday paper defeats the purpose of saving money.
Here are more frugal
ways to get coupons:
✓✓ Ask friends and neighbors for their extra, unused coupons.
✓✓ Put out a coupon collection box at your work, church, or office.
✓✓ Ask the paperboy for his leftovers.
✓✓ Write or email companies asking for coupons on their products.
✓✓ Join a coupon-trading group.
✓✓ Purchase coupons from clipping sites such as Klip2save or eBay. You usually can buy coupons for 8 cents apiece. If spending 8 cents savesyou $1 or more, it is an investment worth making.
Step 2: Devise Your Battle Plan
Before heading out, make a list of all the items you need first. Next, search the sales fliers to see whether your items are on sale locally. (At
this point, it’s also not a bad idea to check out what other items in the flier may be free or close to free.)
Once you have finished your preliminary list, check coupon matchup websites (such as mine at www.howtoshopforfree.net) to see what other couponers have found for free that you might want to add.
The key to shopping for free is to stockpile items. There is no sense in getting one item today for a nickel and then buying the same item at full price next week when you run out. Any time you find an item that can be had for free, ask yourself how many you will use between now and the product’s expiration date. Stockpiling enough of an item to keep it off your grocery list for a year or more will drastically reduce your shopping cost over time. If you find yourself having trouble getting the amount of a particular item you wanted to stockpile, there is no need to fret. Ask the store for a rain check, which extends the life of a sale. This tactic will often give you time to get your hands on more coupons, too.
Step 3: Know What You’ve Spent in the Past
If you really want to start saving money at the grocery store, you need to know how much you actually spend to begin with. Most people would be shocked to find out how much they actually spend on groceries each month. Do me a favor … go grab all your receipts from the past month and tally them up to see what you have been spending. Now take a deep breath — it’s
OK, we’ll get you through this. I want you to give yourself a new, lower budget and I want you to stick to it. Before you leave the house, make a list of everything you plan on purchasing and total up the prices. Some items on your list will be more difficult to calculate; for example, meat and produce are generally sold by the pound, with varying prices. The way to stay on budget for by-the-pound items is to set a budget per department. If you allocate $40 for meat and $20 for produce, add the items up before putting them in your cart — once in there, it’s harder to put an item back. If your meat adds up to $41.25, switch out a package for a lower-cost package so you stay within your budget. Once you have totaled your list and allocated budgets for each department, you know exactly how much you will be spending. Put that amount of cash in your pocket. Make sure you leave any and all credit cards at home — doing so will ensure you stay on track and avoid impulse buys.
Step 4: Find Hidden Savings in the Store
Just because you have your list and coupons in hand doesn’t mean you’re done just yet. Start looking for additional savings for items on your list right when you walk into the store. Many big-chain grocery stores will have their own store magazines — with coupons inside them — displayed on the same rack as their sale flier. It’s also a good idea to stop by the customer service desk and ask the clerk whether he or she has any coupons or special offers available behind the counter. In addition, don’t forget to search the store for discounted groceries. Almost all grocery stores have reduced-price sections that go unnoticed by many, and these areas are loaded with unbelievable deals on items you may already have on your grocery list.
In addition to coupons and deals, stores offer lots of perks that the average
shopper may overlook. For example, you may find that your store offers
• Complimentary coffee
• Free cookie samples at the bakery
• Free smash cake for your baby’s or grandbaby’s first birthday
If your store has a pharmacy, stop by and ask whether it offers any of the
• Free antibiotics during cold and flu season
• Low-cost prescription medication
• Free gift cards when you transfer a prescription to the store
The produce department will usually have a section or a rack of produce that is at or near peak ripeness. In order to sell this produce quickly, the price is cut by 50 percent or more. Those green bananas may be full price, but the yellow ones over on the reduced rack are a much better bargain. You can normally grab 4 to 5 pounds of those yellow bananas for about $1. If you aren’t planning on eating your produce for more than three days, you may want to pay full price to ensure freshness. However, if you want to eat them as soon as you get home, or the next day, buying from the reduced produce section is a deal you don’t want to miss.
Another great tip for saving on produce is to buy whatever is currently in season and local because these generally have the best bang for your buck. To maximize your savings, buy now and freeze for off-season enjoyment. Even better, consider growing your own fruits and vegetables. If you lack
garden space, no worries — grab a few simple containers and grow leaf lettuce on your countertop or patio. You can pack various herbs into one planter and have your own herb garden year-round.
If you’re out of milk, or running low, look for the milk with a short expiration date — it’ll usually be reduced 50 to 75 percent. If you know you are going to use a gallon of milk in three days, grab the one that is marked
down to $1.50 a gallon or less. If you won’t use a gallon in three days, grab the half gallon that’s marked down to 75 cents.
No half gallons available? Don’t worry, let’s think outside the milk carton
for a second — how much of that marked-down gallon will you use before the
sell-by date? If you buy a gallon for $1.50 and only use half of it before
it expires, you still snagged a better deal than paying full price. Why pay
$3.49 for milk that will be long gone before the expiration date?
For other dairy products, you can find yogurt, sour cream, and cheese
marked down 50 percent or more in the reduced dairy section. If you have
coupons for these items, you may even be able to get them entirely free.
All these items can be frozen and used at a later date; although the texture
may not be the same, frozen dairy products work great in cooked recipes.
The reduced bakery section is one of my favorite spots to visit. Every
morning the store will mark down yesterday’s baked goods by 50 percent. As
the day progresses, so do the savings, which very quickly become upward of
90 percent. Besides, how many times do you buy bakery bread or pastries and
not open the package until the next day?
If you end up finding groups of bread that are marked down 90 percent, stock
up as much as you can and freeze the bread that you won’t eat right away.
Get to know the staff of the stores you frequent because you may be able to convince the department managers to tell you what time they do markdowns throughout the day.
Manager’s Specials… You can save a ton on meat by looking for manager’s special peelies — little coupon stickers attached to the item. Grocery store clerks will attach these coupons to meat that is getting close to the sell-by date and label it “Manager’s Special.” In order to move the meat quickly, they offer extra savings. If you are single or living alone and you find a package of meat that is far too big of a portion for you to handle, ask the butcher to repackage it into smaller individual packages.
If you see one of these manager’s special peelies on name-brand meat, you’ve scored an even better deal. You can combine that peelie with a manufacturer coupon. I was once able to get a cart full of Perdue chickens entirely free — I combined the $4 peelie on each chicken with a manufacturer coupon. Why on earth would anyone want a cart full of chickens? Because they are free, of course!Even if you don’t need all of them, there is always someone who will appreciate the donation. In this economy, people need help. Couponing is not about simply getting things for yourself; I suggest using your bargain-shopping skills to help others in need! If you can provide someone with a free dinner, you just took one worry off his or her plate.
Step 5: Don’t Be Fooled Into Supersizing
I know those big-box stores look like agreat deal, but trust me: Buying big and super sizing is not always going to save you money. If you aren’t using coupons, make sure you carefully compare unit prices per pound to determine which value is the best. Also, if you are shopping with coupons,always look for the least expensive package that your coupon is applicable to. Sure, saving $4 on a 20-pound bag of dogood that normally costs $20 sounds great,but saving $4 on a 3-pound bag of dog food that costs $4 per bag is better, if you buy two (that’s six pounds for “free” versus four). If you need more than that, just grab more coupons and purchase multiple packages; you can always pour all the small bags into one container when you get home.
Start Shopping . . . for Free
Now that you’ve got the tips, make your list, go grab your coupons, and get
to it. Shopping with the idea of paying the lowest possible price for the
groceries you need does take a little forethought and effort, but once you
get the hang of it, you’ll be bargain-hunting like a pro in no time. See
you in the aisles.