Halfhearted couponing: saving cash without taking it to the extreme

extreme couponing

Is anyone else out there fascinated by Extreme Couponing on TLC? I admit I’ve gotten sucked into a few marathons before, watching in awe – and sometimes, in cringe-y horror – as enterprising and amazingly organized women, men, and even kids coupon their way to thousands of dollars in free groceries (and then stockpile them all over their houses, oh my.)

But even though I find this…job? hobby? obsession?…good for occasional lazy-afternoon entertainment, extreme coupon-clipping is definitely not my personal cup of tea. It sounds like it’s nearly a full-time job for the people who take it seriously!

That said,  you don’t have to be an “extreme” couponer to take advantage of the occasional coupon, offer, or special deal…and to save serious money at the supermarket. Here are a few of the ways I embrace “halfhearted couponing” and keep my grocery bill down:

Take advantage of register coupons.

Some stores are generous with register coupons (the ones that print out from that little machine after your transaction is completed, also called “Catalina Coupons”), and they can be quite valuable if you get the ones that apply to meat, dairy, and produce…it’s rare to find coupons for those in a circular.

In the Midwest we have a chain of large discount stores called Meijer, and I often get awesome coupons at the register. For example, last week I got a coupon for $1.50 off of a dairy purchase of $10 (a gallon of organic milk, container of yogurt and a large carton of eggs easily adds up to that much) and a few weeks ago it was $2 off any meat purchase over $10.) I also regularly get register coupons that apply to the produce department – for example, buy one bag of baby carrots, get one free, or $2 or $3 off a $10 or $15 purchase in the produce department.

I don’t know that there is a definite way to trigger certain register coupons, but I’ve noticed that when I buy a lot of a particular brand, I get coupons for competing brands; and when I spend a lot of money at once, I get more – and more valuable – register coupons. So while I’m more of a once-a-week shopper than a once-a-month shopper, it might make sense to stock up on some things one month at a time.

One thing to watch for: some register-printed coupons have “store coupon” printed at the top, while others read “manufacturer coupon.” My understanding is that, while “store coupons” only apply to the store where the coupon originated, “manufacturer coupons” can be redeemed at any store (as long as there is no language on the coupon that limits its use.). Something to keep in mind!

meijer-coupon

The trick, of course, is keeping the store coupons organized and remembering to use them in time, particularly if you shop at different stores from week to week. The register coupons tend to expire quickly! I usually tuck the valuable ones into my wallet so I can’t miss them.

Look for instant savings coupons on packages. 

It might seem like a no-brainer, but I know that I sometimes go on auto-pilot when I’m at the store, grabbing the brands and products I know and trust and not paying much attention to the packaging. That’s a mistake, because often there are instant-savings coupons stuck to the outsides of those packages…but they aren’t always on all the packages, and often the cashier will miss them. I pull the stickers off as I put the item in my cart, and stuff them in the cart’s cup holder so I won’t forget to present them at the register.

Shop at stores that already offer great prices.

The best savings are the kind you don’t have to do any work for. That’s why I’m such a fan of Aldi – they don’t do coupons, but their prices are so incredibly low that you still walk out with an amazing amount of (quality) food for a very small amount of money.

If you don’t have an Aldi nearby, I’m guessing there are options for inexpensive prepared foods in your area. Have you checked out the ethnic and snack food aisle at your local Big Lots? How about the boxed & canned foods at Save-a-Lot or Family Dollar? I’m all about fresh, seasonal and local foods when possible, but let’s face it: at some point most of us are going to serve up some boxed noodles, and we might as well pick them up for a fraction of the full retail cost. The way I see it, that leaves a few more dollars in my pocket for homemade preserves at the farmer’s market.

Are you a half-hearted couponer like me? What are your best tips and strategies for saving money at the grocery store?

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