How to save money on groceries without turning coupon-clipping into a part-time job
When grocery prices rise, it can feel like you have no control over what may be — next to the mortgage — your family's largest expense. Following the coupon gurus works for some, but their systems often require an unrealistic investment of time. Good news: You can save money at the grocery store without making a career of clipping coupons.
Buy discounted meat
Buying marked-down meat has an incredible impact on your overall grocery bill. Find out what times or days your regular store marks down meat and make it a habit to shop then. (It's probably not on the weekend.) You can save 30 percent to 50 percent simply by helping the meat department move inventory that is close to becoming out-of-date. No need to worry about using those perfectly good chicken thighs immediately, because you're going to freeze them anyway.
When you buy discounted meat, you learn to shop from your freezer. When you plan your meals for the week, base the menu on meat you've got on hand. If you spy any deals while shopping for other ingredients, pop them in the freezer for next week. Another key to making the most of meat is using a Crockpot. Most cuts of meat are surprisingly tasty when slow-cooked with a bottle of barbecue sauce.
Stock up when you can
At the end of last summer, my local Walmart sold Okra for pennies a pound. Most people don't know what to do with this neglected veggie, but the Internet is a good source of ideas. When you spot a seasonal steal, if you can find a couple of recipes your family will eat, it's worth it to stock up. Frozen fruit is great for pies and smoothies. (Don't forget to pick up the pre-made pie shells on sale in the fall. They freeze well too.)
Sometimes you need to spend a little to save a lot. Make sure you can take advantage of that pork roast at 99 cents a pound or half-price strawberries — always have a little money set aside for just such an opportunity.
Clip (just a few) coupons
Even if you hate to clip coupons, they are a great way to get a good buy on particular products. The trouble with some systems is that it's so easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. And if you buy store brands already, the coupon deal is often not as good as buying a standard off-brand. However, if there are certain brands that you simply must buy, a few simple rules make the process easier for even the most hesitant clipper. Clip only coupons if:
-- you already buy the product on a regular basis
-- you want to try the product
-- the deal is too good to pass up (read: free stuff!)
Consolidate your bargain shopping
For the casual clipper, consolidation is key. Plan a single trip when you will use as many coupons as possible. If you're close to a store that offers double coupons, go there. This is not your ordinary shopping trip when you pick up items to eat that week. Instead of shopping from a list, walk the aisles from one end of the store to the other finding as many deals as possible. This isn't the way to get the very best deals, and you won't be able to use every coupon, but it's easier than trying to match coupons, and you'll still save a significant amount of money. You'll end up with a random assortment for the freezer or pantry, which you can then use to plan menus just as you'll do with the meat you buy. If you're organized, you can combine the marked-down meat-hunting and the coupon spending into one trip.
You don't have to use all of these ideas to save money on groceries. Any of them will result in savings without committing to comprehensive coupon-shopping strategies. Plus, there's that little adrenaline high when you score a super deal!
Lela Davidson is the author of "Blacklisted from the PTA," a collection of irreverent essays about motherhood and the modern family.