The kitchen is probably one of my favorite places in the home. I love to cook, but it goes beyond that. I also love to shop within a budget. To me it is a game: How low I can keep the grocery bill each month while still preparing tasty, nutritious dinners.
Since at least two of the major Southern California grocery chains offer double coupons every day of the week, I can easily "purchase´ free items each month. I wait until the items go on sale (we have a lot of $1 sales as well) and then I use my coupons. At any one time I have a free stash of ketchup, deodorant, toothpaste, and BBQ sauce in our cabinets, all named brands.
Though this does take some time each week to organize, once you get started in coupon shopping and menu planning it really becomes quite easy. Today I´ll give some pointers about organizing and using coupons, for those thrifty mothers who might be interested in trying it out, and in a future post I´ll list some quick and easy menu websites for the days when you get tired of eating the same old thing.
Buy a plastic organizer. These can be found in most dollar and drug stores. The first time I picked one up I felt like such an old lady. I had a flashback to my college days, when I´d stroll into the market and buy the most expensive groceries on the shelf without even blinking an eye!
Organize the coupons in a way that makes sense to you. I have several categories: Pets, Baby Needs, Cheese and Dairy, Main Entrees, Cleaning Supplies, and Restaurant coupons. I also include a pocket for entertainment, since we have several theme parks in town that run specials. I leave one pocket open to store my weekly lists and coupons in and another pocket open, in which I put those coupons that I don´t end up using during my grocery trip.
Purchase a grocery notebook that you use each week when writing out your grocery list. Also, keep a tablet on the refrigerator so family members can write down items that they need. This saves you from making multiple trips to the store each week.
Plan your menu around the sales flyer and what you already have. For instance, if chicken is on sale for $1.99 a pound, purchase enough chicken to last the month so that you don´t run out when you want, say, enchiladas for dinner. If you have chicken already, purchase items that are on sale to make a dinner with the chicken: ie: taco shells for chicken tacos, spaghetti for Parmesan, or mac and cheese for a fried chicken meal.
Spend one night a week looking through the sales flyers and writing down the items that you want to buy. As you look through the flyer, pull out any corresponding coupons. This takes me about half an hour a week, and I do it while my husband and I are watching television.
Spend another half hour of your week doing menu planning according to what you have and what is on sale. Because I love to cook, I subscribe to Cooking Light, which gives me a huge selection of new menus each month. I generally fix one new meal per week. I always cook two meals per week that create leftovers (for instance, a roasted chicken one night and meatballs on another). We generally have pizza on Fridays. In total I only have to make four meals per week, and three if we go out to eat one night.
1. Stock up on meats when they go on sale. Meats can be the most expensive of your purchases, so if you see a great sale, buy enough for a month. While your bill for that week will be high, you´ll save money on the rest of your bills because you don´t have to purchase meats that aren´t on sale.
2. Stockpile essentials as well. Toothpaste, deodorant, and shampoo are three items that I never pay for, but we always use a good quality brand. I keep extras in a plastic box in our bathroom cabinet and when we need an item all we have to do is get one out of the box.
3. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of your spending. Input numbers when you sit down to pay your bills. It takes a little time, but it´s well worth it. You´ll see how much you are spending each week and if you want you can set it up to see how much you have saved. Our grocery coupons print this information right on the receipt.
4. Go through coupons once a month while watching television and toss out the expired ones. Even better, send these to those people in the armed forces that are serving overseas, since they can use expired coupons (http://www.ocpnet.org).
5. Shop only one time per week, two if you absolutely have to pick up milk or fruit. It´s those quick trips to the store that really add up.
6. If you don´t have time to sit down and sift through the flyers to see what is on sale, consider joining www.grocerygame.com. This is how I started out. By paying a small monthly fee, the host of the grocery game does the work for you. Each week you log on and get a list of items that are on sale and for which you have coupons. The list also shows your savings and the final price of each item. The idea behind this list is stockpiling, which means you pay very little for supplies and you never run out. In the beginning it costs a bit to gather together a stockpile, but after you do this you´ll find you do begin saving each week. The work is done for you, and all you have to do is create a menu and pull out the matching coupons.
If you have any other great tips for the thrifty mom, please send them in! I´d love to share, or even to learn something new.