7 Ways to Cut Your Food Bill Without Clipping a Single Coupon

By Erin Gifford on 16 February 2010 (Updated 17 February 2011) 25 comments

Another new year, and many have embarked on annual quests to save more money. Brown bag lunches are back in style and there are fewer trips to Starbucks. Would-be coupon mavens pore over the coupon inserts with scissors in hand. Give it a few weeks and many of these same people will have already fallen back into their spending ways of 2009, thinking about new savings strategies over a Tall Caramel Latte.

As for the would-be coupon mavens, I'll be honest, I like to clip coupons, but it's not for everybody. It takes time to clip, sort, file, match, shop, then repeat week after week. Since groceries take such a big bite out of the monthly budget, here are seven ways to cut your food bill by at least 25% without using even one coupon.

1. Shop the Grocery Circulars

Everything on the front page is half off. Buy one, get one free deals are big too. You probably won't see prices as low for two or three months, so stock up. If you don't get the newspaper (the circulars are often in the Food section), head to Sunday Saver and search for stores in your area. Cherry-pick the best deals at a couple of stores. Sure, this involves some driving, but you're already saving time by not clipping coupons, so grab your keys.

2. Make a Shopping List

Study after study has shown that shoppers are less likely to make impulse buys and purchase items already lining their pantry if they shop from a list. It can be as simple as a piece of notebook paper taped to the refrigerator. Or, try out a free online service like ZipList. iPhone and iPod Touch users can also find a variety of free and paid shopping list apps like Grocery Gadget and Shopper.

3. Keep Your Loyalty Card Current

Most of us use store loyalty cards (e.g., Kroger Plus Card) to take advantage of weekly specials. Just make sure the grocery stores you shop have your current mailing and email address on file, or you may find yourself missing out on even better specials promoted to members only, like free product deals. At some stores, like Harris Teeter, you'll need to take the extra step of registering your card online for the most exclusive weekly deals.

4. Be Brand Flexible

I'll be honest, there are some brands, like Pampers and Pantene, which I'll stay loyal to forever. But there are many more that I don't mind straying from if I can get a better deal elsewhere, even with the store brand. Toilet paper and shave gel spring to mind for me here.

5. Befriend the Butcher

As a mother of four, meat is one of the biggest parts of my weekly food budget, so making friends with the butcher is a must. Find out what time of day and which day of the week the must-go priced meats are set out for purchase. These can be a fantastic bargain. I received a chest freezer for Christmas this year, and no doubt it will be filled with meat specials this year.

6. Shop Alone

I love to grocery shop alone, mostly because it enables me to hear myself think once a week. On a more thrifty level, I shop alone for two reasons. One, I reduce the temptation to cave to little voices asking for fruit snacks and cookies. Two, I'm more aware of the prices ringing at the register. Kerry Taylor at Squawkfox estimates that every 12th item in her cart is scanned incorrectly, and not in her favor.

7. Make a Weekly Food Run

All those quick trips to the grocery store every few days add up, so shop once a week to keep the food bill in check. Try to shop early in the sale cycle since the most heavily discounted items can get scooped up quickly, and many times the shelves are not re-stocked.

How do you save money at the grocery store?

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Guest's picture
Guest

If you're a Kroger shopper, I would also recommend cellfire.com & shortcuts.com. You're basically having electronic coupons attached to your Kroger card. You just make sure to hand over your Kroger card at the start of checking out & the amounts get taken off automatically. I combine these with regular clipped coupons, but you don't have to. Easy savings.

Guest's picture
Anthony

Learn to identify when an individual food's price is at its low. I used to think getting ground beef for $3 a pound was a good deal! But keeping my eyes open, I can easily purchase ground beef at $1.50 a pound by buying at the right time.

Just considering ground beef and boneless chicken breasts, if I buy in bulk and buy at the right time, I save $50/month. That's pretty substantial considering our monthly grocery budget used to be $300.

Guest's picture
Ben

My wife and 3 boys have been happy with Angel Food Ministies (www.angelfoodministries.org).

Angel Food Ministries was started by a pastor and his wife, when a large employer left many in their community unemployed. They approached wholesale grocers and arranged to distribute low-cost boxes of food to feed a family of 4.

It's come a long way since then. We're essentially getting our groceries at wholesale prices. We get their specialty meat box, seafood box and fruit/vegetable box every month.) Try the fajita box!) I'm sure we're saving $200+/month.

Visit their site and see where the closest location is to you. We moved last May and we're now starting up an Angel Food Ministry in our town.

All the best,

Ben

Guest's picture
Carrie

Erin, I LOVE that you got a freezer for Christmas! Someone knows what mama likes.

I used our chest freezer to enable me to feed my family better meat -- feedlot-free, hormone-free, antibiotic-free -- at a decent price. I split a half cow with my parents and just ordered a half pig as well. This not only locks in prices far better than what I was paying for this kind of "high-end" meat, it also frees me from having to even glance at meat prices or look for markdowns.

My top tip for cutting grocery costs without clipping coupons is to simply set a budget and stick to it. I was surprised by how powerful simply setting a budget was for me -- it drove me to choose lower-cost-but-still-nutritious items, use up what I had and plan more vegetarian meals, for instance.

Guest's picture
hippykidz

Wow! Erin sounds like we approach shopping about the same way. The only thing I do any different is my version of meal planning. I have a pretty extensive foodservice background so I don't really plan a menu (I have deep well in my head) but I do do a meal count as I go along. Magic number being 7. Ex. 1 roasting chicken 3 meals(not all this week but the soup will count for next week:>)). Two lb pack ground turkey 2 meals. Etc. Etc. get to six and toss in the pasta sauce on sale this week and bingo dinners covered,budget maintained. The real key is to think of the package you are about to buy in terms of how many times it will make it to the table.

Guest's picture

I tried it several times, and always that I've done my grocery shopping being hungry I've bought more things I don't need and spent about 40% more than I planned to.

growingrich.net

Guest's picture
Robert

I think the once-per-week shopping plan is the best idea here. If you didn't get the item during your weekly run, you probably didn't need it anyways. Extra trips waste gas and make it more likely that you will buy items you don't need.

Guest's picture
Cheep cheep

Ignore the container prices;
only compare prices per ounce.

Buy dry and frozen veggies-
fresh when they're cheaper.

Use meat like a spice-
just for flavor.

Each carton, bag, or box you buy
should have *one* ingredient on the label.

Guest's picture
catastrophegirl

i'll add if you know which brands you are loyal to, keep an eye on the sales and budget to be able to buy a few of things you use regularly. i think i paid $12 the last time i bought toilet paper, haven't had to buy any since june and have at least ten rolls left. [helps to have the storage space]
and i'm pretty close to addicted to tabasco chipotle sauce but it's normally quite expensive. it keeps nearly forever so when i find it buy one get one free, i stock up.
then i never end up getting a craving for it and splurging on it full price. i can walk past that shelf in the store and never have the urge to blow the budget

congratulations on the freezer! so very useful.

someone in my friend's office building was getting rid of a small upright freezer that didn't work and i picked it up [free of course] and repaired the thermostat and now it's great for meat sales. i'd prefer a chest freezer for the efficiency but this one paid for its annual electrical cost in one seafood sale [$3 lb crab legs] and it was free. had the thermostat not been repairable, a new thermostat was only $60 anyway and i expect to get a few more years of use out of it.

Guest's picture

I agree with most of these points. We only have Kroger and WalMart (supercenters) in our area. Since I am not a big fan of WalMart, I do all my shopping at Kroger.

I have been really pleased with the Kroger brands of products, such as coffee. You can usually save about 30% by just buying the store brand.

Also, if you take time to look, Kroger usually runs a special in most categories. For example, if dog food is on special, I buy it (even if I do not need it just yet).

I do not use a lot of coupons, but think I do fairly good at saving in the supermarket.

Guest's picture

I would also add

--go generic (there's no difference, really!)

--and don't shop when you're hungry.

Guest's picture
Meg

Waste not, want not -- that's my motto.

I think the biggest thing that my husband and I did was just get a handle on our waste. Part of that is just buying less to begin with and once-a-week shopping has definitely helped. We got into a routine of going to the farmers' market and grocery stores every Wednesday. That way, we got an idea of how much food we really needed and have been cutting back more and more. We occasionally make a small trip out for something we've forgotten, but we try to eat what we have instead of buying more. We still haven't come close to going hungry!

Also, it's good to learn some recipes or just loose ideas of what to do with leftovers and odd bits of fresh food. Soups, salads, sushi, casseroles, stir-fries -- all can be great ways to turn a little of this and a little of that into something delicious.
Last night we made some older apples into a delicious apple bake.

And don't forget to preserve things before they go bad if you won't eat them in time! Today we'll squeeze the rest of our lemons and freeze the juice for later. And if I want some banana for my oatmeal or fritters there's some in the freezer waiting for me.

Bulk bins and scoop your own spices containers = frugal eater's best friend. Your mileage may vary, but the ones at our local grocery store have consistently been cheaper than pre-packaged options and being able to buy just the amount we need reduces waste, especially with spices we don't use a lot.

Finally, going vegan has been a real money saver for us. Some of the specialty stuff is more expensive, for sure (though the Sweet & Sara marshmallows are sooooo worth it). But for the most part we're eating a lot cheaper and healthier, too. Even if you aren't willing to go vegan, consider incorporating more plant-based meals in your diet.

Guest's picture
Pam

What fritters do you have in the freezer? I am looking for a recipe for apple fritters like the bakery has instead of going and buying them for my husband. I have looked and looked for a recipe at is just like what you buy at the bakeries.

Guest's picture
Diane

There are some things I use occasionally in recipes, but not a lot--apple cider, tomato juice, orange juice, tomato sauce--so I divide a jar or bottle into small containers and freeze them. That way I don't have to buy a half gallon of cider when I need only a cup. I keep my nuts and seeds in the freezer so they won't turn into bugs. I've saved a lot by buying packaged staples like milk,flour, honey and olive oil at Aldi, so I can buy meat and eggs from a local vendor. Some spices like cinnamon and basil can be bought in large containers at Kroger. We also drink iced herb tea instead of soda, and eat oatmeal with a variety of fruits or nuts instead of cereal.

Guest's picture
Yasmin

I not only shop sales but also by the shelf tag. Sometimes that "deal" isn't a deal when you can buy a larger size, that not on sale, but whose overall price is less per ounce.

Learn to break down the cost of what you're buying. For example, a 5 lb bag of all purpose flour may cost $2.49 at one store (roughly 50 cents per pound) but in the bulk section of that grocery store it may cost only 38 cents a pound. Always, always look at the per ounce or per pound on the shelf label to figure out if it really is a good deal because sometimes it's not.

Guest's picture
Clayton

I'm just saying it's a thought outside the box that you don't have to go to a grocery store to get food.

Depending on where you are and who you know. I have gotten great deals by going fishing and eating what I catch. This can be time consuming, but since it's also my hobby I like it.

In the same way when I get to go deer hunting for free. I can get an entire deer processed for 70 dollars or less. That averages out to around 40 to 60 pounds depending on the deer. plenty of healthy meat to put in a freezer and depending on the processor maybe even cheaper than that.

The third thing is to make friends with other people who do those activities. I have had a friend get too much meat for their freezer so they gave us 5 pounds of free deer meat. That's a hard deal to beat.

Farmer's markets, buying straight from ranchers, and fishing are all other ways to get food for your family. These might not be available in your area but you can get healthy food at great prices.

Guest's picture
Allison

I've also just read about a process called "gleaning"

http://blog.greensherpa.com/index.php/personal-finance/slashing-your-gro...

Has anyone tried this and been successful in keeping grocery expenses at a minimum?

Guest's picture
Guest

WTF is a loyalty card?

Guest's picture
Guest from CA

a loyalty card is a marketing research tool used by a store to track spending trends. Most grocery & pharmacy chains issue them these days. You give the store some basic demographic info & you get a card that they swipe each time you buy; as an incentive to shoppers, they offer special pricing, sales, deals to holders that other customers don't typically get. However, I've found that a few stores (CVS drugstores, for example) will swipe a generic card to give me a deal (I don't participate in any loyalty programs because I consider them a marketing ploy that's more to the vendor's benefit than the buyer's).

Guest's picture

Good tips. The big thing to me is the time it takes to go through coupons. Yes, they can totally be worth it. But think about how long you're spending sorting through coupons and factor that in. Maybe it's worth it, maybe it isn't.

A big way to avoid overspending on food is to shop on a full stomach. Those impulse purchases just might be diminished quite a bit then!

Guest's picture
Lenora

What works for me is bulk shopping quarterly and having organic produce delivered weekly via Orlando Organics. An online service that really helped me save big is emealz.com. I spend $300 monthly for four people and that includes pets/cleaning/paper/toiletry products.

Guest's picture
Guest

I do not shop at stores that have a "loyalty card." Last thing I want is yet another plastic card. Hate them with a passion and will not pretend to 'forget' mine or any other lies just to get their normal prices.

I shop two stores (out of three possible...but one has a stinkin' card so I don't visit) once a week. I visit their online ads and figure out a loss leader from each that I want. I use a list and I would suggest a calculator to figure out unit prices.

For standard food items that I buy (broccoli) that are not in the ads, I have a price book and will buy at the first store I visit if the quality is good and the price at least ok. Sometimes when I get to the second store, I discover I paid a bit more but i do not return to the 1st store. That costs too much in time and transport.

Guest's picture

This is great frugal living advice! I would add, however, that one should practice butchery because the savings you will enjoy, if you can break down a chicken yourself, are significant. All you have to do is learn to remove the legs and thighs, the breasts (don't forget the oyster), the wings, and de-bone the legs and thighs. Place the parts in a Tupperware container and put them in the fridge until you need them. Plus, you will then have enough bones to make 4 quarts of beautiful chicken stock.

For the stock, put the bones in a 5 quart pot with two onions, 1 carrot and one celery stock, cover with water, bring to a simmer and simmer for 1.5 hours at least, 3 hours is better. Then, strain and discard the bones and vegetables. Allow the stock to cool to room temperature, then pour it into ice cube containers and freeze it. Pop out a few whenever you need to make a quick, gourmet pasta, ragout or soup.

Once you master this simple, frugal living skill, ask you butcher friend about volume discounts. "How much for a case of chickens?" The case will only contain 15-20 chickens, depending on the size. If you're organized (it's not rocket science), you can butcher them all and wrap and freeze them in under an hour. The de-boned pieces will freeze nicely and you will be surprised at how little space they take up. Plus, you will be able to make 30 quarts of chicken stock. You can make a big batch of soup or stew, and have a tonne of leftovers.

This is not hard core frugal living, we're not asking you to slaughter a pig or sheep, yet. It's basic butchery, but it will save you a huge percentage on chicken - equally easy techniques apply to all meats. There is an excellent video on You Tube for how to butcher a chicken and how to wrap it all up.

Happy Cooking!

Guest's picture
Guest

Some good ideas here! I follow several ideas listed here and it has definitely made a difference in my grocery bills. Last year, I started to plan out two weeks' worth of menus for our home vs. shopping for one week at a time. This has helped cut down on our food bills quite a bit. I'm saving approx. $50-$60 a month following ideas like this.

Guest's picture
Guest

My children are old enough to plan their own breakfast & lunches (10 & 14), instead of them filling up my buggy with lots of junk, they get a basket do their shopping and meet me in the front of the store. It keeps them focused on specific items (sandwich supplies, chips, juice, etc), I haven't given them a budget, but it seems to be saving me both time and money.

I'm pretty sure that there was a choir of angels singing when my 14 year old son told me that they calculated the per ounce cost for lunch meat and picked the better value!