Thanks to a certain reality TV show, extreme couponing is all the rage right now. But while the show might be fascinating to watch in a disturbing kind of way, extreme couponing isn't exactly a practical endeavor. Using coupons wisely is one thing; spending hours in a store searching for items you plan to stockpile in your garage is quite another.
I'm convinced that our national obsession with extreme couponing is rooted in the fact that most Americans genuinely need to find ways to save money on groceries. Couponing can be a great way to do this, but it can also be time consuming, and quite frankly, it's an art I haven't yet mastered.
10 Alternatives to Clipping Coupons
If you're looking to slash your grocery bill but don't know how (or don't want to devote the time) to clipping coupons, consider the following alternatives.
1. Eat Less Meat
Meat is typically the most expensive part of any meal you prepare, so one easy way to save money is to buy less of it. Start having Meatless Mondays at your house, or stretch your recipes by occasionally substituting less expensive beans or rice. According to the Mayo Clinic, the benefits of eating less meat aren't just financial — a diet rich in beans, grains, and fresh vegetables is also better for your health.
2. Become a Planner
By nature, I am not a planner. But when you know what you'll be cooking in advance, you won't be making repeated trips to the store or purchasing prepared foods at the last minute, both of which add to your grocery bill. For help getting started with meal-planning, check out some of the handy meal-planning apps that are available.
3. Buy in Bulk
Items like toilet paper, toothpaste, and other household supplies are often cheaper when you buy them in bulk, and warehouse stores like Sam's Club and Costco offer bulk discounts on just about every grocery item you can imagine. Some savvy shoppers are also taking advantage of special deals on Amazon Grocery, where they can get things like diapers routinely shipped to their home for less than they would pay at the store.
4. Start a Garden
When you grow your own food, you can avoid chemicals and pesticides, and you'll marvel at the amazing flavor of produce that has just been picked from the vine. And if you plan your garden carefully, you can also save yourself some money. Start-up costs like seeds, soil, and garden tools can be high in the first year, but if you're willing to put in a little money up front, a garden is an investment that can yield great returns in the future.
5. Learn to Preserve
I know, it sounds all Little House on the Prairie, but preserving food is an extremely cost-effective way to stretch your food dollars. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables when they're in season and inexpensive (or grow your own), and then preserve them by freezing, canning, pickling, or dehydrating. For a comprehensive guide to canning and preserving foods, visit PickYourOwn.org, or for a more humorous (and realistic) tutorial, read Canning For Klutzes in 20 Easy(ish) Steps from The Happiest Mom Meagan Francis.
6. Cook From Scratch
Pre-made foods are convenient, but they are not budget-friendly. When you cook from scratch using fresh ingredients, your dollars will go further and your family will be healthier. For example, a loaf of bread costs an average of $2 to $4 at the store, while you can easily bake your own bread at home for less than a dollar a loaf.
7. Stick to Your List
It isn't easy to avoid impulse shopping. Grocery stores and food brands spend big bucks figuring out how to display goods so that you're more likely to buy them. This is why I always come home with chips and beer during football season and gingerbread-flavored coffee cream every December.
Be aware of these displays, and don't get suckered into buying seasonal items that aren't on your list. An extra $5 to $10 a trip doesn't seem like a lot, but it can really add up over the course of a year. Plus, nobody really needs gingerbread-flavored coffee cream anyway.
8. Take Advantage of Sales
Make it a habit to skim the ads from your local grocery stores. This way, you will always know when the best sales are being held. If you know what price you routinely pay for your favorite products, you will know a good sale when you see one and be able to stock up while items are at their cheapest.
9. Don't Be Impressed by Name Brands
Sometimes, you may find that you genuinely like the name brand variety better. But store brand products are often identical (minus the fancy label and catchy commercials), and almost always represent savings, so it's worth it to give them a try.
Don't write off discount chains like Aldi's or Big Lots, either. You may not be able to do all your grocery shopping at these stores, but they offer deep savings on a number of brand name products. For example, I routinely find Kashi cereal and granola bars at Big Lots for a really great price.
10. Carry Cash (and Only Cash)
It's hard to stick to your budget when you know that, technically, you can afford to add that block of gourmet cheese or extra bag of potato chips to your cart since you'll be paying with a credit or debit card. The solution? Leave the card at home, and head to the store with only the cash you plan to spend.
It might sound extreme to carry a limited amount of cash, but I've found that it is hands-down the best way to ensure that I only buy the essentials. You just can't spend money that you don't have.
How do you save money at the grocery store? Do you clip coupons?
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This post was included in the Carnival for Saving and Making Money.