Thursday, July 31, 2008

What is the Best Day of the Week to Grocery Shop?

There is a secret to saving big when grocery shopping that few consumers know about, choosing the right day of the week to maximize grocery savings. I’m asked often what the best day of the week to grocery shop is, so often in fact that I am always surprised that so many people don’t know the correct answer. Anyone using supermarket coupons on a regular basis needs to know the answer to this question.

When I ask those who are doing the asking, what they think the best day of the week to grocery shop is they almost always either answer that “they don’t know” or that “it has to be the day the new ads come out.”

Are they right? What is your answer?

Get out the giant game show wrong answer sound effects buzzer if your answer was the same as theirs. If you answered that the day your local grocers beak new ads is best day of the week to shop you are incorrect. Technically the first day of a new ad flier is the worst day of the week to grocery shop with only a few exceptions.

Why? For a couple of sound reasons you may not have thought of.

First, if you think about it, the day the new ads break all have one thing in common. There will inevitably be giant, freshly built displays of the products featured both on sale and on loss-leader.

Why is this important? Well for one thing you will be sure to get the product that is advertised in the sales flier.

Ummm, what did you say? Why would you not want to buy the sale item? Well, what you really want is to buy the last sale item left on the shelf and then get at rain checks for multiple others if you are buying in bulk.

Stay with me here and follow my line of reasoning. Rain checks are good at the super low loss-leader sale price and protect you from price increases for 4 to 6 weeks in the future. If you use a coupon clipping service you can order more coupons and wait until they arrive and then use your rain checks, maximizing your savings.

With a rain check you also have the advantage of purchasing more products later when prices are higher, but still paying the lower price. If you change you mind you do not need to buy yet you still have the option. If you have one or two of the item left at home and might have made it to the next sale anyway, you may decide to wait it out until you run out. Not needing to buy exactly when the price is right saves you space in the pantry while still leaving your options open without the obligation to buy. If you don’t need to sink money into your food stores right now in order to save, why do it? You can still buy later if you need to when you run out.

Rain checks have another nifty benefit. They work really well on perishable items when you can only use a limited amount of product in a few days time without spoilage. I love it when I can find rain checks for deeply discounted fruit and vegetables. I get the benefit of a really good price without worrying about loosing money due to waste.

The best day of the week to scrounge for rain checks is on the last day of the sale, in busy high volume stores. High volume stores tend to run out of advertised items and you can usually find rain checks available unless the ad specifies “limited to quantities on hand.”

As big of a help to you grocery budget as the strategy of collecting rain checks can be, there is an even more important reason to shop on the last day of an ad cycle. You will already have the benefit of the next week’s sales flier having been delivered to your mail box.

With two weeks specials and money savings offers to work with, you will have a better idea on how to divvy up your grocery budget. If the sales are not worth bothering with this week you can wait to shop one extra day and allocate extra funds the next week’s ad. If the sales are better on the current week you can spend extra and skip the second week’s ad. You have more flexibility when you know how to plan.

So, when is it not a good idea to wait to shop until the last day of the ad? There are really only two good reasons. One, you have to shop when you can fit it into your schedule. Or, secondly, if you really need the loss-leader items and you want to be sure that they are still in stock when you shop. Otherwise, you can maximize savings by preplanning your purchases well and waiting until the last day of the ad.

What is the best day of the week to shop? The answer depends on the grocery chain you shop in. Ask any clerk or checker what day the new ad starts and they will happily supply this vital piece of information to you.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

8 Things You Should Know About Grocery Shopping Cheap

As I pondered the writing of this post I tried to think about the 8 things you should know about shopping cheap. I wanted to create the how to eat better for less bullet points, as it were.

While there are thousands of nuances to being a true grocery shopping guru, there really are only a few basic skills to master if you want to cut your grocery bills down to size. If you need a quick reduction in spending then here are the basics. These 8 must master strategies are listed in no particular order as they are all equally important.

:: Know yourself and your needs. Get to know yourself as a consumer. How much do you use of certain products in the course of a week or a month? I’m talking about doing the math here. Take a sharpie and mark bottles of shampoo or any other products you use day in and day out. Get a solid knowledge of how much you consume and how often you will need to buy. Knowing how much you use is vital to your savings plan. You’ll see why as we get to our next point.

:: Always buy on sale. Sale prices are 30%-50% off the full shelf price when products run on special. Grocers have a regular repeating ad cycle on almost every item in the store that runs between 3-6 weeks depending on the item. Know when the products you use the most run and buy enough to get you through to the next sale. Never, ever be caught paying full price.

:: Stockpiling is your friend. Know the sales cycle and embrace the sales cycle. Any nonperishable product, as well as those you can freeze and eat within a few months is a candidate for stockpiling. By stockpiling I don’t mean jamming the freezer, but purchasing just enough to ensure that you don’t get caught paying full price. You don't need to go overboard here unless the price is really a steal. See how the first two strategies build on this one? You want to buy just enough to ensure that you don’t have to pay the high dollar, but not so much that you will waste anything you buy.

:: Waste costs. I have seen estimates that food wasted in the average home ranges from 5-12% in most households. In dollars, a $150 grocery bill for a family of 6 means that you just threw out anywhere from $7.50 to $18.00 into the dumpster. Some families just learning to save are spending far more than $150.00 per week, so you get the idea. In a year you could be saving $390.00 to $936.00 or more that you didn’t even know you had. Use itall or loose it.

:: Coupons really do count. Every week I get asked if coupons are worth the time. My answer is always a resounding yes when used correctly! I save $50.00 a week with my coupons and get many products either free or for pennies on the dollar. Free is the best price in my book, all day long and everyday. Use coupons at double coupon stores or on double or triple coupon days if at all possible. Save your coupons for use when the product is already on sale and save an additional 30-50% just for having the patience to plan coupon use. I am often asked if you should ever use a coupon if an item is not on sale. My answer is sure, it's the second best choice if you need a to make a purchase and no sale can be found. Any savings is better than none. Don't forget that major retailers like drugstores, Target, Walmart and the commisaries if you are military also accept coupons.

:: Know your staples. Most people think that staples are products on your pantry shelves like flour and sugar, and they are. But, staples are also the large part of your shopping list that you buy every week or month or a regular reocuring basis. Staple items vary from family to family and generally comprise 60-75% of what we buy. Get to know the products you use the most and look for cheaper alternatives: generics and store brands are a good place to start.

:: Know the difference between the lowest every day price and a bargain. I know the cheapest place in town to buy my staple products. If I was really in need of laundry detergent, or health and beauty products you can bet I’d be heading to Walmart with coupons in hand. In my local area, unless there is a really good sale with a double coupon, Walmart’s price will beat anybody in town for staples on health care products and cleaning supplies. I take the time to make an extra stop and buy enough for months at a time to maximize my savings.

::Beware of impulse spending. Take a list, stick to the list and get in and out of the store as quickly as you reasonably can. The longer you shop the more you will spend.

If you are lost and perplexed about how to pare your grocery bills down to size as quickly as possible then start here. Mastering just these 8 strategies and being consistent with using them will save you over 50% off your grocery bills. You can fine tune and add extra strategies for savings later.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cheap Cooking Ideas: What is Chicken Bullion?

Every once in a while you get a question that surprises you. I have been cooking with cheap cooking ideas for so many years that sometimes I forget that cheap cooking is something new to some of us. It's good for me to remember to step back and remember the basics myself.

I got a question from a client I was working with this morning confused about how to save money by making chicken stock herself instead of buying the canned broth version at 4 times the price of homemade.

Most of us wrongly think that when we cook down a chicken carcass at home that we will be making chicken broth. Not so, we are really making chicken stock. Chicken stock is made from slowly cooking down and simmering the bony parts of a chicken, turkey, beef, pork or any other bone in meat. Stocks can also be made with a combination of vegetables and herbs like onion, garlic, celery, and parsley.

Stocks have a fuller mouth feel and richer flavor that do broths due to the gelatin that is released from the joints in the bones when they are long-simmered. Homemade stocks are cheap, flavorful and make wonderfully rich soups and stews. In my food snobbish opinion stocks are superior to broths because of the richness of their flavor.

Broths, on the other hand, are made from simmering the meat, rather than the bones, and tend to have weaker and less rich flavors. Be aware that some of the commercial broths on the market have very high sodium contents and are enriched with bullion to make their flavors stronger. Commercially prepared broths are $.79-$.99 per can at full shelf price, where as homemade broths are practically free.

Bullions are shelf stable and come in either grannular or cubed form. Chicken bullion is not the only bullion you can buy. Other flavors of bullion are vegetable, fish, turkey and beef although some flavors will only be available at gourmet shops and restaurant supplies. Most grocery stores carry chicken and beef bullion. You can use a small amount of bullion (really salty, and a little goes a very long way) either mixed as directed into an instant 'broth' or in granular form for quick flavor in soups, stews and gravies.

I keep a package of bullion on my shelf for the very occasional need. I don't buy prepackaged seasoning envelops or mixes due to their expense. One package of chicken gravy is a buck, while I can get a whole box of chicken bullion cubes at the dollar store for that much.

The real money saver here is to use your own stock or make your own gravies from defatted pan drippings rather than using instant seasoning packets. If the flavor is a little flat or weak I use a small amount of bullion to kick it up a bit.

From a health stand point bullions are not the greatest, so I use them very sparingly. Commercial bullions and spice mixes,for that matter, contain a lot of junk (salt, dehydrogenates fat, monosodium glutamate, dehydrated carrot flakes, dehydrated onion and garlic, sugar, chicken powders, antioxidants mix, and chemicals to make them shelf stable). As I've said, though a very little goes a really long way. I doubt small quantities of bullion will kill've been eating it all your life. I still prefer the homemade stock when I have the option since it tastes better, is cheaper, and has none of the bad stuff in it for you.

What is chicken bullion? A little money saving secret that I stash in my cupboards to use instead of a more expensive seasoning packet of the same ingredients. I like to think of chicken bullion as a little insurance policy in my cupboards for the times when I am out of stock or need a quick punch a blander than desired dish.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Cheap Cooking Ideas: Cheaper and Better Nonstick Cooking Spray

Have you ever taken a look at the ingredients list on a can of nonstick cooking spray? I don't need a degree in either nutrition or chemistry to know that some of that stuff isn't good for us. In my quest to find a cheaper and better nonstick cooking spray I came across this site with a wonderful recipe for nonstick baking.

Cheaper and Better Nonstick Cooking Spray

1/2c. Vegetable Oil
1/2c. Vegetable Shortening (like Crisco)
1/2c flour

Beat all ingredients in a blender until fluffy and white. Store in the pantry until use in an air tight container. To use, brush pans with a pastry brush. Approximate shelf life is 2 months at room temperature.

Notice that this recipe calls for equal parts of all ingredients. If you don't bake often you can make it up in smaller quantities to avoid waste and maximize your savings.

Cost Comparison

One full recipe ($1.34) equals about the same amount of cooking in 1 can of cooking spray ($3.95 on sale after double coupons).

Savings $2.61

I bake quite a lot and love this stuff. I have to admit that for muffins, cakes and baked goods this recipe is hard to beat.

Quick Healthy and Cheap Recipes: Quesadillas

Continuing on with our series of quick healthy and cheap recipes, is my latest favorite quick lunch. I love cheese and living in the Southwest has no doubt influenced my love of spicy Mexican food. Nothing is better to me than a ooey, gooey, cheesy quesadilla. I simply love them. An added bonus besides the rock bottom price of this recipe is how quickly you can make these. Under 5 minutes on the stove top and your meal is done.

I find quesadillas a favorite way to use up leftover meats like chicken or pork with a little onion, garlic, avocado, or tomato added if you like. If you are out of the extras, just plain cheese and salsa or hot sauce is still a satisfying quick healthy and cheap recipe.

Quick Cheese Quesadillas

1 large four tortilla
2 oz shredded cheddar cheese or cojack cheese
vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray
optional ingredients: cooked chicken, beef or pork, onion, garlic, tomatoes, salsa, avocado, and sour cream.

Spray or grease a large skillet with either vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray, and warm the skillet over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add the tortilla, and brown lightly on one side. Turn the tortilla and add top with remaining ingredients evenly. Fold the tortilla in half and continue to brown until cheese is melted and toppings are heated through.

Cost Comparison: I buy flour tortillas at the dollar store 8 for a buck ($.13 used in this recipe), and cheese when on sale for under $2 per pound ($.25 used in this recipe). I can get an entire jar of salsa for $.99 when on sale with a double coupon ($.05 used in this recipe).

Total Cost per Serving: $.43

Friday, July 25, 2008

Frugal Blogs and Bloggers Perspectives

Many of you may know that those of us that blog write for a specific share our points of view and knowledge with others. Being a new blogger, I am always interested in opposing points of view. A different perspective gives us the ability to fine tune our own philosophy and broaden our world through other's experiences.

As a new blogger, I too spend a fair amount of time doing research and reading opinions that differ from my own while questioning my own judgments in search of the truth. I don't just maintain this blog, but several others on various topics of interest to me. I must admit that blogging is a wonderful way to express yourself and take a stand on topics of interest to you.

I am surprised though, that on occasion some of the opinions I encounter have the ability to frustrate me beyond belief. I am a pretty open minded person and tend to let others have their say while trying to understand a point of view that differs significantly from my own.

Case in point, I was doing research on some frugal living blogs today and came across a rather...ahem...strongly worded point of view that pretty much stated that the media had whipped up the entire nation into a frenzy over the state of the economy. They further went on to state that we need to "stop listening about the price of eggs climbing from $2.00 to $2.15 unless you use 12,000 eggs per week in a commercial bakery."

This particular blogger was making a case for the fact that economies do cycle every so many years and that the media was presenting the alarmist nature of the inflation we are currently experiencing with predictions of gloom and doom.

Well, if you have been following along you will recall from my earlier posts that the food inflation rates have been greatly understated according to my rather unscientific study. Reliable and in depth national data on the current food inflation rate is usually released 3-6 months behind today's date to the general population. In the absence of hard facts, we must rely on our own observations, so my own unscientific observations are all I have to go on.

It is true that I live on the West coast and things are pretty expensive here in comparison to other parts of the country. We may have experienced a greater inflation rate than in other locations. Still, inflation at a rate of 30-40% on many of the staple products we use everyday is concerning.

While the post I read was well written and insightful I had to wonder if they realized the lack of service they had presented to their readers. Not everyone lives well below their means. Not everyone has a two income household. Not everyone has huge savings account or has maintained a frugal lifestyle leading into the current economic downturn. Certainly not everyone can be insulated from even the modest 7.5% inflation rates this post described. Since when did a 7.5% inflation rate not raise eyebrows?

I do agree that the media has hit the state of the economy pretty hard. They do tend to stir up the public and present a doomsday point of view. My concern is that if you are not well insulated from the current economic downturn that you take steps to protect yourself now. No doom or gloom about it, financial self defense is up to each of us.

Learn the skills you need to protect yourselves should the going get rough. I tend to take everything the media says with a grain of salt. In this case the blogosphere is included in media.

With any luck at all the current state of the economy will improve and won't get any rockier. Though I have to wonder if the full extent of the problem has been released in the statistics and studies currently available. So, shall we say that my official stand is one of caution. We may not know exactly what is going on although something surely is. So I wouldn't say that I'm alarmed just yet, just watching and waiting for more information.

Love them or hate them, opinions always have an opposing point of view. From my experience, the truth is usually somewhere on the middle ground.

What Makes a Recipe Cheap?

As you are looking through your recipes trying to decide on a quick cheap meal have you ever wondered what makes a recipe truly frugal? A good example of a truly frugal recipe is the cheap breakfast recipe we posted a few days ago.

The cost of a recipe and how "good" a recipe tastes are actually two totally separate issues. Let me explain. The cost of a recipe is greatly influenced by your attention to controlling the price of ingredients, how well you shop, your desire to reduce spending, and your attentiveness to preplanned purchases. On the other hand, how good a recipe is perceived to be is totally subjective.

In truth, recipes are good if the meals they produce are both filling and satisfying. If the meal is flavorful, filling, and what you are craving then the simplest dish will taste good to you. You can go out to dinner, eat a $30.00 meal and still not be satisfied if the meal was not what you were wanting regardless of the price. To make cheap meals satisfying all you really need to do is select a cheap recipe to satisfy your cravings. Simple right? The trick is to amass enough cheap recipes to gaurantee a variety of inexpensive meals in your diet.

Take a look at the cheap breakfast recipe we posted a few days ago and tell me what you see. What did you notice about the ingredients and instructions for cooking?

At some point I asked the same questions. I figured, as a long ago starving student, if there was a common denominator for savings that I needed to find it. Saving money was not something I particularly wanted to do, it was a necessity. I needed a shortcut to spotting inexpensive recipes because my time was short between work and school. As it turned out, that common denominator was right before my eyes all the time.

The fewer ingredients you use, the cheaper your meals will be. Cheap and quick meal recipes all have one thing in common, they use very few ingredients. It goes without saying that the cost of each ingredient needs to be controlled to make the recipe be frugal in the end. Sorry, not steak and truffles with wine sauce here.

There are several advantages to using fewer ingredients besides controlling costs. First, fewer ingredients mean less time grocery shopping and we know what happens the longer we stay in the grocery store: we spend a lot more than we should.

Second, fewer ingredients make prep time much quicker. Cheap recipes are usually speed demons to prepare. We have less to slice, dice, chop and clean up. I love the simplicity of the preparation of most cheap meals.

Lastly, and most important is the controlling of waste. You can do everything right when you shop, but if only $5.00 worth of produce goes to waste then you have increased your grocery bill 5% on every $100.00 you spend. Cooking cheap recipes helps you control waste by using larger proportions of fewer ingredients. Less to buy means fewer perishables that can potentially spoil saving you from wasting what you worked hard to save.

All and all, I have to say that I love cheap recipes. They need not be boring, just creative. Be willing to try new frugal recipes every chance you get. Save the ones you love and build a solid list of easy and quick to prepare meals that are as satisfying as the recipes are cheap.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Deal Alert: Really Cheap Bagels, Bread and Pastry

***Deal Alert***

From now on I will be posting great deals and money saving strategies as I find them. I don't want you to think that just using supermarket coupons is enough to reduce your grocery expenses. While coupon shopping is a fab strategy for saving, there are many other more subtle methods to help you save while shopping/

I was in one of the grocery stores close to my home when I learned something new today. Almost every grocery store with an in-store bakery marks down their day old breads 50% off or more every day. Nothing shockingly new to report there.

What is new though is what I learned from the clerk working in the bakery section, that all "day old products" are not necessarily day old. Depending on how early your store does it's markdowns, day old may mean less than 16 hours old or less.

The store nearest to me sells their in-store bagels for $.79 each. Once the bagels hit the markdown rack they are 6 for $.99, or 80% off the full store price. Nice savings, great quality product. These bagels are so big that I can easily get two breakfasts out of each one, for a cost per serving of just $.08 per meal. Talk about a quick, healthy and cheap breakfast when you are in a hurry.

I don't worry about products being stale when I purchase day old bakery products. Toasting will freshen most breads up, so you'll hardly notice anyway. Just toss them in the freezer and thaw just before toasting. I slice bagels before freezing to make the frozen bagels easier to handle as I need them. Just slice and freeze with the sliced sides out to prevent sticking and you'll be good to go in the mornings.

I used to buy my bagels either in the dollar store, or at the Orowheat Outlet store, where a pack of 5 good sized bagels was a buck. With this latest round of price increases, my favorite dollar store has switched brands and now the bagels come 4-pack and are much smaller. Not as good of a deal, but still significantly less than the full shelf price of major brands at $3.99 for 6, or the in-store bakery price of $.79 when freshly baked. The Orowheat store is a ways out from me, so with the price of gas lately I don't get there as often. It's nice to have options for savings close to home.

Other products on the markdown shelf are similarly priced. Most are a pretty good deal, though you'll need to keep your eyes open for the real gems.

My strategy? The freezer is my friend. If I like what I see on the markdown shelf and the price is right then I'll buy and freeze. If the price isn't right I keep on walking.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Quick Healthy and Cheap Recipes: Apricot Honey Oatmeal

Oatmeal is one of my favorite really cheap, healthy and hearty breakfasts. When purchased either in bulk at the local health food store, or on sale with a double supermarket coupon oat meal is a tried and true healthy cheap alternative to much more expensive cold breakfast cereals. Apricot Honey Oatmeal is a quick to prepare morning meal that feeds 4 with generous 1 cup portions and my all time favorite cheap healthy and quick breakfast recipe.

Apricot Honey Oatmeal

3-1/2 cups water
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/3 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch all spice
2 cups Quaker® Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)

In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the honey, apricots and spices and simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the oats and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 1 minute for instant oats and 5 minutes for old fashioned oats stirring occasionally. Let stand until desired consistency is reached.

Microwave Instructions:

In a large microwave safe bowl bring the water, honey, apricots and spices to a boil. Stir in the oats. Microwave for 1-3 minutes stirring occasionally until desired consistency is reached.

Calories: 270, Calories from Fat: 25, Total Fat: 3g, Saturated Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 10mg, Total Carbohydrates: 61g, Dietary Fiber: 5g, Sugars: 30g, Protein: 6g

Recipe Source:

Cost Comparison: I buy the generic oats in bulk at my health food store for $.69 per pound ($.39 used in this recipe), dried apricots at the dollar store ($.69 used in this recipe), spices are also purchased at the dollar store ($.12) and honey on sale with a double coupon $1.69 per bottle ($.69)

Total Cost for 4 Servings: $1.89 ($.47 per serving)

I hope you enjoy my favorite cheap quick and healthy breakfast recipe. We will be making regular posts for breakfast, lunch and dinner as a regular feature.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What Else Do You Do While Grocery Shopping?

It's amazing what you can learn about consumer behavior just by watching others shop. As you all know, I make my living as a grocery shopping consultant teaching people how to use coupons and save money. I spend a lot of time in the trenches showing others how to become better shoppers and I've seen a lot over the years. Modesty aside, I am pretty good at what I do and charge a hefty fee for my time.

I just went back to work after a wonderful 8 day vacation with my family and find myself particularly energized, creative and perceptive today. I spent several hours working with two clients in the field and wanted to relate to you how you may be overspending without even knowing it.

In just that two short hours in the store this is what I observed...not of my clients, but of those shopping around us:

1. About 20% of the shoppers in the store were distracted beyond belief while shopping. Most are on thier cell phones, many have small rather poorly behaved children with them, and some were even having full blown arguments with their spouses.

2. As we shopped I noticed something else that was particularly signifigant, very few had a shopping list and wandered the aisles aimlessly tossing things into their carts while doing the things listed above. If asked I'd wager that few could even tell you what they were buying, much less how much their total would be at the checkout. Impuse spending in action and to the extreme was what I witnessed.

3. Several of those around us were, how can I put this in a PC way? Ummm, not exactly in the best frame of mind for shopping. They were angry, tired, rushed, frustrated, inattentive, hositle, hungry or just downright unhappy. You get the point. The store was not particularly crowded, so you can imagine what the scene would be like in the afternoon on a weekend.

4. Very few had the tools to save. Maybe only 5% had even a few coupons with them. Fewer still had a sales flier. Very few shoppers had a list, pen or calculator.

I'm not judging here, just relating what I saw today. Folks, if you are really busy and I know most of us are, any preplanning is better than none. At the very least, go with a list, pen and sales flier. Clip at least a few coupons with high face values of $1.00 or over if you don't have time for the rest. Shop the sales and try to avoid impulse spending. If you aren't in the right frame of mind to do a big shopping trip then don't. The grocery marketers know how to make us spend, it's their job and they are good at what they do.

The guy in the cartoon at the begining of this post might be smiling while he shops, but I'd bet he's not so thrilled when he pays the bills at the end of the month. Likely he's the one asking why his food bills why everything is so expensive.

Deal Alert: Really Cheap Eats

***Deal Alert***

Need a really quick way to save big money when time is short and you forgot your grocery coupons? If you live in Arizona, California, Nevada, or Texas just head on over to the nearest $.99 Only Store.

A bargain grocery shopper's dream, the 99 Cent Only sotres in my local area are a deal not to be missed.

What do the $.99 Only Stores carry? All the fixings for a really inexpensive meal...dry goods, dairy, deli, frozen, produce and bakery as well as paper products, cleaning supplies and much more.

I've recently found huge savings on Bertolli frozen pastas (regularly $5.99), Lean Cuisine frozen pizzas (regularly $2.50 on sale), Lean Cuisine entrees (regularly $2.50 on sale), 3-pack yellow, red and orange bell peppers (regularly $3.99 per pound), Romaine Lettuce Hearts (regularly $2.99 on sale), 5-pound red potatoes (regularly $3.99) and Planters Peanut Bars (regularly $4.99) just to name a few. These deals are excellent in my local area when compared to the bigger chain grocery stores down the street. Some purchases beat the rock bottom prices I could get at other stores even with double coupons and sale pricing combined, now that's a deal!

The best deals in the store? Frozen dinners, produce (many major brands Grimmway, Dole and Chaquita), snack foods, cereal and bakery items, salad dressings, pasta sauces, nuts and dried fruits, personal care items, aluminum foil, and zip lock bags.

Like any other deep-discount supermarket or dollar store, products move through quickly and perishable items may be hit or miss a day or two out of the week. Check both the quality and expiration dates on perishable items and be selective with your purchases.

When I find a great deal on name brand products like Lean Cuisine or Bertolli I tend to buy as much as we reasonably expect to use within a month. Meals under a buck are hard to beat when you need a quick lunch and are trying to avoid the nearest fast food joint.

Shopping at the 99-Cent Only Stores is a great strategy if you are either on a really tight budget, or just looking to purchase specific items at deep discounts.

Chrisitne Jory has written an exellent companion cookbook for the $.99 Cent Only Stores shopper. She has created over 100 tasty gourmet recipes using only products purchased at the $.99 Only Stores in her area. Even if you don't have a 99-Cent Only Store near you I was really impressed with the recipes she has created in this book. She has some unique ideas that I had never seen before and her recipes require few enough ingredients to inexpensive regardless of where you shop. My whole-hearted recommendation to Jory's book, this veteran of the cheap meal wars is humbled. The best $10 I've spent in a long time to be sure.

Find a 99-Cent Only Stores near you

Happy bargain hunting!

Quick Cheap Recipes

In response to several recent emails asking for quick cheap recipes, we are going to be adding a new regular feature to the Use Supermarket Coupons blog…cheap healthy recipes. We are all pressed for time, and always looking for a cheaper and healthier alternatives to eating out.

If only cooking was not so time consuming, perhaps we would all do more of it. I love to cook, and get great pleasure from presenting my family with a home cooked, healthy, delicious and inexpensive meal. The only drawback is of course time in the middle of a busy work week. Quick cheap recipes are not just a goal, but rather a necessity.

The truth is that quick cheap healthy recipes are not so difficult to come by. To be honest, I have saved and adapted quite the repertoire over the years. Options for variety in our diet for quick cheap healthy recipes are definitely not the issue, finding the time to cook in the middle of the work week is another story all together.

We have one hard and fast rule in our house. Cooking during the week needs to be fast and efficient, under 30 minutes is the norm. We are probably not so different from any other household with kids and teens, during the week our evenings are jam packed with activities. Half an hour to get dinner on the table is all we can spare consistently, so half an hour is our time limit. Although 30 minutes of cooking and prep time is always the goal for dinner, other meals need to be quicker still. Time is just too valuable to waste during any part of our busy days.

Starting tomorrow, we will be rolling out our new feature begining with inexpensive quick and easy to prepare breakfasts and progressing on to lunches and dinners. Our goal will always be to offer healthy, quick and cheap recipes that appeal to your entire family while answering the age old question “How can I eat for cheap?”

Eating cheap is not the only goal for those of us seeking to pare down our grocery expenses. Maintaining a healthful diet while making food preparation simple and less time consuming makes the task so much easier. A large number of healthy quick cheap recipes are a must have strategy in reducing your grocery spending.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Just a Quick Note

Hi everyone,

Just a quick post to let you all know that I will be taking a much needed vacation form 7/12 to 7/22. I'll be back with more money saving tips and grocery shopping tricks starting on 7/23.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

I'm a Big Time Lover of Freebies

I hate to say it, but in some ways I am absolutely cheap. Yep, as cheap, cheap, cheap as cheap it gets. I have one hard and fast rule, to make my money go as far as it can for every purchase I make. In my book, cheap is good, cheapest is better, free is best, and money back for purchasing something with a rebate is the holy grail of bargain hunting. Whenever you can get a product free and make money at the same time for your efforts, that's a bargain!

You may have also noticed from the title of my blog that I, well to just come out and say it, have a little addiction and promotion codes to be exact. Lucky for me that little addiction matches perfectly my tendency to go beyond being a frugal shopper, search for the holy grail and actually enjoy it. No doubt about it, I love a bargains and deals. In this case, I'm proud to be cheap.

I view my cheapness as a positive part of my person. If I'm cheap in someways, I certainly hang on to enough of my income to put it to good use for some exceptionally worthy causes. In the case of charities, I definately never want to be cheap, but rather the opposite. It all comes down to a matter of priorities doesn't it? I've managed realize that there are times to be cheap and then again, times you should be anything but. Ahhh, the benefits of maturity!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being either cheap or a big time lover of freebies. I simply get a perverse pleasure out of finding a deal and legally beating the marketing industry at it's own game. It's legal, couponing and rebating is free, and I get some really great stuff for nothing. For many of us devoted bargain hunters it's the thrill of the chase that keeps us always looking for the next exceptional deal.

Freebies and bargains abound, all you need to do is keep your eyes open for them. I was shopping online at Amazon grocery yesterday, just browsing through their clearance bins and somehow ended up on their MP3 download pages. Did you know that they have a free list of music downloads that changes almost everyday? Free stuff for the asking always seems to get my attention in a big way. I browsed their selection wondering if I would see anything I wanted. If it's free I'll usually give something a shot to see if I'll like it and music is no exception. I have found some of my favorite products buy getting an item for free, so I reasoned that free music might also widen my musical tastes a bit.

Then I found it, the next REALLY great deal. Did you know that in addition to their free downloads list, Amazon also offers thousands of tracks of music for free download buy almost every imaginable artist?

Yeah, I was surprised too. You need just 5 Pepsi stuff points for a free track of most songs in their catalog. Just search by artist or title and there is a button for "purchase" with Pepsi Stuff Points.

My kids drink this stuff anyway, so we may as well save the codes and get the free music. This promotion is a phenomenal offer that will last through Dec 31st of this year, so you still have lots of time to make a dent in your music wish list.

Now, don't send me emails saying that soft drinks aren't frugal, and it'll ruin your health to drink that stuff, and you'll never reduce your grocery bills if you keep buying junk food. I know it, and I'm not encouraging you. I'm also not going to tell you to go and buy a bunch of soda just to get the codes so you can get the free music downloads. I'm only trying to make a couple of points.

First, as consumers, we all have those few luxuries we refuse to give up. Moderate amounts of soda and junk food are mine. I try to keep my consumption to the point where our grocery bills are reasonable, and I won't destroy my health. We are all deserving of a vice or two if done in moderation. So my first point is this, you do not need to give up everything to get your grocery bills under control. You simply need to make some reasonable decisions as to how many luxuries you should allow and then keep an eye on the quantities.

Second, if you are buying a product anyway and someone is offering you something for the very least keep an open mind and check out the offer! Cross marketing between grocery products and non-grocery products has become a common practice in recent years. If you are going to spend the money anyway, take full advantage of any freebies or promotions that are offered.

Hope you all enjoy the free music. I have a feeling I'm going to have to fight my teenagers for my share of the freebies on this one!


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

July Amazon Grocery Coupon Codes and Promotion Codes

I know that by now you are either all officially addicted to using supermarket coupons every time you shop, or at the very least loving the savings you are seeing in your food bills. Time to take your savings to a whole new level. Check out the savings to be had with Amazon grocery coupon codes and promotion codes for some really low prices on shelf-stable nonperishable products for your pantry.

As I promised in my last post, How to Save Money on Gas while Grocery Shopping, I have put together a list of Amazon grocery coupon codes and promotion codes and will be updating this list monthly for your convenience.

If you haven't tried their Amazons grocery delivery service yet, I highly recommend that you take a look at what they have to offer. I just had my third order delivered yesterday and they are fast becoming one of my lesser known favorite places to look for a really good deal on nonperishable grocery and health care items. Their marketing strategy is to get you through the door with some really good loss-leaders on their promotions and push volume by offering cases and half cases of products.

Well, when the prices are this low, I don't mind buying in volume. With the grocery chains getting singy on their sale pricing as the economy slows Amazon's grocery coupon codes and promotion codes make it alot easier to save on the larger quantities my family needs. Even better is the advantage of shopping from home without needing to drain my gas tank.

Amazon Grocery Coupon Codes and Pomotion Codes for July

Clearance Spectacular***Save $10 on $25 on Selected Clearance Items

Save 50% on Select Tea Chests

Save $10 today when you buy any eligible Jordan Pruitt CD combined with any eligible Kraft Macaroni & Cheese product

Save $20 Instantly on Kashi Natural Foods

Save $15 on Splenda Products

Save $20 Instantly on Bear Naked Products

Save Up to 50% on Loma Linda and Worthington Canned Foods

Get $15 Instant Savings on Kellog's Cereal Products

Save $5 on Lipton's, Wishbone, Hellmann's and More

Save 25% on Glenny's Snacks

$5 Instant Savings on Ciao Bella Gelati and Sorbetti

Save 25% on Ragu Pasta Sauce Pouches

$12 Instant Savings on Amazin' Raisins

Save 25% on Good Health Snacks

$15 Instant Savings on Caffe D'arte Coffee

$15 Instant Savings on Select Kraft Summer Beverages

$10 Instant Savings on Vita Coco Coconut Water

$15 Instant Savings on Lay's, Doritos, Cheetos, and More

$25 Instant Savings on Mr. Z Beef Jerky

$10 Instant Savings on South Beach Living Diet Products

$15 Instant Savings on Select Monogram Meat Snacks

Save 50% on RK Foods Rice Dishes

Today's Farm Freeze-Dried Snacks: Buy Two, Save $15

$15 Instant Savings on Camano Island Coffee

Save 40% on Red Bone Alley

Save 30% on Havana Beverages

$5 Instant Savings on Sun Crystals Natural Sweetener

Stash Iced Tea: Save up to 40%

Familia Cereal: Save up to 35%

Happy online grocery shopping and saving everyone!


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How to Save Money on Gas While Grocery Shopping

I don’t need to tell you that the high price of oil and gas seems to be a sign of the times. Like it or not, high prices are here to stay for the immediate future at least. One of my favorite money saving strategies used to be shopping for loss-leaders at multiple grocery chains and using double supermarket coupons to get free or nearly free products. While I was never a fan of using this strategy to its full potential due to time considerations, I was not above making an extra stop if the price was right. In my book, free or pennies on the dollar is the right price and worth the effort.

After my observations this past holiday weekend, I realized that grocery marketing specialists have a new tool in their tool box. The grocery chains know that we as consumers will be increasingly less likely to price shop at multiple food chains as the price of gas climbs further still. Not only do we live busy lives, if laziness doesn’t make us spend top dollar, then the price of gas will surely make us much more tolerant of paying the full shelf price. That is, provided that the prices on selected products are raised both subtly and strategically. Why would we spend extra time and gas if the savings were not truly worth the effort? It just doesn’t make sense to work harder and not smarter. As consumers, we are pretty programmed to take the path of least resistance.

If you missed my post on really sneaky grocery marketing strategies, be sure to read through it and you will see what I am talking about. Strategically placed price increases are more likely to be tolerated if you simply don’t have the time, energy or desire to seek out a better price.

Most of you will recall that I got a great deal of pleasure from spotting the newest grocery marketing strategy and beating them at their own game. After I posted yesterday I had to do some more thinking about how to create a new savings strategy to save money on gas while grocery shopping.

If high prices on gas are here to stay for awhile, it’s up to each of us to figure out a defensive strategy to keep our own spending and food budgets under control. It goes without saying that saving money on gas while grocery shopping will become increasingly more important as we get farther into our current inflation cycle.

Why is this so important? Well, the current increase oil and gas prices are primarily responsible for the inflation in food prices and other consumables. Our paychecks aren’t rising as rapidly so we need to take a defensive stance just to break even.

Increased gas prices cause the wholesale cause the cost of raw ingredients to be higher for food manufacturers, which in turn causes the wholesale price of the finished food products to increase. Higher wholesale prices mean higher retail prices for consumers. When profits get pinched either at the wholesale or retail level, fewer consumer incentives like grocery coupons or loss-leader sales are offered to consumers. You will remember from our previous discussion that incentives to the grocery chain from the food manufacturer are the main factors that ultimately drives sale cycles and saves us money as consumers and end purchasers.

Now, I don’t have an economics degree but I think most of you will see the truth in my line of reasoning when I say that ultimately it is the end user that will bear the increased expense. To put it more bluntly, that’s us!

The people who deliver the raw ingredients to the food manufacturers will make their profits up front. The food manufacturer will do what it needs to do to make enough profits to stay solvent. The grocery chains have low profit margins to begin with and need to stay in business too. So there you have it, we are the ones who ultimately will pay the price increases as the consumer and end users.

What makes the current economic climate so frustrating is that we really do get hit multiple times and from multiple different directions. Products we must buy to live have rapidly rising prices, and there is nothing to be done but watch. We don’t have control what incentives are offered, how often they are offered, or sale pricing the grocery chains offer. We surely don’t have control over the price of gas, although most of us wished we did.

At the same time that prices are out of control, many of the strategies we would use to save money just aren’t being offered to the extent that they were as recently as several months ago.

What can we do then? The short answer is to work smarter, and saving money on gas while grocery shopping is one option. I still shop multiple grocery chains, but you can bet that I consider carefully how far I have to drive to get to another store and if the savings is worth the money and time to make the trip.

Here’s my simple plan how to save on gas while grocery shopping:

- Make every mile count. Arrange your shopping trips to minimize the distance you spend driving. Take a cooler if you need to in the summer months, but commit to being efficient. Start with the store farthest out and make your way home.

-Be aware. I paid $4.33 a gallon for gas today as I write this. If you use just one extra gallon of gas to make an extra couple of extra stops out of your way, then you have inadvertently increased a $100 food bill by 4.33%. Ouch!! As if the inflated price of groceries wasn’t enough. Make sure you purchase enough and save enough to make additionalstops worth both your time and money.

-Shop less often. I plan ahead for 2 weeks at a time and stock my pantry and freezer to the brim. Most of my purchases are selected to get us through a 2 week food plan, with a few extra days just in case. I may need to buy few perishables like milk or produce at the corner mid way through, but not much. Shopping every other week has two other advantages besides the gas savings: I save time and reduce the chance for impulse spending.

-Shop online. Believe it or not, Amazon has an amazing grocery section with specials and free delivery on all grocery items. Their coupon codes and promotions are a fantastic value on pantry stable nonperishable items. I’ll be making and updating a comprehensive grocery promotion codes list for you every month and I highly recommend Amazon's grocery department. Case in point, Amazon had a June clearance event that scored me a case of Sweet and Salty granola bars (12 boxes) for $15.00 including the free shipping. My net cost was only $1.25 a box. When I checked the shelf price at my usual supermarket the price was $4.29 on just one box. My savings on 12 boxes was a whopping $36.48 just for keeping an open mind and doing my research. Don’t be afraid of the quantities, most pantry products will hold at least 6 months when stored correctly. Over the years our family has found that we just tend to eat more of what we have on hand and less of what we don't. See this months sales, coupons and promotion codes.

Summing Up the Savings
In conclusion, I want to stress that shopping at multiple chains for loss-leaders and using double supermarket coupons is still both a valid and useful money saving strategy. I use this strategy all the time and will continue to use it in the future unless the time, effort and cost simply doesn’t save me enough to bother.

I merely wanted to get you thinking about the circumstances when it is best to bite the bullet and fork over an extra dollar for one item versus the times when making an extra stop or stops makes little sense.

Most importantly, I have also been reminded of the value of being open to new ways of shopping to secure savings. I have to admit, even as a well seasoned bargain hunter, that I had not tried Amazon’s grocery service. I was surprised at the value they offer and will be sure to include them in my list of favorite and cheap grocery resources from now on. Who knows if the sale pricing at my local supermarket will become increasingly stingy as the price of gas pushes costs higher still. I’m all for many options for savings, and am glad to have found another savings resource on groceries.

If I have learned nothing else over the last few days, it is that marketing changes all the time to reflect current trends. If we get too comfortable that we know how to beat the system, we are the ones that will pay the price in the end for our complacency. Savings oppertunities are everywhere, though it is up to us to take the responsibility to find the options in our local area. When I did the math I was surprised just how much of a difference one gallon of gas could impact the bottom line. I learned that even a seasoned bargain hunter needs to save money on gas while grocery shopping.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Really Sneaky Grocery Marketing Strategies Update

I’ve been around for awhile and know an awful lot about how the grocery industry works. Yeah, I talk a lot about using supermarket coupons to beat the grocery marketers at their own game. Coupons do work to your advantage, and you should try to use grocery coupons whenever you can. It’s the best tool you have to get your lowest price on most products period.

Every once in a very great while I learn something new, even after all this time there can be a surprise or two. Grocery marketing strategies can and do change from time to time. This past holiday weekend I found myself in that very position.

As many of you know, it is a common grocery marketing strategy in the grocery industry to run the products that you are most likely to need for your holiday celebrations either the week just prior to or during the week of the holiday.

A good example was the July 4th holiday just past. July 4th celebrations are associated with picnics and cookouts. Most of us know to look for sales on hot dogs, hamburgers, potato chips, watermelon, soft drinks and beer. It is just a given that everything you need for your picnic, including all the condiments and paper products will be featured at pretty good prices, with a tempting loss-leader or two thrown in for good measure.

The holiday grocery marketing strategy on the surface has to do with the psychology of the food chains being your partner in spending, and helping you save money on the products you need the most. The grocery chains really are helpful aren’t they? They’re such good guys. They want to help us save for our celebrations, isn’t that nice of them?

In reality, the food manufacturers offer the grocery chains attractive wholesale pricing to feature their seasonal products and push both high case volumes and profits in a very short period of time. Food manufacturers know that if they drop a manufacturer coupon at the same time all they need to do is stand back and wait for multiple cases to fly out the door in minutes. Why does this work? The product is seasonal, on sale, and has a coupon. It’s pretty hard to argue with either cheap or free isn’t it?

The grocery chains are even more helpful and make sure that they feature the basics for a cookout and then not so gently remind you that you will also need the condiments, buns, produce, chips and desert to go with the hot dogs they are featuring at the loss-leader price of $.99 or so. It’s a steal right, hot dogs for just $.99 instead of the usual full retail price of $3.99 or higher? As I’ve said all of the items you will need are usually on sale and featured in the flyer that week. Consumers know the drill and expect the sales to be exceptional during holiday weeks.

I have observed the holiday grocery sale circulars through ad cycles for every major holiday throughout the last 20 years. Every possible item you would commonly use for celebrating that particular holiday has always been on sale without exception…until this week.

You can imagine my shock when I reached for a bag of hot dog buns to go with my $.99 loss leader hot dogs and found the “sale price” to be $2.50 rather than “sale price” featured in the previous week’s ad right around a buck. As I looked expecting a cheaper option somewhere in the bakery section, I found none. What gives? I had never encountered this marketing strategy in all the years I have been tracking grocery prices during a holiday sale week.

The same grocery marketing strategy is common most weeks throughout the year, just not during the week of a major holiday. There is almost always a well priced product somewhere in the section for every common item you would need to complete your holiday themed meal. This was something new, and a clear attempt to price gouge.

Not a little annoyed, I started to look a little closer at the sale prices on condiments and found that mustard had been similarly priced. The “sale” price was now double the normal shelf price from the week prior. No other options were available at pricing less than 20% above the usual full retail shelf price for any item in the entire section.

Looking closer still, I found that there were bags of potato chips at loss- leader pricing with an in ad coupon, but the other brands in the section had risen in price as well.

What’s going on really? It looks like grocery marketers are seeking to push their margins up on a few well chosen items they know that you will need to buy to compete your meal. It’s the old got you on the cross-sell when you buy the loss-leader strategy. They lure you into the store with the loss- leader then strategically up the prices on the product that is the natural cross-sell.

The grocery chain still appears to be the “good guy” by offering most of what you will need at the lowest possible price, while they cheerfully gouge you on just one or two items on your list. They know time is tight for most of us, and gas is so expensive that it just is not worth the drive if you live any distance between competing supermarket chains. They also know that most shoppers won’t notice what they have done. The few that do will more than likely shrug it off and figure that they saved overall and paying top dollar for just a couple of items does not justify another stop on the way home.

The end result of the latest grocery marketing strategy? You will save on most of what you will need, and pay the high dollar on a few items on your list. They’ve got you and they know it. What I really find interesting about this strategy is how likely it is to not get anybody up in arms. The best marketing strategies are subtle we hardly notice and if we do they are easy to justify as a sign of the times. This new super sneaky strategy seems to fit all the hallmarks of a real winner.

How did I handle this situation? Well, lucky for me I was going to be passing my local Orowheat factory outlet store on the way home anyway. They offer both reduced price fresh items, and short dated product at really cheap prices. I bought the fresh stuff for $.99 and refused to pay top dollar. I got the same exact package of hot dog buns for $1.50 less than I would have paid at the store I had shopped in just minutes before.

To justify my frustration and the extra stop, I made sure to buy an extra 3 packages of hot dogs knowing that the supermarket wouldn’t be making any profit on those particular items. I bought an extra package of buns and tossed them in the freezer to use a week or two down the road and managed to capture the savings I would have lost out on otherwise.

Right back at you boys! I didn't fall for your newest grocery marketing strategy this time, too bad so many others did.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Day in the Life of the American Worker and Consumer

Today, I’d like to get away from the topic of using supermarket coupons and touch on another topic related to why we all need to know how to save money if we need to in a pinch. As you all know, many of our monthly expenses are fixed. Mortgages, rent and to some extent utilities comprise a large chunk of our monthly budgets. Transportation costs sure aren’t going down at present either. Is the price of anything going down anymore? One of the few variable expenses is our food budget and quickest way we look to save when the going gets rough.

Case in point, I was working with a lady just yesterday who really needed to reduce her grocery spending quickly. Her husband, the sole bread winner for her family, was unfortunate enough to fall victim to the current economic downturn.

Two days ago his relatively small company gave their employees a choice, take a 30% pay cut or the layoffs would start on Monday. Happy long holiday weekend everyone. The employees got together and made a decision that took me completely by surprise. After a long discussion, the group decided to work together and take a proactive stand to save both the company and their jobs.

Their small company employs only employ 20 people, and if they elected for layoffs the 15 who were left knew that they would be unable to keep up with current contracts. If the current business contracts did not hold, then they knew they would all be out of a job. They wisely decided as a group to take the pay cut. In my local area, jobs are getting harder to come by everyday and nobody wanted to see either themselves or their close knit group of coworkers financially ruined. They decided instead that they would do all that was in their power to support each other through the difficult financial times that would come knowing that even hard financial times were better than no job and no health insurance.

What amazed me still more is that they, as a group, had the insight to choose to be proactive. As each of them discussed ways to reign in their own expenses to accommodate their reduced salaries, someone made the very astute observation that the same thing needed to happen if the company was to survive. It was not management that pushed for the changes, but the employees who took the initiative to become prepared for the worst ahead of time. The knowledge you gain and precautions you take ahead of the need are what will see you through when the going gets rough.

Here are these 20 families just going about their business and suddenly your circumstances change. The rainy day none of us saved for is suddenly here.

Hearing what this and the other 19 families were going through reminded me that “hard times” whatever the situation can come to us at any time. It can and does happen to someone every day of the year and totally unexpectedly.

As I counseled her on where she could cut her expenses, I asked her if most of those other 19 families would be able to weather the storm. She said that for now she thought they could, just so long as their salaries were not cut even more than they had been already. She told me that she wished she had already acquired the savings skills that she was struggling to learn now out of necessity, but was determined to learn now and pass on the information to her husband’s coworkers if they needed it. Good advice from someone in the trenches.

Unfortunately, I get emails all the time with people in the same situation. Layoffs and pay cuts seem to be a sign of the times for the time being anyway, and most folks have no idea where to start when faced with the stress of immediate financial hardship.

After hearing the same story for the umpteenth time in the last month or so, I have decided that I need to take action too. I spend a fair amount of time offering my services for free to those in need, but I must admit that requests for help have been coming in at a much greater pace this last month or so and I really can’t keep up anymore. I don’t need other fancy statistics to have a clear understanding that the economy is worse than most people want to admit. I can see trends all too clearly just by hearing what is being said while in the grocery stores and by the numbers of emails I get everyday pleading for immediate help.

So here is the deal, I usually offer help when I can and hate taking money from people in need even when they come to me in my consulting practice. I’ve got to live too, but I really hate taking money when people are struggling financially. So, that said, I want you to know that my motivation behind creating this blog is that those who really need the information have it available for free. This is the same information that I charge $35 an hour for in my consulting practice and refused to write a book to sell. I wanted to create a place where I could refer people and they could find what they were looking for if they needed immediate savings.

I’ll really try to get to all your questions and answer them as quickly as possible. I do care. Please understand that working as a consultant means that my schedule is not set like in a regular job. My workload tends to go up and down quite a bit each week. I’ll try to get to you as soon as I can.

Until then,

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Effective Coupon Organization: How to Make a Coupon Organizer

One of the most important aspects of using supermarket coupons effectively is coupon organization. In this post we will be talking about how to efficiently organize your manufacturer coupons to maximize your savings.

There are all kinds of mehtods for coupon organization. Systems range from free coupon organizers, to file coupon organizers and box coupon organizers. The key is finding a coupon organization system that will work for you.

Methods of Coupon Organization

There really is no “best type” of coupon organization system. What will work best for you is a system that is logical and will help you to quickly locate your manufacturer coupons.

That being said, I wanted to give you some information on how you can make a coupon organizer.

The Envelope Coupon Organizer

The most basic system for organizing coupons is to go to the office supply store and buy a box of #10 envelopes. Create one envelope for each main section in the store.

Advantages: This method is cheap and fast to create and does a respectable job of keeping coupons organized.

Disadvantages: You will have 6 or more envelopes to keep track of and it’s easy to leave one sitting around somewhere as you shop. This system is a little disjointed, and you will waste some time getting into and out of each envelope making your shopping trip last longer. Envelopes tend to tear and wear out quickly and they will need to be replaced often.

The Recipe Box Coupon Organizer

Recipe boxes with a set of dividers are another solution. Recipe or index card boxes keep things organized, but also have a few drawbacks.

Advantages: The recipe box method is also inexpensive and relatively fast to create. Another advantage over the envelope coupon organization method is that you can see what coupons you have more easily.

Disadvantages: The recipe box coupon organization method can be cumbersome and a bit bulky to handle in stores. This system works better if you don’t have small children with you to sit in the front of the care. Still, if you spill the box (this has happened to me on more than one occasion) it will take you hours to sort through the mess and put things right. Not a fun job when you run into this type of fiasco.

The Shoebox Coupon Organizer

If you ever get really heavily into coupon shopping and rebating, the shoebox coupon organizer will give you all the space you need and then some. Like the recipe box coupon organizer. The shoe box coupon organizer method is inexpensive and fast to create. All you really need is a shoe box or plastic shoe box and a set of dividers.

Advantages: You can put this type of organizer together quickly and inexpensively as I’ve said, and this method offers the additional advantage of room to grow. Most of us will never outgrow the space that the shoebox coupon organizer will offer.

Disadvantages: The shoebox coupon organizer really is a bit of overkill for most coupon shoppers. This method is bulky and cumbersome to manage while shopping. Did I mention that my big spill in the grocery store was with a full shoebox of coupons? Not only was I embarrassed beyond words, but it took me hours upon hours to clean up the mess once I got home. I switched methods after this experience.

The Binder Coupon Organizer

This is my favorite method and the one I still use today. I love the expandability of this system and its ease of use. Go to the office supply store and get a nice binder or full sized leather portfolio. I have one with a zipper to keep things contained when I’m not shopping just in case. I also bought a set of dividers and several packages of clear protectors with pockets. You can either use the kind for collecting baseball or trading cards or clear pages with pockets to hold business cards for creating your coupon organizer.

Advantages: Binder coupon organizers offer easy and quick access to coupons without needing to thumb through every coupon in a section to find what you are looking for. This system is easily expandable just add extra pages as you need them. This type of coupon organizer is also fast and inexpensive to create, and minimizes the potential for spilling coupons as you shop.

Disadvantages: This system is a bit cumbersome to manage while shopping due to its size, but not considerably more that some of the other methods.

In selecting a coupon organizer to meet your needs, it really depends on what you are comfortable with. You need to consider what will meet your storage needs and help you to locate your coupons both easily and efficiently.

Whichever system you select, make it easy on yourself and your grocery shopping trips will be much more enjoyable while your savings grows.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Secret Grocery Marketing Strategies that Cost You Money

Any well educated consumer needs to be aware that using supermarket coupons is simply one technique in reducing grocery expenses. But really, we have only scratched the surface of what you need to know to reduce your food bill. Becoming aware of the secret grocery store marketing strategies supermarkets use to separate you from your hard earned cash is a sure fire way to reduce how much you spend every time you shop.

It’s All in the Plan

Supermarkets are well aware of how to separate you from your cash. They have spent millions of dollars researching consumer behavior and know how to get the job done both quickly and efficiently. The result of all their research is a well planned and elaborate grocery marketing strategy designed to make you spend more than you planned each and every time you shop.

You may be wondering why they have invested so much time, energy and money into getting you to increase spending. Well, it all comes down to profits.

Grocery stores and supermarkets run on very low profit margins, generally 1-2%. Much of what they carry is perishable. If they don’t sell it, they loose the investment on the base cost of the product.

Controlling waste and moving products are the two biggest determining factors of the store’s ability to realize even a modest 1-2% profit. Simply put, the grocery business is really about volume and volume requires every customer that walks through the door to spend as much as they can get you to spend. With margins so low, you can see the need for a cohesive and well planned grocery marketing strategy to accomplish their goals and remain profitable.

Secrets of the Grocery Marketing Strategy

Grocery marketing strategies all center around two main goals. The first is to get you to spend more time in the store than you had planned. Research shows that for every minute we spend in the store the higher the average sale per customer. Why? Impulse spending on unplanned purchases is the culprit.

The second goal, make displays and signage virtually beg you to buy; again your bill at the checkout is greatly increased by impulse spending.

It’s the old chicken and the egg scenario. Did you spend more than you planned because you bought more than intended, or did you buy more because you were in the store longer than you should have been?

Grocery marketers know that the longer you are in the store the more you will buy and have a bunch of sneaky ways to get you to pick up a few extra items here and there.

Grocery Store Layouts Maximize Profits

Grocery store layouts are skillfully designed and planned to make sure that you need to walk through the entire store to get to the areas were staples like milk, eggs, bread and meat are located.

Why do they use this strategy? As mentioned earlier, the longer you spend shopping, and the further you have to walk to buy what you are looking for the more likely you will be to pick up something you had not intended to buy.

Impulse purchases keep the grocery chains profitable and make you spend more than you had planned, escalating your food costs considerably. This is at the heart of their grocery marketing strategy.

Consider the typical grocery store floor plan and design of the store you shop in. How many displays do you need to pass by to find what you are looking for? Your grocery store layout was specifically designed to maximize profits by giving you lots of enticing options besides the gallon of milk you originally stopped to buy.

What items do you buy the most? Produce, meat, eggs, milk, bread, cereal, and beer or wine...we all have staple items that we buy week in and week out. Start to notice what other products are displayed around those items, and how many displays you need to pass to get to the products you use the most.

You should also be aware that the specials of the week are not always loss-leaders for the store. Often, they are products at full shelf price and full profit margins with a sale sign to make you think that the price is right. Sometimes the "sale price" is even higher than the regular everyday shelf price. Buyer beware, you should know that a giant display does not necessarily guarantee savings.

Grocery store layouts always have been and always will be designed to maximize profits, no doubt about it.

Slow Down Your Shopping Trip and Maximize Profits

Another commonly used grocery marketing strategy, is to get you to walk slowly, very slowly, through the supermarket aisles. We are back to the old trick of the longer you shop the more you will spend.

How do the grocery marketers get you to spend more time shopping? They play soft, slow music in the background to enhance your shopping experience. Elevator music calms the masses, and gets both you and the shoppers around you to move at a slower pace. How fast can you hope to shop when the person ahead of you is moving along at a snails pace?

Soothing music aside, grocery marketers get even sneakier, in more subtle ways. Grocery marketing strategies have been known to include placing carpets and floor mats strategically to get you to slow your pace as you dodge the obstacles while shopping. I’ll admit that this technique is not nearly as common of a practice as it used to be due to the hazards of people tripping and the liability of a personal injury. I still see it used from time to time, just not as often as it used to be.

A more commonly practiced grocery marketing technique is the placement of giant floor stacks of products arranged just opposite of each other within the grocery store aisles. The floor stacks technique is pretty versatile and used for a number of reasons.

First, two floor stack displays placed directly opposite of each other will slow the flow of traffic in both directions up and down the grocery aisle. You will need to wait to go single file through the narrowed aisle. While you wait, you are naturally forced to look for something else to occupy yourself with in order to not become seriously frustrated with how long your shopping trip is taking. The natural solution is to do what we came here to do in the first place…shop. The more you shop, naturally the more you buy.

Floor stacks are also frequently used to feature items at higher than average profit margins. Sometimes the product really is a good deal and at other times not, so use some caution in selecting products from a floor stack display.

Grocery marketing strategies can get even more subtle. A little known strategy for getting you to buy the item on the floor stack display at the higher profit margin is to use the floor stack to block your view of the competing product that is either lower priced or the better value. Don't fall for this technique. It is wisest to comparison shop with all competing items before making your purchase.

If you spot any of these techniques it is best to get in the habit of taking a second look before making your purchase. From my experience your chances of making a good spending decision are about 50/50 where any display is concerned. Half of the time the product really is a good buy and the store legitimately needs the display space due to the amount of product they expect to sell. The other half of the time, well, let’s just say that the store is getting the better end of the bargain.

What is my best advice for anyone when trying to shop the displays? You should get in, buy what you need and get out. The longer you are in the store, the more you will spend. Approach all displays with the notion that there may be a good deal here, and then again maybe I should pass if there is not a clear cut reason to buy.

Something Smells Really Good

The first grocery shopping tip everyone will give you is to not shop while hungry. Impulse purchases abound when everything you see looks good smells even better.. Hunger simply makes your other senses more acute and with that comes the desire to both buy and eat, immediately if possible.

Grocery stores have taken a trick from the cinnamon roll places found in shopping malls. It is not a coincidence that the enticing aroma of freshly baking bread is a regular 4 PM occurrence in grocery stores across the country. The smell of baking bread brings back the nostalgia of Granny's kitchen around the holidays and makes us positively crave comfort food. If you are hungry then you buy, it is as simple as that. Have hunger, must satisfy craving as soon as possible.

If you are hungry you will spend more right? If you are hungry right now you will run, not walk towards the prepared stuff in the deli and bakery and skip cooking tonight. Who has time to cook when you are starving right now? Take it one step further and you realize you can also avoid dishes tonight and the sale is a done deal for most of us. Convenience costs folks and the supermarkets know it. They are all too happy to supply a solution for a price.

It doesn't happen to hurt the grocery chain’s bottom line that the margins on in store bakeries and deli products are among the highest in the store now will it? They are providing a valuable solution to time pressed consumers after all.

Yep, I've done it too. We are all busy. Leisure time is all too short. We work hard, get tired and just want to find a way to have a little more free time.

As a side note, but a still related grocery marketing strategy I want to share an observation with you. One of the grocery stores in my home town passes around samples of their $5.00 hot deli sandwiches around lunch time. They take their time walking through the store with giant platters of goodies and then direct people over to the in store deli section. I watched in surprise and then some awe one day a lengthy line formed at the deli. They must have had orders for over 50 sandwiches in a about a thirty minute time frame. At $5.00 each a sandwich, that's a marketing strategy that seems to be paying off and a good example of why you should not shop while hungry. Convenience and impulse spending will put a dent in your budget every time, no doubt about it.

Who Moved My Cheese?

As consumers we get used to where the items we buy the most are located on the grocery store shelves. Grocery marketers are aware of this fact, and are pretty good at keeping us off balance while shopping.

They know that the longer you shop the more you will spend. Having to scan the whole section for the one item you are actually looking for certainly benefits them by keeping you in the store longer. But there are other, less known grocery marketing strategies that benefit them as well.

First, and foremost to their bottom line, the manufacturers who produce the products we buy pay top dollar for premium shelf space. Sections are reset several times a year to reflect the changes made due to the slotting allowances that food manufacturers pay on an ongoing basis for the placement of their products. Product placements are big business in the industry and give the supermarket chains a reason to reset the schematics regularly.

You may be wondering what is considered a premium shelf placement. Shelf space at eye level and located away from the start or end of each aisle and with multiple facings of product are all considered prime territory.

Our eyes naturally gravitate to what is displayed at eye level as we shop. We tend to miss items either placed high, low or within the first 3 feet at the beginning or end of each shopping aisle. Just like real estate location is of prime importance. Location, location, location is everything when trying to increase sales volume. Food manufacturers know that having a great location on the shelves, and multiple facings of products is the key to increasing sales volume..

What does this mean for us as consumers? The best deals may not be at placed at eye level. It is always best to shop the entire section and make your spending decisions accordingly.

Still another reason for the frequent resetting of shelves is that new schematics allow for new products to be placed as discontinued products are removed. New products can and frequently do offer higher profit margins during their introductory period due to wholesale pricing set by the manufacturer. A lower than average wholesale price encourages an attractive price to consumers when coupled with aggressive advertising and a series of coupons. Low prices for consumers mean big volume for the food manufacturers.

A Final Word

While these are certainly not the only grocery store marketing strategies supermarkets use to get you to spend, this list represents the most commonly used strategies. There are really too many grocery store marketing strategies to write about all at once. The topic is just too big.

We will be getting to more advanced topics in future articles and posts, but for now I wanted to get you thinking about the grocery store marketing strategies that are the most commonly used so that you can start to realize some savings over your next few grocery shopping trips.

I sincerely hope all of you have a wonderful and safe holiday with the ones you care about the most.