Years ago, when I bought my first house and began grocery shopping on my own, I was sure that using coupons would be the key to grocery shopping success. Each week I would sit down with a copy of the Sunday paper and the weekly grocery ads and match up the coupons and advertised sales. It always felt like I was winning the lottery – there were always tons of matches, and I always had a grocery list that covered the entire sheet of paper.
Week after week I’d head right to the grocery store and fill my cart with all of the fantastic deals I’d found. I really thought I was doing it right, until the day I looked at the groceries I’d purchased and realized something – all of the stuff I’d gotten was all junk food that I really didn’t need. My grocery bags were full of Fruit Roll-Ups, packaged cookies, pop-tarts and brownie mixes. But there wasn’t any real food. I had lots of odds and ends, lots of snacks, but absolutely nothing that I could make a meal out of.
That’s when I finally realized something – I was spending hours clipping coupons, tracking down sales, filling my grocery cart with great deals, but I didn’t have anything to eat! I decided once and for all to stop clipping coupons. And that is when I actually started saving money.
First, every Sunday morning, instead of sitting down to clip coupons, I’d sit down with a pad of paper and make a meal plan. It was nothing fancy, just a quick list of meals I planned to make during the week. Then I’d check my cupboards and freezer, and write down any ingredients I didn’t have on hand. Next, I’d add on any snack items I wanted, fresh fruit and vegetables to pack in my lunches and breakfast foods, like cereal and bagels. Lastly, I’d take a look at the weekly ads to see if there were any deals on grocery staples, like eggs, bread and milk, or items that I used often, like chicken, potatoes and cheese. (It also helps that I use a cash budget for groceries – so when the money is gone, it’s gone!)
I was surprised to find that my new grocery strategy – buying items that I actually needed – was actually working. Best of all, I cut my grocery bill by almost half! Plus, I didn’t feel any ‘couponers guilt’ when buying items that weren’t a bargain, because I knew it was something I actually needed.
Now, this is not to say that I don’t use coupons when I have the chance. Both of my local grocery stores have apps that allow you to download digital coupons. And before each shopping trip I scroll through the list of coupons and add any that I think I might use. I’ve saved a few dollars here and there, but I make sure not to let the digital coupons rule my shopping list. Now that I’ve stopped clipping coupons, I’m saving money, saving time, and saving my sanity!