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Coupon Mom's strategic shopping secrets

Saving money on groceries doesn't mean eating the same boring meals every day of the week or that you'll spend half your life trying to find good prices. Learn how to easily save money without lowering your food quality standards.
/ Source: TODAY books

Looking to save money in 2010? You can easily stock your pantry without spending a fortune. Stephanie Nelson, bargain shopper and author of "The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half," shares her tried and true tips for getting what you want without breaking the bank. An excerpt:

Chapter one: Strategic shopping
Saving money on groceries means eating the same boring meals every day of the week.

Myth: Saving money on groceries means spending half your life shopping to find good prices.

Myth: Saving money on groceries means serving your family nothing but processed junk, since that’s the cheapest way to put food on the table.

Fact: Wrong, wrong, wrong!

I’ve been spreading the bargain-shopping gospel for more than a decade now, and I’ve run into these misconceptions time and again. In this chapter we’re going to discuss:

  • How to turn your grocery store into a paradise of great buys with a concept I call Strategic Shopping
  • The principles of Strategic Shopping and how they can help you save, no matter your “shopping personality”
  • Numbers that illustrate how it literally pays to apply Strategic Shopping methods at the market

What Is Strategic Shopping?
The most effective diets aren’t the ones that force you to eat entirely new foods or to eat just one thing over and over. They’re the ones that teach you to improve your eating habits for the long term. Let’s put your grocery budget on an effective, long-term diet. Strategic Shopping is not about changing the way you eat. It is about changing the way you buy the food that you like. You can have your cake and eat it, too — as long as you use a coupon and wait for it to go on sale!

Strategic Shopping does not require you to lower your food quality standards, give up your preferences, or take hours a week to plan and shop. The goal is just the opposite. My plan helps you create customized shopping approaches that save time and allow you to serve your family tasty and healthy meals — all while cutting your grocery bill in half.

It can take time to shop strategically, but the Coupon Mom program along with the website saves you time by finding the best grocery deals at both local and national stores. Our team of researchers conducts price comparisons, and that information is entered regularly into the price database, allowing you to quickly find the best deal. The coupon database alerts you to additional savings opportunities. Using the Coupon Mom No-Clip System means you simply need to save the circulars each week, then check the website to know exactly which circular to pull. Finally, the Coupon Mom Forum offers tons of great strategies from members all over the country.

The Principles of Strategic Shopping
Once you grasp these three basic ideas, it quickly becomes easy for you to start saving thousands of dollars a year on groceries. They are:

1. Know your prices: Try this little experiment. Close your eyes, reach into your pantry, and pull out the first item you touch. Now ask yourself how much that item costs. Maybe you have a general idea, within a few cents. But maybe you have no idea how much it costs — you simply toss it into your cart week after week without even giving its price tag a glance.

If this is the case, you have a serious savings opportunity staring you in the face! Become familiar with the price ranges for the items you buy most regularly. This knowledge helps you recognize a deal when the item is discounted, or when you have a coupon. This book will teach you to research prices, and will provide many price comparisons. Over time you’ll learn when a deal is really a deal, and how to plan purchases for when items are on sale and you have coupons. In other words, how to think strategically!

2. Know your store savings programs: You might be walking past savings opportunities every time you hit the grocery store, without even knowing it. I’m here to help you fix that!

Each store has its own savings programs and policies, but not all are proactive about cluing shoppers in. It’s up to you to educate yourself about stores’ savings programs and policies.

I’ll teach you the right questions to ask to learn what your stores’ programs are, and how they can save you money. We’ll also review the savings programs offered by a number of national and regional stores, and how you can use them to your best advantage.

3. Know your coupons: The grocery-store coupons in your kitchen drawer right now are either like cash or confetti. Use them wisely and they’re essentially legal currency. Lose them, forget they’re there until they expire, or accidentally trash them and they’re just slips of paper. I’ll teach you where to find the most coupons, including electronic and printable coupons that even the busiest shopper can use. I’ll show you how the Coupon Mom system can save you time by pointing you directly to the coupon you need for any given shopping trip. Together, we’ll have a serious impact on your grocery bill without costing you a lot of time. Even if you have just 15 minutes per week, I’ll show you how to whittle down your grocery bill.

The Strategic Shopping Action Plan
You’ll need to adopt some new habits in order to become a Strategic Shopper. These simple but powerful methods are easy to work into your shopping plan and will yield tremendous savings over time.

Stock up on savings: An item you buy each week goes on sale. The store adds to the discounting possibilities by running a promotion, perhaps offering greater savings if you buy three or more. And you will save even more if you have coupons for the item. To the Strategic Shopper, this is like New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July rolled into one! Don’t light any firecrackers, but do celebrate by stocking up when these off-price opportunities combine for ultimate savings. If you stock up when prices are at their lowest, you keep your costs consistent. Even after prices return to normal, you’ll be able to “shop your freezer” and continue to enjoy items bought at the sale price. Once this becomes a habit, you’ll wince at the very notion of paying full price.

Plan to save: Success doesn’t just happen in life, and savings success doesn’t just happen at the grocery store. The single most crucial component to cutting your grocery spending is planning ahead. An organized shopping list, combined with careful meal planning, can take between 5 minutes and an hour to create, and your savings will reflect the effort you put into planning. Chapter 4 gives details for effective shopping planning, with tips on strategies for every lifestyle.

Read This Before You Set Foot in the Grocery Store
Grocery retailers want shoppers to spend as much as possible, and they use clever merchandising strategies to entice consumers to part with more money than they might have intended. Review these ten tips before you go shopping to avoid falling into spending traps!

Never shop when you are hungry: Eat, then shop. It’s very difficult to be a disciplined shopper when you are hungry.

Shop alone if you can: Shopping with a friend or family member can get you off track.

Use the store ad to plan your trip, but do not assume that every item in the store ad is a deal: According to Consumer Reportsmagazine, 75percent of shoppers rely on store ads to plan their trips. Most shoppers donot realize that product manufacturers pay for most of the advertising spacein a store’s weekly ad. As a result, a product’s sales can increase by 500percent when its manufacturer buys space in the store ad. Be aware—products may be featured regardless of their prices. However, you can bereasonably sure that the front-page items are deeply discounted.

Compare unit prices: The size of a package can be deceptive, and the largest size isn’t always the least expensive on a unit-cost basis. Pay attention to the sizes of different flavors or varieties of the same product, since specialty varieties may have fewer ounces in the package than the basic version.

Skip the high price of convenience: Buy food in its most basic form to get the most food for your dollar.

Beware of special displays: Don’t assume that special displays or displays at the end of an aisle are the best price. They may actually be selling at full price.

Don’t fall for multiple pricing gimmicks: Stores frequently post prices such as “10 for $10” when the items actually sell for $1 each, regardless of the quantity purchased. Unless the sign says you must buy ten, you can assume there is no minimum purchase requirement.

Check different departments: As strange as it sounds, a store may beat its own price sometimes. A type of cheese sold in the deli department might cost more than a different brand of the same type of cheese sold in the dairy department. One brand of a type of nuts in the produce department might cost less than a different brand of the same type of nuts in the baking aisle. Often, the quality is the same.

Watch prices at the register and check your receipt: Grocery stores change thousands of prices on items each week. That means there are thousands of opportunities for pricing errors. Some stores will give you an item free if you are overcharged, but it’s up to you to point it out. At the very least, pay the correct amount.

Stick to your list and shop as quickly as possible: The longer you hang around, the more likely you are to veer from your list and spend more than you’d planned to. Get in and get out!

Reprinted from by Stephanie Nelson by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright © 2009 by Stephanie Nelson.